Fences Make Good Puppies

May 4, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Since we purchased our new homestead and planted a number of garden beds, I’d always been worried about infiltration by rodents, skunks and rabbits. To be fair to these smaller mammals, they did very little damage to my vegetables. Most of this damage was due to insects or my own incompetence. Yet I maintained a heartfelt conviction that we had to offer a deterrent to keep away the critters.

keeping dogs out of the garden

Who knew he’d like veggies? And neckties.

In 2013, we adopted a handsome mutt whom we named Tesla. As his bag of tricks expanded, we used home-grown peas and beans as training rewards. As our omnivorous puppy grew, he became tall enough to reach into the beanstalks and grab his own rewards. Eventually the garden went fallow and only a few drooping collard plants remained in the soil. It was too cold and wet for me to bother tossing them into compost, so I left them alone, figuring I could always pull them out in the spring.

For Tesla, this was a winter buffet. When we let him out in the yard to destroy the grass with his doggy debris, he often took a walk around the back of the garage to dig some collards out of the snow and gnaw on these cold, dessicated leaves. Like a good scavenger, Tesla is partial to the taste of decomposition.

As the snow melted, he dug the soil in the Brassica bed, and then dug in other garden beds to see if there was anything worth eating. Before long, it became apparent that the biggest threat to the 2014 crop would be our guard dog.

I put up a thin-wire garden fence. It was bout 2 feet tall and mostly ornamental. But I figured that would at least teach him that there are boundaries he should not cross.

A thin wire fence kolds back the savage puppy.

A thin wire fence holds back the savage puppy.

As you can guess, he not only was able to squeeze between the wires, but eventually pushed it down and just walked right over it.

Around this time I also decided to abandoned my raised table garden bed and replace it with a very tall raised bed with much more soil. This, I hoped, would help regulate temperature and moisture better, and maybe even offer earthworms a pathway to reach the rotting compost just beneath the top layers of garden soil. It was also just high enough so that the dog could not stick his snout in the dirt.

Then I carried some very heavy stones from one part of our property way way down to the garden, hoping to raise the height of the lettuce bed to keep Tesla from breaching the wall.

Tesla can jump. Did I mention that Tesla can jump? The higher wall proved an amusing challenge for him as his long, gaunt body easily stretched to reach up and jump into the bed, leaving his paw prints in the soil just to demonstrate that he was able to do it. I would frequently catch him in there and he would stare at me with his adoring eyes as if to say, “That was fun! What’s next?” I knew it was a matter of time before he was able to climb into my tall raised bed.

I bought another rain barrel to form a wall at the spot he could most easily breach. He squeezed between the barrel and the stones. So I got more wire garden fence to enclose the lettuce bed. Tesla easily mastered this, slipping between the wires and making his way comfortably into the bed.

My costs were mounting. A pittance, mind you, compared to the other costs of owning a dog, but we had hoped that our garden capital costs were done for a while. Instead, I found myself buying steel posts and orange plastic fencing to keep Tesla out. He soon showed me which posts needed more reinforcement and, continuing our little game of cat-and-mouse, the dog and human kept building and scaling the fence until finally, after weeks of mending fences and adjusting posts, Tesla was barking in frustration as I stood on the garden side of the fence (with the tall raised bed) and he was trapped outside of it (with the lawn he was turning brown with his waste).

Reveling in my Pyrrhic victory, I paused and realized that I had changed an easy walk into a slightly more difficult path across the driveway and around the garage to reach the garden. And by mid-April, the lettuce bed (which now features an old window screen to help block the dog–classy, huh?) was sprouting young seeds aside the garlic I planted last October. And Tesla had only managed to get in once or twice. He doesn’t even LIKE garlic, mind you. I think he either enjoys thwarting my plans or just plain resents being excluded from an area that he once claimed as part of his domain.

Orange fencing cordons off the garden.

Orange fencing cordons off the garden.

It has become much more difficult to tend to my garden. And when I do, I have to put up with the incessant barking of an angry dog (whom I still love deeply, by the way). But I’m happy to report that the asparagus have sprung up proudly, the beets and peas (seeded from peas I saved from last year’s crop and NOT from a packet purchased at a garden center) are already poking up above the soil and the wildflower, iceberg lettuce, mesclun and spinach are showing signs of life.

It’s a cooler spring than last year, so I haven’t enjoyed the early jump on planting. But we have high hopes to grow a wide variety of vegetables and take our chances with the squirrels and rabbits, who will be safe from Tesla as long as they keep on the correct side of the fence.