Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter Crop That Never Fails

Rutabagas ... eaten
Thanksgiving guests have long since departed.  We’ve just about liberated all leftovers from our refrigerator.  It’s now time to turn my attention to our vegetable garden.

Not much that I planted remains to harvest.  I pulled the last of our rutabagas for a simple Thanksgiving side dish—boiled rutabaga mashed with butter and a little salt.  I didn’t have an answer when a guest asked, “Why are your rutabagas so good when the ones I buy at the store are so strong and even bitter?”  I guess I could have answered, “Well, I grew them 20 feet from our kitchen door and pulled them an hour before I cooked them.”

I do have a short row or two of Cylindra beets to pull for another early-winter treat.  I’ll simply boil them and anoint them with a pat or two of butter.  Late-season Red Sails lettuce continues to grow in my “Cheap Greenhouse”—the experiment I’ll report on when this warm fall turns into frigid winter.  Drum roll … How long will the lettuce plants grow before they surrender to the cold?

Winter weeds ... flourishing
Yes, a few vegetables that I planted still are growing.  But other plants that I don’t want are growing larger every day, seemingly doubling in size when the temperatures zip into the 50s and 60s.  Those plants are winter weeds.

Every garden likely has some winter weeds that sprout in late fall and grow rapidly during warm fall and winter days.  I used to ignore them and turn them under on sunny February days, but some, especially chickweed, would be so thick and tangled that it was easier to roll them up like green rugs and toss them over the back fence.

But I’ve found a better way to control winter weeds.  From Thanksgiving until garden soil freezes solid and when I have 15 minutes or a half hour on a sunny day, I take my weeding hoe and make mayhem on winter weeds.  I decapitate them just below soil level, roll most of the soil off any roots with backstrokes of my hoe, and hope the sun dries the roots and kills the weeds.

Weeding hoe ... to the rescue
I don’t stoop and pull weeds, generally, because that gives me an Aching Back.  My goal isn’t a garden without a visible weed.  I hoe the biggest weeds first, especially those that are blooming—and if I miss some, I attack them the next time I hoe.

So my small, hillside veggie plots are not weed free, though some are nearly so.  And each week that passes more will be browner and less green.  When the sun begins to warm in February and the topsoil thaws a bit, I’ll be out there, a few minutes now and then, with my hoe.

This short, periodic hoeing helps me keep weeds under control.  I no longer have to stoop and roll green mats in early spring or struggle to turn the mats under with a shovel.  My Aching Back aches less, and if a few weeds still grow in March, I’ll turn them under with my shovel.

Now that you’re rested up from your Thanksgiving extravaganza, move your weeding hoe from your shed to your garage.  On the next sunny day put on a light jacket or an extra shirt and grab your hoe and do a little winter weeding.  Take a few deep breaths of the cool, crisp air, and hoe, hoe, hoe.

And while you’re working, think through your plans for Veggie Garden 2012—what you might plant and where.  Perhaps you’ll even smile and plan the perfect answer when someone asks you what you’d really like for a holiday gift:  “Well, I’d really like a high-quality, narrow-bladed weeding hoe.” That would be so much better than another necktie or box of chocolates, now wouldn’t it?

Hoe, hoe, hoe.

Extra:  To read Patterson Clark’s “Urban Jungle” feature, “Wrestling with winter’s weeds,” in the Washington Post (Nov. 22), CLICK HERE.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Deer Country: Counting Our Bambit Blessings

Three deer...
As Ellen and I put the finishing touches on the post-Thanksgiving cleanup on Friday, I glanced out the sunroom windows and noticed several groups of deer.  To get an accurate count, I went outside and walked around the house.  A herd of 19 grazed in the field to our south.  Smaller groups grazed to the west and north—a total of 26.  All were does and young.

But White Flag—the doe with the damaged tail that always stands straight up—and her two fawns weren’t there.  Neither were the bucks—Big Buck 2011, the medium twin bucks, the small twin bucks, or the disabled young buck with the shattered front-right knee.    Alas, if all the bambits were in sight I would have counted at least 35—a record number here at Meadow Glenn.

Six deer...
As I walked about slowly and took photographs, many of the deer just stood and watched and perked-up their ears, especially when I made a “kissing” noise with my lips.  Their perky ears are the equivalent, perhaps, to the smiles we humans make when a photographer instructs, “Say cheese.”

