Tuesday, August 18, 2015

tender young trees

This past late spring, I attended a workshop on foraging wild edibles. I'll do a post on it later. One of the points stressed for many foods was to harvest when young and tender. The young shoots, leaves and stems all will have milder taste, are easier to eat and digest, and are easy to pick. 

It turns out that we were being informed of a fact that every herbivore on the planet already knows.

And so it goes here in Wisconsin, where the deer, rabbits, mice and voles all look forward to the tender new plants we humans grow with seeds, or poke in the ground as seedlings. Of special concern to me are all the trees I have been planting. Most are bare root seedlings, which are only one year old when planted. A few of the nursery purchased fruit trees are older, but still tasty apparently. 

I'm no expert, but it is obvious that at some point, the bark is sufficient barrier and no longer attractive to these animals, as once trees get beyond a certain size, they are not girdled or killed ( no beavers around here).

Until that time, I have been protecting my young charges with various methods. 

This apple tree is getting the deluxe package, with hardware cloth protection against rabbits and mice down around the first 16" (400mm) of trunk, the reinforcing wire cage to ward off deer, and cardboard mulch weed suppression. I even have the rainwater drip irrigation strung to it now, but it's not quite functional. I'll describe that another time.

This oak, started from acorn, had the sod flipped, placed around the hole to form a depression so watering will stay and soak in, and the small cage for deer and partial rabbit protection. It is getting watered occasionally this summer till its roots can develop below all the annual grasses.

Other trees I've planted don't get quite this nice treatment, and many don't ever get watered. 

All the hazelnuts and chestnuts from 2012 were planted dormant bare root with a mechanical seedling transplanter and got the spiral plastic trunk wrap for winter mouse and vole protection . No watering, but are mowed next to several times during the summer.

Since there are well over 2500, in rows out in our field, the time and cost to do more protection:  tree tubes ($) or weeding ( time, aching back) or watering (equipment, heavy well use) have made the low input, low effort management style an easy choice.

I planted some more chestnuts ( 120) this spring, but they were tubelings from Badgersett, and would be more vulnerable to dry times, so we have been watering and hand trimming around them as the summer rains slowed down. We did no cages though, so have had some deer predation. They were planted similarly to the oaks. We'll put on plastic spirals before winter sets in.

I also planted the start of a hedge experiment ( why are there no hedges in the U.S.? Any info I've found is from the U.K.) The osage orange and hawthorn were bare root seedlings  and got planted with a dibble. I've weeded a couple times, but no watering. They are far from the house. I'll do an update on the hedge next spring, when I see how many make it though one winter.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Our rabbit fence, or The Maginot Line redux

We are in our sixth year gardening here, and the first full season while actually living here. Over this time, we've slowly been upgrading our infrastructure, learning from our mistakes, and getting a bit better at growing our own food.

Last year, we spent quite a  bit of money to put a combination deer/rabbit fencing around our two main garden plots. We used eight foot fence posts, cattle panels and rabbit fencing to show those critters who was boss. A bit hard to see in the the photo, but the rabbit fence is the lower 24", and the cattle panels extended up to around seven feet above the ground.

The deer got the message, and besides there is a cornucopia of green growing things all about and surrounding the garden anyway. 

The rabbits did not get the message. 

But my beef is not with the rabbits. Rabbits will do what rabbits do.  No, I'm ticked at the fence manufacturing industry, and their obvious drive to compete with the cheapest design possible, and still call the product a rabbit fence. 

In theory, rabbit fencing has wire spacing that is close enough in the lowest strands, with slowly widening spaces toward the top, so that rabbits can't squeeze through. 

The problem is, that the widening is happening much too soon and too low, so that rabbits hop right through it. We've seen both little spring tykes and full grown rabbits get through ( not under), with devastating results to our beans, which they love.

Next possible solution(s) 
plant a "trap crop" outside the fence- say some soybeans for them to munch on. Would have to churn up some more of the deep pasture sod to do so.

Put one more layer of fencing along the upper half of the rabbit fence, where the problem seems to be.- more cost and hassle.

Snares,traps, other lethal schemes inside the fence- I'd rather not, as it is wasteful and one more thing to monitor and maintain.
For now, it looks like we are still going to get a decent crop of dry beans, so maybe we just live with it.

Anyone else find that rabbit fence doesn't serve the purpose?