Herds of white tailed deer have become the bane of the suburban gardener. We admire their graceful gaits and darling fawns, and in winter there is nothing more magical than seeing them frolicking in a mid-January snowfall. But come spring, their charm quickly wears thin as they descend upon just about everything gardeners plant. Flamboyant azaleas, glossy tulips, budding hostas and tender tomato plants are all fair game.
The Brooksfield School in suburban McLean has created a simple, inexpensive solution to this problem. Nestled on five acres of woodland, Brooksfield conducts an organic gardening program to engage their young learners in a year round gardening experience. Using simple raised beds they have created a series of ‘kinder gardens’ in which they grow a variety of heirloom squash, jack-o-lantern pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, herbs and popcorn. However, their location makes their gardens prime targets for the deer who live in McLean’s suburban forests.
Virginia Ward, Brooksfield’s organic gardening instructor, has designed a simple, low cost fence to protect the children’s hard work. Using plastic pvc piping, bird netting, clips and string, she and her students, aged 7-9 years, constructed deer barriers that have successfully protected their gardens from planting to harvest.
Raised garden beds were built for each of the three Lower School classes and filled with rich organic soil. The deer fence is essentially a cube constructed of pvc pipe installed against the inside perimeter of the raised beds. Here’s how they did it. Three-quarter inch plastic pvc piping was purchased from the local hardware store in 10 foot lengths along with sufficient 3-hole connector pieces (known as side outlet 90% elbows) to ensure that the piping fit snugly inside the perimeter of each bed. The children measured the length and width of each garden, subtracted 2 inches from each measurement to allow for the installation of the corner elbow pieces and marked the measurements on the pvc pipe. Using a small hacksaw, they carefully cut each piece where marked and assembled the frames in each garden. They then cut enough length and width pieces, using the same measurements, for the top of the frame. Four additional side outlet elbow pieces per garden were also required for this part of the frame.
Two more 10 foot x ¾ inch pvc pipes were cut in half for each garden. Each 5 foot pole was inserted into the top hole of the corner elbows, giving the fence its height. The second frame was attached to the top of the vertical poles and the basic frame was finished. Years of building LEGO creations made this project very easy for these second and third grade gardeners.
A roll of plastic bird netting, also purchased from the local hardware store, was draped around the outside of the fence perimeter, with 3-6 inches of netting hanging over the top frame. To secure the netting in this position, string was tied to a classroom pencil and the children wove it in and out of the netting around the entire perimeter of the garden. Once the netting reached the starting point again, it was trimmed, allowing a 12 inch overlap to ensure that the fencing was completely closed. Bright pipe cleaners were used to identify the fence opening and the entire structure was securely closed using large bulldog clips. More clips were used to fix the netting to the bottom of each vertical pole and small bamboo sticks inserted through the netting into the soil kept it secure between poles. At any time the children could access the garden to weed, water or harvest by either entering through the opening or by removing the clips and bamboo and rolling the netting to the top of the frame.
With a few more steps and a few more pieces from the hardware store, the frames were converted into winter greenhouses, allowing the children to continue gardening throughout the colder weather. To do this, the bird netting was removed and the top frame and vertical poles were disassembled and stored for the following spring. The two long pipes on the bottom frame were cut into three pieces and reconnected using straight ¾ inch 3-hole “T” connectors. Pvc male adaptors were screwed into the top hole of the “T” connectors to reduce the hole size from ¾ inch to ½ inch. Flexible ½ inch pvc pipes were inserted into the “T” plugs on one side and arched over the garden and inserted into the corresponding plug on the opposite side. Heavy, clear plastic sheeting was draped over the arches and secured at the top and base of the arched pipes with bulldog clips. All winter long children from preschool to grade 3 continued to tend the gardens and harvest delicious kale, collards, broccoli and cauliflower to cook in their ongoing nutrition classes. Fresh kale gnocchi with sage and brown butter sauce anyone?