I keep hearing about all these deer that are going to descend on our farm in hordes, wreaking terrible havoc on all that is green. As one who has been known to eat of the venison from time to time, I am usually skeptical when I hear such claims… sure, it sounds bad to the farmers, but hunters like to hear such stories told around campfires, and they’re usually too good to be true.

As such, I’ve been waiting to see what would happen, and something finally did last week. Someone started eating the leaves off of my almond tree. There is still a lot of forage around, so I think this was just a little sampling. I want to take action before it gets worse, though, so things don’t turn out like what happened to Farmer Ned’s arborvitae a few falls back (at right). In response to this test of my defenses, I built chicken wire cages around the two almonds. Long ago, when I set up the fence around the orchard, i didn’t enclose these two trees because they are set apart form the others (for decorative reasons). I guess this makes them a good litmus test for things to come.

When my dad was here last week, he commented several times on the flimsy nature of the anti-deer fence around the garden. Unlike the one at the orchard, it was never intended to be permanent- it was put up quickly, using leftovers from the “real” fence. My thought was that I’d eventually install an electric fence six feet outside of the main one. The general consensus amongst the knowledgeable is that deer can jump quite high, but don’t like to tangle with three-dimensional hurdles. The inner net fence gives them something to see, and the outer electric fence shocks them before they get close enough to the net fence.  If you use electric tape instead of wire, it is pretty visible too, and the deer just sort of give up and go away. So they say.

My dad, being the ever -concerned parent and also wanting to help out, decided that I’d better get this fence thing sorted out sooner than later. “Buy the stuff,” he decreed, “and bill your mom.”  Nice. I got most of the parts I needed at the local farm store, except for the solar fence energizer, which had to be ordered online. It’s a specialty item.  Apparently, they come in lots of sizes… low voltage ones for timid animals (sheep), medium voltage for bigger or more persistant animals (cows or goats), or high voltage for special cases (predators, wild beasts, or “determined animals” like stallions).  Surprisingly, deer fall into the high voltage category, because they have small feet that don’t transfer energy well to ground and they have hollow hair that tends to insulate better against electricity. Therefore, that gizmo you see is a 3,000 volt zapper that puts out 1.0 joule. They say that’s enough to do the trick, though Farmer Ned swears that I will need twice that. I have not yet been zapped by it, but I am sure I will accidentally touch the fence at some point. When I do, I’ll give you a review of its performance.

In other news, I went out with Terry (my beekeeping mentor) to check out his hives and pull off honey. It’s that time of the year already! At the last beekeepers’ meeting, everyone was bemoaning a universally poor season for honey this year; Terry’s best hives only loaded up a single medium super each. He took me out with him so I could see how he works the hives, and I feel like I learned a ton- about the way he moves, how he handles the tools, what he brings with him to deal with unexpected conditions. Then, when we were done with the four hives in that apiary (he has several apiaries around the valley), we popped over to my hives. It was nice of him to donate some of his time to look through my hives with me, and give me an expert opinion on what I’ve been seeing. The feral hive is doing really well, and the formerly sick hive is also returning to health. But the big surprise was in the hive I requeened a few weeks ago… I couldn’t find any brood the last time I looked, so I assumed the queen hadn’t been accepted. But this time around, there were frames full of baby bees! And Terry even found the queen and pointed her out to me, something I’ve never been able to spot on my own. She seemed quite content, and her colony was growing rapidly.

Despite all this good news, though, there was some bad: there will be no honey this year. In their struggle to get settled in (or survive, in some cases), none of my three colonies produced an excess of honey. What was there would need to stay there, to get them through the winter. Even with that, Terry suggested I start feeding them syrup in the next week or two, to give them more reserves in case the winter is a long one. If I can help them make it through the winter, then they will have a good start next season and we’ll probably see honey in Year 2.

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