Thursday, July 2, 2009

Birth of the Underground Garden

Once my garden dwelt on the surface world. Last year it even did quite well. Sure, we had some losses to the critters, but we laughed it off, there was plenty more, and we had enough tomatoes to satisfy our needs.

This year hasn't worked out so well. We got a late start with the seed trays indoors, didn't really get a jump on the season. But once things got going, the tomatoes seemed to be doing nicely. I do a daily garden tour to see if the plants need water and generally check on how they're doing. About a week ago, I found that three plants had been nibbled on by somebody. "Oh, no big deal" I thought. The plants will recover, and this is the first critter visit we'd seen this season. Maybe they won't be back for a while. How naive.

Went out on my morning garden tour a few days ago with high hopes. Had just fertilized, wondered if I'd see any growth spurt. It was not to be. Instead I found a scene of utter devastation. I saw the tracks. Deer. You may think Bambi when you thing of deer. I think Nosferatu. They come in the night with an insatiable hunger. They feed on the living (well, the living tomato plants, anyway). They didn't leave one tomato plant untouched in the back yard. Most were chewed down to the ground. A couple barely escaped complete annihilation.

Spent hours surfing the web looking for a way to keep these monsters out of the garden. Urine (human and coyote), mothballs, hair, bloodmeal, fragrant soap. None of these methods worked for everyone, and many people lamented that sometimes a method would work for a few weeks then these vegedors (vegetable predators?) would be back laying waste. A fence would work, but it had to be 10' high. Or a 6' high fence with another 6' high fence 4' behind it. Perhaps a rifle. Nah, we live in a suburban area. Hmmm, maybe with a silencer. The Mrs. gave me a glare that said that wasn't gonna happen. I'm sure I couldn't have pulled the trigger anyway. Although every time I look at those poor tomato plants I get a real yearning for a nice venison steak.

Revenge fantasies aside, it was pretty clear that I couldn't solve the deer out without turning the backyard into a maximum security lockup. Perhaps the landlord wouldn't approve of that. Kind of expensive anyway. I could always rototill the front yard and... The Mrs. gave me that look again. Besides, I could just imagine waking up to a half dozen deer in the front yard, laughing their evil laughs as they polished off the last of the veggies.

That's when I decided that the only answer was complete surrender. Go ahead, deer, clearcut the yard. You win. I'm bringing it inside. Into the cellar. You won't get at these tomatoes! Unless they break down the door. Which seems unlikely, even for such vicious and insatiable creatures. I bid goodbye to the surface world and retreated into the basement to ponder how to make it happen. After I'd sketched it out in my mind, I ran up against the toughest part of the whole project. Getting the Mrs. to sign off on it.

She agreed, although somewhat unenthusiastically.

Next I hit the web again and surfed every combination of tomatoes, indoor, and "I hate deer" that I could come up with. There is a huge range of often conflicting advice online about growing tomatoes indoors. Some people spend vast sums of money on metal halide lamps and hydroponic equipment. On the other end of the spectrum were people would put their tomatoes "near a window" and harvested enough produce to feed a small city. I got the sneaking feeling that the low intensity approach would produce extremely unsatisfactory results for me, so I decided to take more of a middle path, and see what I could accomplish with fluorescent shop lights.

I wanted to keep track of what I was doing, how much I was spending, and how successful the porject was, so I thought a blog might be the perfect way to keep track. And if my experience can provide some help to some other poor soul driven in to their dank, dark basement by deer, or rabbits, or winter, good.

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