Deer Visit Garden in Winter – Is My Harvest Safe to Eat?

— Written By Paul McKenzie
en Español / em Português

El inglés es el idioma de control de esta página. En la medida en que haya algún conflicto entre la traducción al inglés y la traducción, el inglés prevalece.

Al hacer clic en el enlace de traducción se activa un servicio de traducción gratuito para convertir la página al español. Al igual que con cualquier traducción por Internet, la conversión no es sensible al contexto y puede que no traduzca el texto en su significado original. NC State Extension no garantiza la exactitud del texto traducido. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que algunas aplicaciones y/o servicios pueden no funcionar como se espera cuando se traducen.


Inglês é o idioma de controle desta página. Na medida que haja algum conflito entre o texto original em Inglês e a tradução, o Inglês prevalece.

Ao clicar no link de tradução, um serviço gratuito de tradução será ativado para converter a página para o Português. Como em qualquer tradução pela internet, a conversão não é sensivel ao contexto e pode não ocorrer a tradução para o significado orginal. O serviço de Extensão da Carolina do Norte (NC State Extension) não garante a exatidão do texto traduzido. Por favor, observe que algumas funções ou serviços podem não funcionar como esperado após a tradução.


English is the controlling language of this page. To the extent there is any conflict between the English text and the translation, English controls.

Clicking on the translation link activates a free translation service to convert the page to Spanish. As with any Internet translation, the conversion is not context-sensitive and may not translate the text to its original meaning. NC State Extension does not guarantee the accuracy of the translated text. Please note that some applications and/or services may not function as expected when translated.

Collapse ▲

A client sent me this question via e-mail (edited for clarity). My answer follows:

Dear Paul,

Around mid-October each year, I give up on my garden, till or rake away all vegetation and plant annual ryegrass. I also take down the fencing that helps keep the deer out during the growing season so I can more easily till and plant the garden the following spring. I do not mow the ryegrass and it grows tall and becomes green manure for next year’s garden.

I’ve noticed in the last two days with all the snow that the deer are eating the tips of the tall ryegrass coming through the snow in my garden. I’ve also noticed an abundance of deer feces on the white snow in the area.

I know that the snow will melt and the deer pellets will disappear in the tall ryegrass, but should I be concerned about all the deer feces where I will be growing tomatoes and other vegetables this spring?

Gary Gardener
Dear Gary,

This is a fantastic question! Unfortunately, I’m not going to give you a straight answer. But first, let me applaud you for your use of a cover crop over the winter in your vegetable garden. Not only does the annual ryegrass prevent erosion and add organic matter, it also recycles some nutrients that might otherwise be leached away.

Regarding the issue of deer visiting the garden, you are wise to use a fence to keep them out. There is indeed a risk that the deer droppings (or droppings from other wildlife) would contaminate your harvest with pathogenic organisms. However, that risk drops as the time between manure “deposits” and garden harvest increases.

As a point of reference, the National Organic Program recommends 90 days between the application of raw manure (as a fertilizer) and the harvest of a crop that does NOT come into contact with the soil. It recommends a 120 day interval for crops that DO come into contact with the soil (e.g. leafy greens and root crops). I understand that the Food Safety Modernization Act is going to require a 9 month interval.

It’s also worth considering who will be eating the produce. Pregnant women, the elderly, young children and people with illnesses are examples of those who may be at higher risk.

Hopefully this information will help guide your decision. As a long term solution, you may want to consider permanent fencing that stays up year round.

You may find the following webpages to have some helpful additional information:

All the best and happy gardening!

Written By

Paul McKenzie, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionPaul McKenzieInterim County Extension Director, Warren & Area Agent, Agriculture Call Paul Email Paul N.C. Cooperative Extension, Vance County Center
Updated on Sep 14, 2022
Was the information on this page helpful? Yes check No close
Scannable QR Code to Access Electronic Version