With so many deer browsing 24/7 in our neighborhood, when snow and ice cover much of their wintertime food supply this winter, will hunger urge them to break through the cages of iron stakes and welded wire I’ve installed and to browse the buds that would be next spring’s leaves and flowers?

Nineteen deer
Some long-range forecasts say winter will be “about average.”  Perhaps our deer will have sufficient food without our azaleas and viburnums.  But perhaps we’ll have a hard winter and lots of deer-damaged shrubs and trees.

I'm hoping for a “good” winter during which our beautiful bambits will find enough food outside our landscape to satisfy their hunger.  When I walk about and take their pictures, I consider them a blessing.  But when I see browsed shrubs and trees in the spring, I have other thoughts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm Thankful He Lifted Me over the Fence

Is a child watching?

“What do you think they are?” asked Mr. Rau as he lifted me high enough to peer into his rain barrel.  I must have been five or six years old, and Mr. Rau was our next-door neighbor on Main Street, Alloway, New Jersey.

My eyes focused on several living and moving things just below the waterline in the oak barrel.  I had no idea what they were.

“They’re mosquito larvae,” Mr. Rau explained.

That encounter took place at least 65 years ago.  Mr. and Mrs. Rau—I never would have thought to call them Carl and Mary—welcomed my daily visits.  At first Mr. Rau lifted me over the fence that separated our yards.  Later I learned how to climb over myself.  Mr. Rau called me “Farmer.”

“Yes, sir, you’ll always be Farmer Nixon,” Mr. Rau chucked as he puffed on his pipe years later when I visited as an adult.  “Mrs. Rau and I had a good laugh when we looked out the kitchen window one January day and saw you planting seeds.  You were having a tough time with your gloves on, your thick Mackinow coat, your hat, the packet of seeds, and a trowel.  But the next summer that bed produced the best crop of zinnias we’d ever seen..”

I’m sure I had zero skills for growing great zinnias.  In fact, as I recall those early years, I realize I was the learner and Mr. Rau taught me important principles of good gardening just by practicing them and letting me watch and help.

Mr. Rau’s rain barrel:  The rain barrel sat at the corner of the Rau home closest to their large garden.  The rotund oak barrel sat on several bricks, and Mr. Rau bored an overflow hole near the top and built a wooden top with handle.  He painted the exterior white to match their house but hadn’t thought of installing a screen at the top to keep out the infamous Jersey ‘skeeters or a spigot near the bottom. Rain water Mr. Rau used from the barrel meant he didn’t have to pump water from his well.

Mr. Rau’s drip irrigation system:  Mr. Rau would be fascinated by today’s simple and inexpensive drip irrigation systems, but he made do with the simple materials he had at hand.  I used to watch him dig-in clay flower pots between his tomato plants and fill them with buckets of water from the rain barrel during summer droughts. Today I place five-gallon plastic buckets with holes drilled in the bottoms in my Tomato Patch.

Mr. Rau’s pole limas:  In post-World War II years when nearly every backyard in Alloway still contained a vegetable garden, Mr. Rau often commented that other gardeners—especially Mr. Bowling just a few houses closer to the center of town—were trying to see who would grow the best pole lima beans.

Beans are beans, I suppose, to most modern shoppers, but pole limas were the prized vegetable in South Jersey gardens in those days.  They’re notoriously temperamental.  If the weather is too wet or cold, the seeds may rot before sprouting.  And when they grow, sometimes they produce a huge harvest—and sometimes little or none.

I used to watch Mr. Rau set up his two rows of bean poles in late spring.  He used a heavy, pointed steel bar to make holes every four feet for the cedar poles that were all approximately the same size.  He’d plant hills of lima seeds around each pole.  Then he’d string binder twine across the tops of the poles and in huge Xs between them.  As the plants grew, he’d guide them along the twine.

Growing limas took lots of work, time, patience, and good weather, but near the end of the growing season the rewards were mouth watering, a “mess of limer beans,” as a visitor from New York City once joked, or one of the signature dishes of South Jersey cookery, lima bean potpie.  Lima bean potpie also was work intensive, but I’ll not detour there.

Planting onion sets:  One early-spring day I watched over the fence as Mr. Rau worked in his khaki shirt and pants in his garden in early spring.  I climbed over for a closer look.

“What are you doing, Mr. Rau?”

“Planting onions, Farmer.”

“Can I help?”

“Do you know how to plant onions?”


