Archive for Wednesday, April 28, 1999


April 28, 1999


While the precipitation we've had during the past week will keep early gardeners from having their tomatoes in the ground on May 1, the benefits of the rain will be worth the wait.

The slow, steady rains have soaked deep into the earth. Since we didn't have substantial snowfall this year, we will have to rely on these spring rains for the subsoil moisture that will sustain our gardens into early summer.

The quantity of rainfall we've had this week also has given me an opportunity to study the drainage in and around my garden. The cabbage planted in the low end of my garden was growing hydroponically late last week, an indication that the soil is saturated and the excess rain has nowhere to go. Clearly, I need to open the dam with a drainage furrow.

Once the rain stops, we'll have to wait at least four or five days to go into our gardens. By then, we'll see plenty of new growth on our peas, greens and cole crops, and we'll have a good stand of weeds to tackle. Thus ends my positive rationalization on spring rains.

Once you've thoroughly weeded the veggies that are standing at least 4 inches out of the ground, be sure to put down a thick layer of mulch. That will keep weeding to a minimum for the rest of the growing season.

Last week's column on a deer's destruction of my lettuce crop elicited responses from several readers.

Alan Black sent an e-mail to say that deer are indeed living in Lawrence, on Kansas University's West Campus. Occasionally, an urban deer gets tangled in traffic and meets an untimely end.

Marjorie Schick, who gardens out toward Lone Star Lake, called to describe her efforts to keep deer from grazing on her vegetables. For the Schicks, who tend a large garden, this is an annual battle that extends through the tomato and melon seasons.

Mrs. Schick has tried using bars of soap and human hair to ward off deer, but they just keep coming. The only reliable solution she has found is hot sauce. She adds 2 tablespoons of hot sauce to a gallon of water and uses a sprinkler can to dispense the mixture over her vegetable plants.

It occurs to me that ground hot peppers might also make an effective deer repellent. Gardeners who dry peppers could make a sizzling yet inexpensive mix of water and pepper powder. The pepper mix must be reapplied once rains and several days of dew have washed it off.

Taking this pepper theory to the next step, I wonder whether positioning hot pepper plants throughout the garden, particularly at ends of rows and corners of square plots, might also have a dissuasive effect on deer. However, this would only be effective after the pepper plants had formed fruit that were mature enough to produce an odor.

I also received a detailed letter from H.H. Hall, who gardens near Lecompton and contends with anywhere from 10 to 40 deer on his property. He is convinced that electric fencing is the only way to protect his sizable garden not only from deer but also from rabbits and raccoons.

The top wire of his fence is set 3 feet off the ground, the second at 1 foot and the third at 4 inches. The necessary equipment can be purchased at a farm supply store.

Mr. Hall turns the fence on only at night so that it won't pose a threat to people, pets and songbirds. For the first few weeks of the garden season, Mr. Hall charges the fence every night and says that deer learn quickly that the garden is off limits. Thereafter, he turns it on intermittently until sweet corn season, when he charges it every night to keep the raccoons out.

Although deer have been spotted in western Alvamar and in the neighborhoods around Free State High School, Mr. Hall noted that an electric fence is an option only for rural gardeners. The city of Lawrence has an ordinance prohibiting the use of electric fences inside the city limits.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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