Competition and conflict have existed between people and animals since the first gardeners began sowing seeds on the ground. The critters just as quickly carried them away.
But coexisting with wildlife in farm fields or gardens can be a winning proposition if you're willing to alter your habitat. Even nuisance animals can become plant partners with a little planning.
"You can steer your way around a lot of the usual wildlife-property owner confrontations," said Robert Pierce, an extension fisheries and wildlife specialist with the University of Missouri.
"Do some homework about animal behavior," Pierce said. "Know where raccoons or deer traditionally utilize cover or use traffic lanes. It's common sense that you wouldn't want to plant gardens in those areas."
And sharing property with wild birds and animals doesn't necessarily mean reducing the size of your harvest, said Tammi Hartung, author of the new "The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener" (Storey Publishing).
"Welcome pollinators into the garden," Hartung said. "Invite animals that can do your pest management. That will actually increase your yields in many cases."
Almost any wildlife species can become a nuisance, Pierce said. Canada goose droppings are messy and potential health hazards. Moles damage lawns. Squirrels eat freshly planted bulbs. Small rodents like voles will strip the bark from grapevines. Feral hogs damage pastures.
"Tolerance levels vary," Pierce said. "Lots of folks just enjoy wildlife and like having them around. Much depends upon whether you have the money to invest to keep them away from your plants."
The most benign ways to keep wildlife away from the garden include repellents, frightening techniques, rotating crops, decoy plants, fencing, netting and other barriers.
— Being proactive. "Before the raspberries ripen, put up some tape or nets so the birds will never taste them and won't know what they're missing," Hartung said.
— Modifying food and cover. "We have 30 deer coming through our property every day," she said. "The deer wouldn't leave my tulips alone, so I don't grow tulips anymore. I grow (deer-resistant) daffodils instead."
— Distractions. "Parsley redirects rabbits from salad greens," Hartung said. "Plant some sunflowers next to your berry patch. Many birds prefer their seeds to the fruit."
— Growing a surplus for sharing. Add hedgerows outside the garden that include fruiting trees and shrubs.
— The hose. "We use a motion-detector apparatus that hooks up to a hose," Hartung said. "It sprays water when it detects motion. When raccoons come at night, they get a hard spray of water. It doesn't do them any harm but they stay away."
Wildlife-friendly gardening has its challenges, but you can co-exist for the most part, she said.
"Something like a bear may show up and you'll have to deal with it," Hartung said. "Maybe then it's as easy as picking up some fallen fruit and discarding it someplace else.
"You don't really need to trap animals, use toxic chemicals or shoot them," she said. "You can find other solutions."
Online: For more about coexisting with wildlife in your yard, see this University of Missouri Extension fact sheet: http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G9425 You can contact Dean Fosdick at [email protected]