For me, the start of a new year is always exciting. It's a time to reflect on the past year's events and try to learn from things that didn't turn out as I had hoped.
The back of my property has a utility easement that prevents me from fencing my yard. Consequently, I spent several years experimenting with remedies for keeping deer out of my garden. I finally acknowledged that there is no substitute for a fence.
To allow utility access but still repel deer, I chose heavy-grade synthetic mesh netting that wouldn't degrade in sunlight or extreme temperatures. For a few years, the netting worked. But this year, I learned a lesson. It's not enough to put up a fence. You have to inspect it occasionally for holes or breachable openings. And you have to latch the gate, not just close it.
Otherwise, you may walk into your garden one day, as I did, and discover a downed fence and ravaged plants indicating that deer and other critters had come for brunch. While synthetic fencing is durable, falling tree branches can take it down and skunks can chew through it.
Last year also taught me a strawberry lesson. For a few seasons, we have enjoyed strawberries planted from nursery six-packs. Last year we planted bare-root strawberries. I tried to follow the instructions meticulously. I prepped the soil, soaked the plants before planting and planted the starts at the specified depth. A few weeks later we had a heavy rain. I thought nothing of it at the time. But when I checked on the plants a few days later, they were all gone, apparently uprooted and washed away. Not planted deep enough, I guess.
Kohlrabi is a root vegetable used in hearty soups and stews. I grew three varieties from seed last year, germinating the seeds in biodegradable peat pots that I could bury in the ground when the seedlings grew large enough. I set the trays of pots in the sun and waited for the seeds to germinate. Two days later, I discovered that two of the trays had been tipped over, and many of the pots had been trampled or crushed. I suspect raccoons, but it might have been skunks. The only way to know for sure was to replant and set up a motion-activated camera to catch the miscreants. I replanted the two trays and set them out again without surveillance.
The seed trays went undisturbed for weeks, and most of the seeds germinated. The seedlings survived a stay at a family member's house while I went on vacation. Then one day I went out to check on the plants and discovered that three-quarters were missing. The pots were still there but the plants had been eaten, stalks and all.
The next day, at the farmers' market I saw a six-pack of kohlrabi. I decided to try one more time, hoping that these seedlings might be less appetizing. I also had some leftover seed which I sowed directly in the ground. When I checked a few days later, all of the plants were gone, and none of the seeds had germinated. I finally gave up on kohlrabi and planted onions and garlic in this space.
I should acknowledge that my wife had suggested that I use a row cover to protect the seeds and young seedlings. But I am a Master Gardener, so I know better than she does. One lesson learned is that row covers are a good idea when starting plants from seed. Another lesson is that my wife is smart.
After discussing me experience with other Master Gardeners, I'm convinced that the neighborhood quail flock demolished my kohlrabi. Apparently, quail enjoy plants in the brassica family, including kohlrabi, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.
Last year something also ate my tomatoes and lemons. I have seen birds eating tomatoes before, but the lemon damage surprised me.
One night, when I went out to the garden with a flashlight to get some tomatoes for dinner, I saw something move. I turned and pointed my flashlight on a skunk checking out the tomatoes. I have never before been face to face with a skunk. Assuming it was going to spray me, I sprinted for the back door. I decided that skunks can have the run of the garden at night as long as they leave me some vegetables to harvest during the day.
As you can see, it was an eventful year in my garden. I harvested a variety of vegetables, some fruit and flowers, and I learned more about coexisting peacefully with the creatures who also like my yard.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners (http://cenapa.ucdavis.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?