“Well, watch what I do.  First, take a set from the paper bag. … Put the round end down in the row I’ve made with the hoe. … Put the next set down about here. …”

Mr. Rau took my small left hand and placed it between the two sets he had placed in the row.
“See,” he said, “that’s how you do it—one set every five fingers.”

I must have finished planting the onions in a reasonably acceptable way because Mr. Rau didn’t redo them before he carefully hoed soil up around them.  When he had finished, he said, “Here, Farmer,” and placed a dime into my dusty hand.

I can’t recall whether I climbed over or flew over the fence on my way home, but I remember yelling as I ran into the house, “Mom!  Look!  A dime!  Mr. Rau gave me a dime!”  Ten cents then was enough to buy two huge single-dip ice-cream cones at Ewen’s General Store or Dunham’s Market, the two small groceries at town center.

Thank you, Carl G. Rau, 1893-1971, for lifting me over the fence and letting me learn by helping in your garden.

Is a child watching as you work in your garden?  Lift him or her over the fence into the fascinating world of gardening.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Deer Country: Protective Cages for Shrubs

New PVC/netting cage for azalea
I planted three azaleas more than 10 years ago.  The two I protected from deer browsing with iron stakes and wire fencing are about six feet tall and each spring are covered with lavender flowers.  Because of deer browsing the flower buds in late winter, the unprotected plant is about 18 inches tall and each spring has few flowers.  When I recently saw a doe nibbling on the short azalea’s “backside”—the side from which the deer usually approach during the day—I decided it was time to build a protective cage.

Photo 1 shows the new cage, which I built from three 10-foot, 1½-inch PVC pipes, four 90° elbow joints, and one T-joint.  Since the azalea I want to protect is about 18 inches tall in most places but sprawls about four feet, I cut two 5-foot pieces from one of the pipes for the horizontal supports (the tops).  For the vertical supports (or legs), I cut five equal pieces (3 feet, 4 inches each) from the two remaining pipes, leaving a sixth piece for a future project.  The longer legs will give the plant room to grow.

Deer discovers new cage
I assembled this slightly more complicated structure basically the same way as I did the shorter structure I described in an earlier posting.  I used the elbow-joints to connect the ends of the tops to the legs.  I cut one top in half and joined the two pieces with the T-joint, with the fifth leg underneath.  I installed the 3-leg piece below the 2-leg piece to support help support both pieces and tied everything together with nylon string.  I hammered a 36-inch garden stake into the ground to help keep each leg in place.  I then wrapped the cage in deer netting, hoping that it will be sufficient to deter wintertime browsing.  If that doesn’t work, next winter I’ll add 2”x3” welded wire, which I used for the shorter cage.

Does the new cage work?  Photos 2 and 3 show a deer discovering the new arrival—the cage—around the azalea.  I happened to glance out a front window and saw deer moving toward our flower beds as they grazed.  I grabbed my camera and watched with a smile as one deer noticed the new structure.  The deer first surveyed the new cage from behind a Russian sage—looking intensely, sniffing, focusing its ears, like “radars,” on the contraption.  It took a few additional, cautious steps toward the cage, again looking, sniffing, listening.

Deer trying to figure out new cage
Oh how I wished the cage could have shouted, “Boo!”  But that wasn’t necessary, because after a few seconds, the curious deer turned and ran to rejoin the nearby, grazing herd.

Photo 4 shows a simpler cage I made for a miniature azalea that a friend gave us when my mother died a few years ago.  It has been a late-winter favorite of browsing deer, so each fall I encircle it with fencing that sits on the mulch and is anchored by four garden stakes.  For three winters it’s worked well, and each spring the small azalea has more pink flowers.

If deer browse your flowering shrubs, be creative.  Protect them some way.  The buds you save this winter will be next spring’s flowers.

Simpler cage for smaller azalea
To go to my earlier posting about the shorter PVC/wire cage that protects our moss phlox, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Washington Post Gardening Articles

Buried treasure?
Here are links to five recent Washington Post articles on a variety of gardening and related subjects—winter vegetables, trees with good fall colors, plants for dry shade, Osage orange tree, and snowbirds:

Barbara Damrosch, “A Cook’s Garden” columnist, on “What on earth? Winter’s buried treasure”—“earth vegetables,” as she calls them, that make good winter food and can be stored in the ground, in a root cellar, or even “a garbage can or large picnic cooler sunk into the ground.”  CLICK HERE.

Like a rainbow?
Adrian Higgins, “Gardening” columnist, on “Like a rainbow, so colorful and brief”—trees that have beautiful colors in the fall.  CLICK HERE.

