I was late to embrace the joys of growing my own vegetables. It wasn't until last year that I planted tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants in a raised garden above a retaining wall in the side yard. I felt like Old McDonald -- turning the soil, raking in the fertilizer, spacing the plants, setting the water timer -- but I wasn't validated as a gardener until I looked outside one day and found three deer chomping on what I'd grown.

When you see deer clip-clopping through East Bay neighborhoods, your first thought is "How adorable; wonder where they live." You don't give much thought to their dining habits until your yard becomes their buffet.

They didn't just eat the tops of the tomato plants. They devoured the roses and trampled a flower bed. I was thankful to see the birch tree was still standing.

If you do a Web search for the phrase "Keep deer from eating garden," you'll get 5.43 million hits. There's advice from experts, amateurs and media outlets. There are YouTube videos, blogs and chat rooms. We should have so many people working on a cure for cancer.

Because you can believe everything you read on the Internet, I started taking notes. Deer eat 6 to 10 pounds of foliage per day, can leap any fence less than 8 feet tall, love sweet, smooth plants and will keep returning to feed until deterred. They don't like loud noises, bright lights and suspicious aromas, so we have that in common.


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A landscape contractor offered this handy, five-step remedy for safeguarding gardens:

  • Fill nylon mesh bag with human hair and tie to branches;

  • Drill holes through bars of deodorant soap and hang in garden;

  • Cover plants with fine-mesh nylon netting;

  • Install a motion-detector sprinkler head;

  • Spray deer-deterrent chemical onto leaves.

    If those measures don't work, you can bury land mines on the perimeter of your property.

    Another helpful tip comes from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which claims that the scent of tiger, leopard or lion dung will scare deer away. Zoo officials are selling it at 15 pounds for $30. So it's now official: American consumers will buy anything.

    One online volunteer said deer hate the scent of Irish Spring soap. A man responded: "I don't know if it deters deer, but when I was a teenager it sure kept girls away."

    Among the "20 Ways to Keep Deer Out of Your Yard" posted on thisoldhouse.com is not to "overstock your garden with tasty plants." (And the way to stop bank robberies is for banks not to keep any cash.) Another preventive measure is to "keep a dog in the yard," but I know firsthand that deer are not much impressed by a 10-pound Yorkshire terrier.

    What did I do? I increased the height of the 4-foot backyard fence that the deer scoffed at last year. They regrouped and attacked through a gap in the patio hedges. Then I installed another fence, between the patio and the garden. The deer found a low spot in a side-hill fence alongside the garage. I thought of raising that fence, too, but what's the point? Keeping a deer from a garden is like keeping a gambler out of a casino.

    I'm not buying any lion dung, I don't have enough hair to fill many bags and the dog isn't getting bigger. There's only one way to ensure fresh tomatoes this year.

    I'm headed to the farmers' market.

    Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.