Cam Goes on a Campout

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.

8 Responses to “Cam Goes on a Campout”

  • Jim Cherry:

    Cam your garden looks beautiful with all the beds neatly laid out and the follow on crop sowings quite obvious.
    Here in Australia I have wallaroos, a small kangaroo, coming to visit my garden at night time. Luckily they just eat the grass around the outside of the vegie patch and amongst the orchard trees and lawn. Although they have nibbled the tips off some fruit trees.
    A few weeks ago I found a handful of wool and a couple of bones from a newborn lamb which had been dragged to the centre of the vegie garden by a fox after it had found the lamb in the neighbour’s paddock.
    Echidnas are also exciting to have when they dig holes looking for ants.

  • Love looking at your garden pictures and reading your adventures, Cam! It’s so organized and alive!

  • Glee:

    What a bunch of nuts we are. We have quite a large population of deer too and all sorts of predators that want turkey or chicken or duck for dinner. The raccoons love eggs almost as much as chicken,and eggs are much easier and quieter to steal. What we do to help repel them is, well, actually Murphy does, is to pee all around the border of the property. It is a natural “marking of the territory”. I read that it works, and it seems to. The dog helps with this. It’s an announcement to all who use their noses to find the garden or the chicken coop. We thought the new five-strand high-tensile-electric fence would help, but even the cows just jump over it. They do not seem to have the same sense of honor that the horses do. They will stay in the pasture with just a string to mark the territory, but not the cows. Who knew they could jump that high? Of course, when the cows get out they head for the garden.

  • Jennifer:

    What a beautiful garden and property! You are so lucky. My husband and I are looking forward to the day when we can sell our city house and 60′ x 120′ lot, leave our noisy neighbours behind, and move to the peace and quiet of the country – whether there are vegetable-eating deer or not!

  • I have been prepared to camp out with my dog for weeks now… but the only deer damage my garden has sustained was some pruning of the chard and beet greens a few times. They didn’t seem to be attacking it, just having a snack. I threw some light row covers over those crops, and haven’t had a problem since.

    In hopes of bating the the deer away from my veggies, I seeded a large patch of turnips in the field next to the garden. According to my Dad, deer love them. I have not yet seen any deer damage there though, so it’s possible that we are going to have a very large crop of turnips in a few weeks… yikes. Maybe sheep and donkeys like turnips too?

  • David Hribar:

    Your garden is beautiful and as I sit in my office at work I am so jealous. Of couse I don’t see all the work you do in the hot sun to keep it so nice. I am a dog lover as well and I just had to laugh in agreement with your sensitivity towards your dog. Next year I can finely semiretire and move back to upstate New York and get started on my gardening and solar electric. Thanks

  • Donna:

    Our Yorkie female had puppies in March. Our house is cold & drafty on the floor. So I slept on the floor on a cot mattress for a MONTH to fetch the puppies back into the swimming pool with their mom if they climbed out! I’m with you Cam…

  • There’s an episode of Gilmore Girls where Sookie’s husband (who’s a farmer) sleeps with his zuchini to make sure they don’t freeze at night!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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