Adrian Higgins on “Beating the beast of dry shade”—with suggestions about perennials to plant in dry shade, such as under the sprawling branches of your maple tree.  CLICK HERE.

Patterson Clark, “Urban Jungle” columnist, on “Rebound from the brink”—about the Osage orange tree, which your granddad may have planted as a hedgerow because it grows “horse high, bull strong and pig tight.”  CLICK HERE.

Patterson Clark on “For snowbirds, it’s ‘ladies first’—about dark-eyed juncos, which probably are exploring possibilities for a snack at your under your feeder as you read this.  CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deer Country: PVC & Fencing Tent Protects Small Plants

Before: Deer browse moss phlox
I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing—two fawns standing in our bed of moss phlox (Phlox subulata) and chowing down on the greenery.  I couldn’t believe it because for about 10 years deer had mostly ignored the stringy, semi-prickly phlox.  Occasionally I’d found a stem or two that deer had pulled—and then promptly spit out.

What could I do, now that two beautiful specimens of the next deer generation had decided moss phlox belongs on their “favorite,” not “resistant,” list?

First attempt:  My earlier experiments with local deer management taught me that a soft answer—deer netting, for example—would not deter the browsing if I merely covered the phlox.  The deer would just step on the soft netting and browse accessible leaves and stems.  I had read several recommendations, though, that deer will avoid a sheet of welded wire fencing laid on the ground, so I went to the Shop and returned with a six-foot length of 2”x3” welded wire fencing—the green, plastic-coated kind you’ve probably used—and laid it over the small bed of phlox.

First failure: The next morning I had to search for the sheet of fencing.  I found it, rumpled, about 10 feet from the phlox in another perennial bed.  I imagine a deer had walked on it and in surprise carried it to the iris bed.  Hindsight said that a panicked deer with loose wire fencing wrapped around a leg or two wasn’t the way I want to interact with our local bambits.

Second attempt: If loose fencing doesn’t work, how about something more stationary, more resistant to hungry deer?  How about a “cage” made of the wire fencing but securely tied to a simple structure made of PVC pipe?

After: Deer inspects new cage
In the “After” photo you can see the structure I designed from one 10-foot, 1½ inch, PVC pipe, two 90° elbow joints, and one T-joint.  I cut the pipe into two 3½-feet pieces and three one-foot pieces and pressed the pieces together with the T-joint between the two long pieces, the two elbows at the ends of the long pieces, and the three short pieces serving as supports or legs.  Total cost of the PVC pieces at Home Depot: less than $5.30, including sales tax.

To help support the structure, I cut an old 48-inch garden stake (plastic covered aluminum) in half and hammered them into the ground to support the two end legs of the PVC structure.  After I installed the structure over the two stakes, I shaped the fencing over the support like a pup tent and tied it securely to the PVC support with nylon string.  I had used both the stake and the fencing for earlier projects, so I add no cost for them to the project.

Lunch of phlox is
out of the question, at least
for now
Does the contraption work?  The third photo shows the answer.  The moss phlox is in the cage and not the bambit’s belly.  I’ve watched several times from a window just 10 feet away as a deer has tried to work its nose under the fencing to grab a bite of phlox.  So far the simple structure has resisted sufficiently to encourage the deer to move on to easier browsing.

Score:  Bob 1, Bambits 0.  That’s the exciting news from Deer Country, where plants are caged and deer run free.

If you’re thinking of creating a similar cage, continue reading for a couple of additional points that I’ve learned from building projects from PVC pipe:

(1) PVC pipe comes with a full-length strip of black printing giving manufacturing details.  When I put the structure together, I position the printed strips so we don’t see them—downward on horizontal pieces and away from the most common view on vertical parts.

(2) I don’t glue the joints, which makes it easy for me to take the structure apart with a few twists or a few whacks with a rubber mallet if I want to store the structure over summer, when deer aren’t browsing heavily in our perennial beds, or until I want to use the pieces for another project.

(3) Tinker Toy 101 is the perfect training for PVC 101.  If you ever played with Tinker Toys, you should find it easy, maybe even fun, to make a simple PVC cage to protect your plants.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Deer Country: Should I Surrender?

The Leaning Deer Fence of Meadow Glenn

Grandson Kevin helped me build a barricade of iron fence posts and 2”x3” welded wire fencing around our redosier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) nearly two years ago to protect them from local deer that have placed them high on their browsing lists.  Fort Kevin worked well—until last night.

