November 9, 2004: Whenever I go outside
to check the greenhouses just before bedtime, I always carry
a strong flashlight. From time to time, I sweep the light
around our nearby fields and woods just to make sure the temporary
electric fence is still up and everything else is OK.
The last two nights, three or four pairs of eerie, green
eyeballs stared back at me out of blueberry patch about 40
What the heck?
What are deer doing in the blueberries this time of year?
No berries are left. Maybe they're munching a few leaves for
a midnight snack.
So I whistled, yelled at them, clapped my hands a few times.
The deer threw up their white tails and bounded off into the
night. Problem solved, or so I thought, and toddled peacefully
off to bed.
Brother, was I ever wrong! Next afternoon I walked through
the blueberries on my way to some other task and was horrified
to see what the big attraction was in the berries. The young
bucks in the herd had been rubbing their velvety antlers clean
on the blueberry canes. Some canes were completely girdled.
The thin bark had been stripped all the way around for two
to three feet.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. At least four 15-year-old
bushes were completely smashed to the ground, the canes splintered
into kindling. I couldn’t believe it. In 20 years of
raising cultivated, high-bush blueberries nothing like this
had ever happened before. Buck rubs were a common sight on
fruit trees and saplings in the fencerows and woodlots. But
the deer had never bothered our blueberries. Why now?
Suburban sprawl, I guess. As more and more woods and fields
are transformed into "house farms" in our part of
southeastern Pennsylvania, deer become a bigger problem every
year. But I didn’t have much time to worry about all
of that. It was getting late in the day. I had maybe two hours
of daylight left. Then Bambi and friends would return to the
blueberry patch that had blessed us with a record crop this
summer (see Blueberry
Bonanaza! for more details).
I had to do something to keep the destructive deer out of
the bushes, and quick! But what? Can’t sit out there
all night with a spotlight and the rifle. The Pennsylvania
Game Commission frowns on that, big time.
Then it hit me -- electric fence. It keeps deer out of our
vegetable and flower fields all season. Why not fence the
That’s part of the beauty of temporary electric fencing.
In less than one hour, I had two strands of hot tape (name
IntelliTape) pulsing 9,000 volts around the entire blueberry
Just let Bambi touch his wet, black nose to that! He’ll
get the message to KEEP OUT!
That’s the other nice thing about electric fencing.
It is darn effective. Yet most people don’t believe
that when they look at what we call our deer fence. “Why,
a deer can jump right over that!” they say. And they’re
right. The fence is only about four feet tall. Deer could
easily sail right over a fence twice that height.
But that’s not the point. This fence is not a physical
barrier. It is a psychological barrier. We’re messing
with Bambi’s head, a technician at Premier Fence in
Washington, Iowa (www.premier1supplies.com)
patiently explained when we first bought this fencing more
than 10 years ago.
The half-inch wide tape is white, with a black stripe up
the middle, like a white tail in the air. That alone spooks
deer and puts them on guard. Deer see only black and white
and shades of gray. They don't see color, which is why hunters’
blaze orange safety clothing doesn't scare deer. Anything
that contrasts sharply with the natural world immediately
catches a deer’s eye.
The tape also moves like it has a life of its own. It bounces
up and down even in a slight breeze. Strong winds make it
twist, jiggle and dance, hum, sing and scream like a banshee.
Besides, the big-field Iowa farmer at Premier said, as small
as your plots are, deer can see all four sides. It is obviously
some kind of enclosure. They’re smart enough to know
that once they get inside, they may not be able to get out.
Yes, deer may stand frozen in your headlights or leap out
in front of your pickup, but they are anything but dumb, especially
That’s why many people routinely bait electric fencing
with dabs of peanut butter on strips of tinfoil. Deer investigate
with their noses. The smell draws them right up to the fence,
almost guaranteeing that deer get the shock of their life.
A less messy option is cotton balls in metal caps with twist
ties to hold them to the tape. A few drops of apple juice
concentrate on the cotton grabs deer by the nose and reels
them in like fish on a line. The electric shock doesn’t
harm deer. It just startles and scares them with a quick ZAP!
OK, OK, you say, but how do you get half an acre fenced in
less than an hour? It’s easy, and not just because we
already have all the necessary supplies on hand. A couple
of weeks earlier I had taken down the temporary fence around
the vegetables and flowers in the east field. I loaded all
the supplies into my pickup and drove up to the berries.
At the four corners of the area I wanted to fence, I drove
a 6-foot metal T-post about a foot into the ground with a
hand-held post pounder. To each post, I attached two slotted
plastic insulators with plastic zip ties. Then, every seven
paces between the corner posts, I used a rubber mallet to
sink a 5-foot fiberglass rod about one foot into the ground.
It was time to string the hot tape. We store our tape on
extra large EzeReels -- a hand-cranked plastic spool on a
metal frame with neck strap -- that hold more than 1,000 feet
of tape each. After securing one end of the tape to an insulator
on a corner post, I released the spring-loaded latch on the
reel and began walking backwards, unspooling the tape and
slipping it into snap-on plastic Polyclips that were already
on the fiberglass rods at the right height. Turning the clips
about 90 degrees helps take the slack out of the tape.
After walking twice around the patch, I was done stringing
tape. Then I secured the trailing end of the tape to an insulator
on the corner post where I started. A PowerLink -- a shrouded
stainless steel alligator clip at each end of a 3-foot insulated,
flexible high-voltage cable -- connected the tape to the lead
wire. I walked back to our seed-starting greenhouse, plugged
in the HotShot 600 fence charger mounted on the wall and walked
back out to the field with a digital voltmeter. Then I walked
around the patch again, frequently testing both strands of
hot tape to make sure there were no dead spots. The result
was the same wherever I checked the fence -- 9,000 volts,
peak. (Premier says an absolute minimum of 1,000 volts is
needed for a fence to be effective.)
I must admit I was cheating a little bit, because this charger
runs directly off of 110V household current. Years ago, we
buried about 150 feet of insulated leadout wire in plastic
conduit so that we would have a reliable power source for
the nearby vegetable patch. At more remote locations around
the farm I use a battery/solar-powered IntelliShock 20B fence
charger. It works just as well, providing season-long protection
on one 9-volt dry battery.
To complete the fence installation, I added a BrightLite
night light. The neon light, visible for up to 1,000 feet,
flashes every time the fence charger pulses. It lets me look
out the bedroom window at night and know that the fence is
Despite that, whenever I check the greenhouses at night I
can’t keep from shining my flashlight out through the
blueberry patch. Three or four pairs of eerie, green eyeballs
still stare back at me, but I don’t whistle, yell or
even clap because they are safely on the outside of the fence.
I figure there is no need to get excited. After all, deer
season opens next month.