I was in the garden the other day and I noticed a bean plant with a broken top. I assumed I’d knocked it off while weeding. Then I noticed another and thought I’d better be more careful. By the time I’d counted 4 topless bean plants, I saw the deer tracks and realized I wasn’t the problem.

We have had deer tracks in the garden a few times this year but I hadn’t found any damage. I believe it’s more incidental deer traffic; deer wandering through the area as opposed to targeting our garden.

I’ve also noticed a few rabbits around the property as their population is on an upswing in its cycle, and of course the raccoons have been waiting for the corn to mature.

I know what you’re thinking… “But Cam, you have a dog, surely he keeps the beasts at bay.” Well yes, during the day he does, but he prefers to sleep inside at night.

Our previous dog Morgan did not want to be in the house from about May to November. If we tried to call him in at dusk to sleep inside he would shake his head from side to side as if saying “no” to us. He just preferred to sleep outside. It was like he knew exciting stuff was going to be happening at night outside and he wanted to be in the thick of it. And with all his barking he obviously was.

When Jasper joined us last spring after Morgan died, I wasn’t anxious to have him sleep outside until he was familiar with his new home. Then we had an incident in which he headed out on the road, and another this spring when I went out one night to turn the solar panels. He disappeared into the woods to chase something and came back with a few porcupine quills in his face. Luckily they were small quills and we were able to remove them.

So, I have been wrestling with letting him sleep outside this year, and with 40 CSA members looking forward to our delicious corn, it’s more important than ever.

So after the latest deer incident I decided enough is enough. Time to ask Jasper to sleep in the garden. And since I don’t like to ask people (or my dog) to do something that I’m not willing to do myself, I decided that I’d better show him that I was willing to sleep out there too. I don’t know whether dogs have this sense of fairness, but I didn’t want him to resent me for leaving him out in the garden while I enjoyed the comfort of my bed.

There are still mosquitoes buzzing around so I decided that a tent was in order. The only tent I have is one that I bought for canoeing and backpacking trips when I was about 12, so it’s got to be about 40 years old. I don’t whey I’ve kept it this long, but it’s always been on a shelf in the basement or garage and I finally got to pull it out and use it.

Unlike modern tents it is fluorescent orange in colour, which I think is still logical because it would be easier to spot from a plane if you were “lost in the barrens.” And best of all, it was made in Canada. In Toronto no less! Can you imagine that today, a manufactured good like a tent made in North America? And it’s still in great shape, suggesting that they must have made it out of good material, even though I know it wasn’t that expensive. I would have used cash from my Globe and Mail newspaper route to buy it.

tent-in-the-garden

I believe I discovered the hard way that it is water “repellent” but not water “resistant,” so I bought a sheet of plastic and used it over top. This, of course, also prevents any moisture from leaving the tent so it builds up on the inside overnight, but at least I don’t get totally soaked in a rainstorm.

I pitched it on a section of the garden where we’d just finished harvesting spinach. I got out the air mattress that we were given as a wedding present 30 years ago. For our honeymoon we drove west and camped across Canada and down to California, so most of our wedding presents were camping-related items like coolers and camp stoves. How romantic is that!

So at dusk Jasper and I headed out to the garden. I tied him up because I knew if I didn’t he’d either wander around the garden and knock down vegetable plants or he’d make his way back to the house and bark to be let back in. Almost immediately he started barking and growling and I figured that I would be out of luck getting any sleep, but he settled fairly quickly and spent the night quietly.

Michelle had teased me that I’d be back in the house within the hour. Remember when you were a kid and you were determined to sleep out in your backyard in your tent but at the first mysterious noise you got scared and ran back inside? I will admit that once I got ensconced in my sleeping bag I remembered that I had meant to bring a baseball bat with me. Two years ago we had a mother black bear and cub in the yard, so it’s not a stretch to imagine we’d have another visit. As I lay there I was thinking that the thin layer of nylon tent isn’t much of a barrier to sharp bear claws. Thank you Hollywood for putting that image into my brain!

But I pushed through and made it all night! Without incident. When I got up at 5:30 a.m. Jasper was unconscious on his blanket and showed no sign of life. I was a bit concerned that he’d expired in the night, so I don’t know how much good he’d done. But I know if he’d heard raccoons in the corn there would have been a ruckus.

I believe the term for over-protective parents is “helicopter parents.” Parents who hover over their kids making sure they don’t hurt themselves. Am I a “helicopter dog owner?” Afraid to just plunk my dog out in the garden and tell him to bark at deer? Is this a psychological disorder that can be cured? I’m not quite sure. I do know I was very fond of Morgan and appreciated his garden patrolling during corn season. I am also very fond of Jasper and regardless of how dogs think, I’ve shown him that he’s not the only one willing to sleep in the garden. Personally if I was a dog I’d much rather have the adventure of a garden sleep out than plopping down in the house at night.

I may sleep out a few more nights. There’s something about sleeping in a tent, especially a 40-year-old tent. The eerie orange light that comes through the tent. That 1970’s “tent” smell. It’s probably caused by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which give your new car that great smell but are probably toxic. I figure after 40 years though, surely all the bad stuff has gassed off by now. And if I can avoid a late night brawl with a black bear, it’s a pretty great way to commune with my vegetables. How many CSAs can boast about having a farmer who sleeps with his vegetables at night? That’s extreme gardening, but that’s my style.