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Protecting our gardens from deer

RSDP Deer exclosure
Deer micro exclosure built by Kent Scheer at Waden's Green Island Preserve.

As gardeners know, deer can be a pest. Simple, low-cost wildlife exclosures offer protection for those growing food near deer habitats.

Kent Scheer, owner of Wadena’s Green Island Preserve, found success with an inexpensive solution called “micro exclosures,” and reached out to the University of Minnesota Extension Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RSDP) to see if the idea could benefit others. “I had a new and novel concept – something that I suspected there was little evidence for,” Scheer said.

With the average Minnesota gardener in mind, Scheer explored the viability of short, small fences to keep out deer. Because deer are afraid of getting trapped in small spaces, they don’t jump over the short fence into the enclosed area, Scheer explained. These micro exclosures could protect crops with minimal cost and materials.

Testing the concept

RSDP supports community research projects by working with partners to build cross-sector teams, including University of Minnesota faculty and students with expertise in these areas. These diverse project teams meet through the life of a project. Working together, they shape the concept, design the research, and learn from and act on findings. In this case, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences undergraduate Julia Otten worked with Kent Scheer and Central RSDP Executive Director Molly Zins to conduct a literature review of published information on affordable deer exclosures.

Otten’s research uncovered information on a research-tested home remedy for deer repellent, a list of deer-resistant plants, a cost-effectiveness study of deer-fencing alternatives, and other practical tips. Much of the identified research originated from the University of Minnesota.

Supplementing the existing research, Scheer conducted trials of his own micro exclosures. “I had six of these exclosures distributed around a 10-acre property on my land in different floral microcosms,” Scheer explained. “They were all of the same size: 16 by 16 feet.”

RSDP Deer near exclosure
Deer micro-exclosure trials at Kent Scheer’s farm in Wadena.

Scheer built the micro exclosures out of cattle panels commonly available at home improvement stores. These panels consist of rigid, heavy wire that can stand upright without fence posts. To create the micro exclosures, Scheer used four panels and clipped the corners together. Because they’re lightweight, they were easy to put in place and can be shaped into different configurations depending on the number of panels used.

“In our research process, one thing I learned was not to state things as black and white in terms of what works or doesn’t, but rather to relate it to percent success,” Scheer said. “Out of those six, I had only one deer incursion into an exclosure in a year and half and solved that by cutting the exclosure in half and further reducing its size. There were no further excursions.”

Group of people sitting on chairs in a circle outside listening to a presenter.
Kent Scheer discusses micro exclosure research with Central RSDP board members at Wadena's Green Island Preserve in June 2018.

Central RSDP board members viewed the micro exclosure trials first-hand. “In June, our board toured Kent’s farm and the deer exclosures,” Zins said. “Having the opportunity to walk the farm with Kent and hear directly about his experience with the exclosures and the research team gave board members the chance to see how this innovative seed idea moved from a concept to on-the-ground demonstration and applied research, ultimately resulting in information gardeners can use across the region.”

Equipping gardeners

Scheer and project team members hope to equip gardeners and small-scale farmers with practical, affordable alternatives to deer control options sold in stores. Trained volunteers with Extension’s Master Gardeners program bring research-based information to gardeners across the state, and Scheer connected with the program to share the deer exclosure research more broadly.

RSDP project teams often continue to meet beyond the life of the original project, and this is no exception. Team members are now working with RSDP staff to develop a webpage that will make the information broadly available.

Picture of a sign from a deer exclosure explaining what is inside the fence and the purpose of the exclosure.
Sign on one of the six deer micro exclosure tests conducted by farmer Kent Scheer in Wadena.

To Otten, interest in the practical information they uncovered has proved meaningful. “[It gave me the opportunity] to write something that the community has expressed interest in,” she said.

Otten is one of dozens of University of Minnesota students who work on RSDP projects across the state each year. “I want to express my tremendous satisfaction with working with our student researcher,” Scheer said. “We had a really fine outcome and a fine working relationship.”

Future research

Building on what has been learned through this project, Scheer sees potential to expand research into protecting Minnesota’s reforestation efforts from the white-tailed deer, which are known to eat understory plants and tree sprouts. In the meantime, those interested in keeping tabs on the work can follow RSDP on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to the RSDP Happenings newsletter.

Caryn Mohr and Alysse LaMond, September 2018

Caryn Mohr is the assistant statewide director of the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP). Alysse LaMond worked as a student writer for RSDP in spring-summer 2018. 

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