Keeping critters out of the garden

Jerry Apps
Steve Apps erects a fence around the family's garden to thwart local critters from grabbing a quick snack.

 When I began vegetable gardening at our farm many years ago, my neighbor, Floyd Jeffers, who farmed across the road from me, warned that the critters would eat it all. He was referring to the deer and turkeys. He also mentioned that raccoons liked to prey on gardens as well, especially sweet corn.

What to do?

His answer, don’t grow a garden.

Not the answer I wanted. I asked around.

“Here’s what you do,” an old timer in the neighborhood said. “String a wire around your garden. Ask your barber to save a bunch of hair.  Put the hair in little plastic bags and hang them every three feet or so around on the fence.” 

Sounded like a dumb idea. It was.

The deer seemed attracted rather than discouraged from having at my struggling little vegetables.

Next idea, dump out the hair. Fill the little plastic bags with mothballs. I bought umpteen boxes of mothballs and did that. 

Another dumb idea. Deer seemed to like the smell of mothballs.

I remembered what my dad did when I was a kid. When he temporarily wanted to keep animals inside an enclosure, he put up an electric fence. In a brief moment of thoughtful consideration, I said to my wife, Ruth, “I have the answer.”  She had been chuckling at my failed “keep out the critters” plans.

“My dad put up an electric fence to keep animals in, wouldn’t the opposite work?” I said.

For many years we have surrounded our garden with a two-wire electric fence. The top wire about four feet from the ground, the bottom wire about 10 inches. No more critters in the garden.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Sometimes you have to turn your thinking upside down to find the right answer.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to