When I drove down our driveway this morning after a visit to the fitness room at the Howard County Community Center in Glenwood, I was shocked to see the six iron fence posts bent nearly 45° at ground level and decorated with crumpled fencing that had been nearly ripped off the posts.

“I can’t believe this,” I said to myself.  “Why now?  The dogwood shrubs have dropped their leaves.  There’s nothing there for deer to eat.”

Two bent posts with crumpled wire between
Closer inspection of the closest dogwood branches revealed no evidence of browsing at the ends of the red twigs, so I concluded that browsing wasn’t involved.  The most likely cause: A buck, perhaps Big Buck 2011, decided to use the posts to polish his antlers—crumpling the in-the-way wire in the process.  A less likely cause: A deer decided to show this Ancient Gardener who’s really in change of the landscape at Meadow Glenn after the sun sets.

Is it time for me to surrender to our herd of bambits?

Of course not.  I’ve already straightened the bent posts as much as I could and tried to rearrange the wire a bit, and I've put "Rebuild dogwood age" on my mental list of jobs to do before next spring.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Deer Country: Big Buck 2011

Big Buck 2011

Big Buck 2011 must be getting used to me, because late this afternoon he came out of hiding an hour or so earlier than usual, relaxed a bit while he was grazing near a group of eight does and half-grown fawns, and let me take some photographs while we were just about 150 feet apart at times.

Most of the photographs I take of deer are of does and fawns, which seem to tolerate my presence as long as I don’t make abrupt moves or walk directly toward them.  Young, antlered bucks seem to become more leery by the month and soon move on when I begin picture taking.

Big Buck 2011
Big Bucks, however, seem to know how to make it difficult for me to take their photos.  They seldom appear in “good light,” appearing usually in the evening twilight.  They usually keep a greater distance between them and the guy with the little black box on his face.  And some years they just don’t appear.

I’ve seen Big Buck 2011 several times during the last several weeks.  I’ve seen him in the evening at twilight on the crest of the hill to our north and on the lower level at the bottom of our hill to the west.  The first time it was too dark to photograph, and the second time he disappeared in the second or two it took me to look at my camera and turn it on.

Big Buck 2011
But Big Buck 2011 came out this afternoon about 4:00 and browsed in our neighbor’s field in the distant company of eight does and fawns.  I say “distant” because when he eats, he permits no other deer to graze within 25 feet.  If another deer doesn’t respect Big Buck’s grazing territory, he lowers his head and charges, and the offending deer flees to a safe distance and resumes grazing there.

I watched Big Buck 2011 for about a half hour, and as he grazed he gradually worked his way onto our property and among some of the native trees I had planted as part of the Howard County Stream ReLeaf Program at the bottom of our hill and along the stream.

Oh, no!  He's rubbing a dogwood tree!
Then Big Buck 2011 did something I thought I’d never witness—let along get a picture of.  He looked over several of our young trees and headed for a leafless flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that I had just uncaged last week.  Even though the dogwood’s inch-and-a-half trunk still was surrounded with a two-foot tall protective collar of hardware cloth, Big Buck lowered his head and ….

“No!  No!” I wanted to shout.  “Don’t rub your antlers on my dogwood!  You’ll kill it!”

But I didn’t shout.  I was too busy taking the picture.  I’m hoping the hardware cloth gave the young tree some protection.  I think it did because Big Buck rubbed his right antler once or twice and began grazing again.

Big Buck 2008
Not every year do I declare I’ve seen Big Buck.  The last photo with this posting is of Big Buck 2008—the most magnificent Big Buck I’ve seen here at Meadow Glenn, Clarksville, Howard County, Maryland.  He visited for a few minutes one evening when it was so dark I had to prop my digital camera on our gate post to be able to get a photo.

I think Big Buck 2011 is a prime specimen, but I don’t think he quite measures up to Big Buck 2008.  What do you think?

P.S.  When I mentioned I had recently “uncaged” the young dogwood tree, I meant that I had removed the iron stakes and welded-wire fencing that for two years had protected the young tree from deer browsing and rubbing.  The tree—a younger dogwood—in front of Big Buck in the photo still is “caged.”  To read my earlier posting (January 23, 2011) on “caging,” CLICK HERE.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Up Go the Bird Feeders

From left, nyjer, sunflower seed, suet feeders

Today I enjoyed a beautiful autumn day by doing one of my favorite fall chores—putting up our bird feeders.  In recent years I’ve tried to hang them by mid-November, but today’s sunny skies and 60°F. temperature beckoned me to “get out the feeders” now. 

