Sunday, April 1, 2007

Plants vs. animals

Once again (or twice or thrice), we are facing a challenge in balancing free-range animals with production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. When we first moved out here, we had no idea why our tomato plants never produced any ripe tomatoes. We'd see some little green tomatoes on the plants, but there were never any big ripe tomatoes. After two complete growing seasons, we realized the chickens were eating them all!

The following year, we fenced in our garden and discovered the benefit of having chickens in your garden -- they love tomato worms. So, season three's tomato crop was cut short when the tomato worms completely defoliated the plants. The next year we learned that DE (looks like white powder, but it's crushed skeletons of microscopic sea creatures that will cut the outer skin of soft-skinned insects) kills tomato worms. Woo hoo!

If you've been reading for a month or so, you know that the goats have pretty much wiped out the apple orchard. We learned our first year that the goats loved nice new little saplings after they almost killed a pear tree, so we realized they would have to stay contained in the pasture. However, these past couple years, we've had a few little goats who do not respect the electric fence, and they walk right through it.

Now, I have four baby grape vines sitting in my living room, and when my husband asked me where we were going to plant them, I suddenly recalled hearing that turkeys love grapes. I can also tell you from experience that turkeys love peaches, which is why we ate no peaches the first year our peach trees produced fruit. The trees were small, and the peaches were at "turkey buffet" level. I'm wondering if grape will always be at turkey buffet level. We have to plant these grape vines somewhere -- and six more vines will be arriving in the mail soon!

I've also realized that many of my daylilies are sheared off at the ground. It finally occurred to me that it must be the work of the geese. We've had daylilies for five years, and no one has ever done this before. The geese are new, and I find them guilty due to circumstantial evidence. Executing five geese is out of the question, so I'm going to put floating row covers over the daylilies until they get started. Hopefully, by then, the geese will be too busy feasting on grass to notice the daylilies.

Finally, remember those 144 tomato seeds I planted in little pots? (It was more like 300 seeds in 144 pots, but I don't want to sound too picky.) Anyway, we have these wonderful shelves with fluorescent lights in the pump room. I went in there yesterday to find the tops of many of the tomato plants snipped off! After some discussion and deductive thinking, we've come to the conclusion that there is a rat in there who is eating them. Ugh! We put two of the barn cats in there last night, since we don't have a rat trap; but we didn't see any evidence that the rat was executed last night. I don't think any additional tomato plants were injured though, so maybe the cats just forced him into hiding?

I can't recall ever having this many problems in past years. Yes, we've had an occasional issue with the needs of plants and animals clashing, but in addition to the very real problem of my tomato seedlings and daylilies being attacked, there is also the future issue of the grape vines to consider! I know chickens and sheep don't bother grapes, because there are vineyards in California that use chickens for natural pest control in their vineyards and sheep for natural grass cutting. I am considering putting the grape vines out by the hayfield. But I am wondering, do deer like grapes?

1 comment:

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Here in Oregon, the deer don't bother the wine grapes in the commercial vineyards all around us; it's the birds (mostly starlings and robins, it seems) that cause the most damage and loss.

We have lots of deer in the area, so we have a tall wire fence around the garden, and chickenwire enclosures around the four little fruit trees we planted this spring. The apples, cherries and Italian prune already here do get "pruned" by the deer, but the trees are big enough that we still get plenty of fruit from them.

Hope you are able to manage your place in order to have fruit, flowers, veggies AND all your critters; being a vegetarian, some of the critters would go--somewhere--if I couldn't keep them out of things. But we haven't had much trouble with the horses and Shetland sheep....

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