On Deer Fences and Surgery

May 13, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More

With the new vines in the ground and growing beautifully, the need for a deer fence was growing ever more urgent.  Deer are only one of many pests that will go after the grapes once the fruit reaches a certain level of sweetness, but they will also go after the shoots themselves.  With all the work we put into this small hobby vineyard, we don’t want the vines to end up becoming a McDonalds for the local deer population.

The entire property has a three-board fence, with added wire meshing — good for keeping critters off the property, but not high enough to stop deer.

This seemed like an easier task than putting in the trellising system, but even so, we spent a fair amount of time researching deer fences over the previous month.  In our division of labor, I had worked out the details on the trellis, and my wife, the Vineyard Goddess, devoted herself to the deer fence.

Traveling around area vineyards, we got a sense of the variety of fences that were being used.  Some vineyards have installed metal fences as high as 10 feet, but that seemed like overkill for us.

Our property is already surrounded by a four-foot high, three-board wood fence that has a metal mesh fence attached to keep small critters out and our two Vineyard dogs in. We briefly toyed with the idea of doing something to raise the height of that fence by another four feet all around the property, but rejected that approach for two reasons.

And here Glory is demonstrating why a separate fence around the vineyard itself is absolutely essential.

First, it’s a whole lot of fence — about 1,100 feet.  For about $8 a foot, we probably could have put in a fence that would be way more utilitarian than aesthetically pleasing, but this property will someday be our home, so we’re going for aesthetically pleasing.  And second, while it would keep our dogs from wandering off the property, it would do absolutely nothing to keep them out of the relatively smaller vineyard area inside our property.

Phoeneix, the vineyard dog, isn’t so much of a problem by himself.  He shows a certain amount of respect as he moves among the vines, and when he plops himself down, it is almost always in a position that seems  protective — as though he is guarding the vines.  On the other hand, Glory, the vineyard dog in training, is still a puppy and far less respectful of the vines.  She hasn’t done any damage yet, save for the one dormant vine she began nibbling on while we were planting, but she likes tearing through the vineyard at warp speed, and it’s only a matter of time before something goes.  And when the two of them are together, it’s Glory raised to the power of something greater than two.  There have been times when the sight of the two of them racing through the vineyard has nearly stopped my heart.


The Wineries Unlimited trade show in Richmond in March gave us an opportunity to talk to a number of companies that sell deer fencing, and we settled on DeerBusters, which makes a black hard plastic mesh fence that appears invisible from even a short distance away (although the poles are quite visible). The Vineyard Goddess did the research and placed the order.  When we arrived in Afton Saturday (May 5), we had $3,500 worth of deer fence, packed in 21 boxes, waiting for us.  We ran into a few difficulties getting it installed that probably aren’t worth going into, but the main problem was the surgery I was scheduled for a few days later.

The surgery was a level four anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, which means that they were going to remove four disks, replace them with some bone graft, and put a titanium plate over the verterbrae to hold eveything in place until the graft sets. The Vineyard Goddess and my daughter, Kate, both decreed that in anticipation of the surgery I would not be allowed to do any heavy lifting, much less any pounding.  Believe me, they weren’t taking no for an answer.  So the two of them pounded 17 two-foot steel inserts, or sleeves, into the ground on their own.  The sleeves make life a bit easier; they are short enough to drive into the ground with a sledge hammer, and once they’re planted, the poles slip right in, providing eight feet of pole above ground to hold the fence.

I have to say, it was pretty impressive watching these two women do all of the heavy work that I originally had planned to do myself.  In fact, they were amazing.

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But I did do a a couple of things.  I brought the heavy materials down to the vineyard (Thank God for a tractor with a strong diesel engine and a front-end loader), I mowed the grass, and I helped attach the highest part of the deer fence to the poles. I also spent some time removing the dirt hills from the white grape vines, and I have to say that the Petit Manseng and the Viognier are looking magnificent!  I won’t be able to go down to the Nelson Country vineyard for a while, but Chris and Kate will finish unhilling the reds in another week. The whites went in a week earlier, and have a head start, but the reds look as though they are running close behind.

It was truly one of the most physically demanding weekends we’ve put in since starting the vineyard — definitely more difficult than the weekends we planted the vines.  And the Vineyard Goddess put in the most effort of all.  While I was back up in the house, enjoying a glass of Blenheim Vineyards Table Red (a lovely blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah), Chris tromped back down to the vineyard to spray the vines at twilight and do the final cleanup.

We were all too tired to return to Fairfax that night, so we stayed over and left at 5:30 a.m. Got in a long day at the office, and was ready for surgery at Virginia Hospital Center Tuesday morning.  The good news is that the surgery, performed by Dr. Charles Riedel (I keep forgetting to ask him if he’s related to the Riedels who make the wine glasses, but it seems like a good omen either way) went exceptionally well.  I’ll be out of commission with respect to the vineyard for a while, but Chris and Kate seem more than capable of handling the work.  In point of fact, Chris is the vineyard manager, and I pretty much just take orders from her.  And thanks to her efforts, I think we’re on the way to having a pretty fabulous hobby vineyard!

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Category: All Posts, Viticulture

Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    what type of John Deere tractor is that? I am thinking of purchasing one myself. Is the size you have appropriate, or too small, or too large?

    John Ruhlmann

    • Bob Garsson says:

      John, what are you planning to use it for? I have the JD 2320 with a front-end loader, 54″ mower deck, and a tiller, and I find it invaluable. We have three acres and it does a nice job of mowing, even though we have 20-25 degree slopes (the 4 wheel drive helps a lot on our slopes). Mows between rows nicely. Front-end loader is invaluable. Borrowed a spreader from a neighbor when I was spreading lime, and it made pretty short work of the acre or so that I limed.

      Not enough horsepower (24.1 hp) to rip soil, but you’d have to get a pretty big tractor for that kind of work.

      For me, the 2320 was a good balance between cost and utility, and I’m glad I got it. How big is your Vineyard, and where is it?
      All best,

      • John Ruhlmann says:

        Thanks, Bob. I don’t have a vineyard, yet, but I am strongly thinking about it. I have a farm with 68 acres between Strasburg and Toms Brook. Most of it is currently leased to a local farmer that keeps cows on it, and cultivates about 8 acres of feed corn and sorghum. I will be purchasing a tractor for the farm within the next six months or so for the work that I have already identified. I am looking at John Deeres in the 2000 and 3000 series. Accordingly, I did not want to get a tractor that was appropriate for the work that I am currently doing, but have it end up being too small for the work that I potentially will do. I am considering dedicating a couple of acres to a vineyard, but I am still in the fact gathering stage…Acordingly, your comments in your blog on right on point with me. – John

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