The left feeder has nyjer seed, commonly called “thistle,” especially for goldfinches and any of their finch cousins that care to dine.  The center feeder has black-oil sunflower seeds, the favorite of many species.  The right feeder contains suet that is exposed through hardware cloth on the bottom of the feeder.  Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches are skilled at eating upside down, but not those suet gluttons the starlings.

I didn’t ring a bell to announce “Chow time,” but the serving line began to form in minutes.  First to arrive were two chickadees and a pair of titmice that started carrying off single sunflower seeds to nearby shrubs and trees to crack and eat.  I’ve also seen one female goldfinch, a male house finch, a junco, a downy woodpecker and—wait—three squirrels!


Already the gray critters have shimmied up the galvanized pipes and across the loose PVC pipe I installed to keep the opportunists off balance.  I shooed them twice and then did what I had forgotten to do—to coat the upright pipes with petroleum jelly.  Hey, take that, sticky paws!  And, Bob, remember the petroleum jelly next spring before you grab the poles to take down the feeder support for the summer.

A first responder: titmouse samples suet
I suppose we’ll have lots of warm, sunny fall weather over the next month or so, but I’m happy that the feeders are up and the birds are getting to know that they’ll have a place to grab a snack when the really bad, winter weather sets in.

If you’re thinking of building a feeding station, consider building something like what I’ve made.  I bought 1” galvanized pipe at Home Depot in precut, prethreaded lengths.  The top that holds the feeders has the following lengths and parts: one 36” for the center; two 24” for the ends; plus two T-joints (between center piece and the end pieces, with the support pipes going down) and two elbows and two caps for the ends.  The uprights were probably 10’, but I cut off 12” or so because the contraption was too tall for me to conveniently refill the feeders.  The six pieces of 2” PVC pipe are loose to discourage squirrels.  They also help keep the feeders in position.

Unseen parts:  Below ground are two four-gallon buckets, each with a 18” piece of 2” PVC pipe centered and sticking up and out the top of the bucket several inches and above the mulch several inches.  To keep the PVC pipe in position, I put a half bag of concrete mix in each bucket and made sure the two pipes were plumb when the concrete began to set.  The buckets stay in place year round, and I simply remove the feeders and lift out the support structure for summer storage in our garage.

After exposure to more than 10 winters, the structure has fewer signs of aging than I do, but then I’ve been around for more than 10 winters

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Deer Country: What Causes October Madness?

Fawns browsing moss phlox

What causes deer to do strange things in October—such as eating plants they’ve absolutely ignored the other 11 months of the year?

Another gardener recently commented, “What’s with the deer?  They ignore certain plants all year and then clean me out—in October.”

Here are four examples of deer eating plants in October that they generally don’t browse.

One October afternoon I looked out our front window and saw two fawns grazing in our bed of moss phlox.  That phlox has been growing there for at least 10 years with hardly a nibble.  Yes, occasionally in mid-winter, when there’s not much green to eat, a deer has grabbed a mouthful—and usually spit it out on the nearby sidewalk.  But this year the two fawns apparently decided moss phlox is the greatest new food since apple pie.

Fawn sampling goldenrod
A fawn in October also did what no other deer has done—sampled our goldenrod, a much listed "deer-resistant plant."

Deer haven’t nibbled a leaf of the lilac shrub by our driveway for at least 10 years—until this October, when they defoliated the shrub below the browse line—which is about five feet above ground.  Lilac, you know if you live in Deer Country, appears on just about every list of “deer-resistant plants.” 

Browsed lilac

Finally, every book and every magazine article on deer management states that deer never ever eat daffodils.  Ha!  I watched—on October 24, for the record—a fawn browsing on “toxic” daffodil leaves that had broken through to announce that there will be a Spring 2012.  Apparently the fawn was redefining “toxic.”

What do you think is “with” deer in October?  Are they bored with the same-old, same-old food they’ve been eating all summer and want to try something new and exciting?  Are the fawns that eat forbidden fruit—well, resistant plants—deer delinquents deliberately showing their mothers that they indeed can eat “bad” food?

Sampling daffodils

I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t.  I just know strange things happen to plants in our garden when October Madness strikes and our deer decide that our resistant plants suddenly are irresistible.