Every morning I go out into the yard to check for signs of late night and early morning visitors. The tomato plants are safely installed behind wooden fencing and chicken wire, but most of the yard is open to all comers. With the help of some Michigan field guides I’ve learned to inventory the damage:
Deer: heart-shaped footprints, often placed daintily between plants without mussing them; chewed stems and leaves look like they were attacked by a kindergartener with dull scissors.
Rabbit: stems look like they were carefully sliced through by a master chef or ikebana expert in one clean, diagonal cut.
Woodchuck: stems, leaves, and flowers are not just bitten off, but wallowed over. Damage includes general crushing, as well as broken stems of innocent bystander plants.
Equally as interesting is discovering what the animals don’t eat. I spent much of my first Michigan growing season believing that sellers of so-called deer-and-rabbit-proof plants were blatant liars, but eventually I realized there’s just no accounting for taste. One deer’s nasty medicine is another deer’s caviar. I learned from a friend who lived in the foothills in California that to know what the animals in your yard will eat, you need a test kitchen: buy just one each of the things you hope to plant, set them out where the critters will find them, and wait a few days. The truth will out.
Highest on the Inedibles List of my local herbivores are, in fact, herbs – thyme, sage, basil, oregano, those scented things we humans use to enhance the flavor of our other foods. These apparently trigger disgust in deer and rabbits. It’s amusing that they’re repelled by things we might cook them with. No sense pre-seasoning themselves.