Our Adorable Deer-proof Backyard Veggie Garden

Until this year, our attempts to grow a few tomatoes and peppers in our Pittsburgh backyard have been less than successful. The first year we moved in, Rick popped a couple of beefsteak tomato plants in a sunny corner of the yard and we watched them grow in giddy anticipation of the sandwiches we would make with the fresh-picked fruit. That was before we realized we moved into an area whose deer population rivals that of humans.  (We should have been suspicious when we noticed our neighbors had yard signs reading, “Eat More Venison!”) Just as our tomatoes approached peak ripeness, Bambi came for a visit and ate every last one.

We then tried a motion-activated sprinkler guaranteed to chase the deer from our backyard. We succeeded in inadvertently squirting ourselves numerous times (and a few unsuspecting guests), but did not deter the deer. Perhaps they appreciated the cooling showers as they devoured our garden once again.

Our next attempt at deer-proofing was a pop-up net contraption that I found in a catalogue. It fit nicely over the raised bed garden Rick constructed, and it did keep the deer away. Unfortunately, our plants out-grew the net and before we’d harvested many tomatoes, a windy summer storm blew everything sideways and damaged most of the plants.

Our garden outgrew last year’s pop-up net so Rick cut the top away. This is before the wind blew the whole thing sideways.

So this spring, in the midst of the pandemic quarantine, we decided to build a truly deer-proof and sturdy garden area. I found a kit online that we liked the looks of, but it wasn’t quite the size we wanted and it cost $1,600. Luckily, our son and daughter-in-law are experienced urban gardeners and were willing to help us design and build exactly what we wanted. 

We put the new garden in the same location as the previous one, but we expanded the footprint to eight by ten feet. The growing space is u-shaped with room in the center to attend to the plants, so our actual usable area is 60 square feet. We did lots of sketches on graph paper and then drew full-scale chalk outlines in the driveway to make sure our design gave us access to all of the planting area. Jordan brought his woodworking tools over, including his mitre saw, which made for a really professional looking finish on all of the cuts.

We like to grow our vegetables organically, so we chose to pay more for cedar in place of chemically treated lumber that could potentially leach unhealthy substances into the soil. Altogether, our new garden cost around $900. We spent $600 for the cedar, $100 for wire fencing and hardware, and $225 for three cubic yards of organic soil for the raised beds. The sweat equity of Jordan, Silvan, and Rick was huge. They worked all day and finished up just as the sun was beginning to set.

Since we were doing construction in the beginning of the COVID outbreak, I made us all masks to wear and barked at Rick and Jordan to stay six feet apart throughout the day. (Doesn’t that sound fun? I’m a laugh a minute, especially during a pandemic.)

Rick demonstrating with a tape measure that he is, indeed, six feet away from Jordan.

We planted the garden out with seeds that Jordan and Silvan shared with us and seedlings purchased from Grow Pittsburgh (a great source for heirloom and organic vegetable plants in the Pittsburgh area) and we sat back to watch it grow. If I’m being honest, I’m the only one sitting back watching it grow. Rick is out there multiple times daily babying his plants and texting pictures to Jordan and Silvan to ensure that everything is developing as it should be.

Now here we are at the end of July beginning to reap the rewards of all that work. Earlier this summer, we had a bumper crop of salad greens and radishes and now we’re harvesting cherry tomatoes and peppers, as well as some yellow squash and zucchini that Rick is growing in a local community garden. We have a variety of tomatoes growing, including Sun Gold, Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple, San Marzano and Big Boys; two varieties of peppers, Jimmy Nardellos and Lunchbox, Yukon gold potatoes, basil, and all around the perimeter of the garden we have climbing plants- Kentucky wonder beans, Cannellini beans, Good Mother Stollard beans, and climbing cucumbers. With any luck, sometime in August we’ll be researching canning recipes and filling the new chest freezer waiting in the basement.

We dug the air fryer out of the basement to make a healthier, but every bit as delicious, batch of fried squash! (These were actually grown in the community garden, but I neglected to take photos of the tabouleh we made using tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and mint from the backyard. Or the pepper sandwiches made with our Lunch box peppers. Or the two batches of pesto made from our basil. I think my blogging skills need a little work.)

If you have any tips for putting up vegetables, or foolproof recipes for pickling vegetables, please share them with us in the comments! Also, if you have any questions about our garden construction, feel free to reach out!

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8 thoughts on “Our Adorable Deer-proof Backyard Veggie Garden

  1. Great work! That is an impressive structure. Growing up, my neighbor (who had his own garden battles with deer) always said, “They ain’t Bambi, they’re rats with antlers.”
    For air frying veggies, I suggest https://www.house-autry.com/collections/air-fry . Either flavor works fantastic on vegetables, and it gives a much crunchier ‘fry-like texture than flour-based breadings.

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    1. Thanks for the air fryer seasoning tip! We will definitely check it out. And completely agree with the “rats with antlers” sentiment. It’s hard to believe something so cute can be so destructive!

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  2. With a hedge on one side, and climbing plants on the other, I’m surprised your tomatoes and peppers are getting enough sunshine, but obviously it’s working!

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