A Tale of Tree-Dwelling Thieves

19

Here's a guest post from Zoe Poster, who blogs at Pearled Earth.

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I am easily vacuumed into the dark vortex of anxiety created by Unwanted Chaos in My Garden (wild self-seeding of Eschscholzia amongst eggplants = good chaos; wild animals with giant gleaming teeth laying waste to my carrots and beets = bad chaos).

So I knew I had better enjoy the window of relaxation afforded me once my evil resident woodchuck had been captured and relocated. Fruit was ripening, and I was getting to eat it! Flowers were blooming. I knew it was the calm before the shitstorm, of course, because I am that kind of person. No one will ever accuse me of being oblivious to the fact that the next worst thing is out there, lurking.

Our prize crop, still ripening, was the organic espaliered apples – our first ever. Remarkably unblemished fruits, surprisingly bountiful. We were so proud.

Then a dark cloud passed overhead, and in its shadow I saw… A horde of ravenous squirrels.

They worked quickly, hauling Northern Spies and Crimson Galas up into the neighbor's maple tree, spinning single fruits rotisserie-style in oversized mitts, spewing juicy scraps of apple meat all over the place. Deliciously tart and puckery, I'm sure, being harvested so early.

Really, what claim did I have to the apple crop? Sure, I lovingly pruned, mulched, composted, and sprayed. But the neighborhood squirrels said: Big deal—we spent even more time cramming peanuts into holes in the dirt!

So, there you have it. I could not think of any conceivable way to rid my garden of squirrels. While we have a plumber friend with the impressive ability to simultaneously drink his morning coffee, smoke his first cigarette, pop off a few squirrels with a pellet gun, and hold a conversation with cellphone clamped between jawbone and shoulder… the truth is that I'd have cried if he shot my squirrels.

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I resigned myself this year. If we couldn't have baskets of apples, we could at least have pictures of them before they ripened completely, as a sort of memorial to what might have been. I snapped a few photos. I sighed and shrugged my shoulders. One man's horticultural highpoint is another mammal's midday snack. That's just how it goes, in gardening.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com

19 COMMENTS

  1. In years past, I’ve lost all my garden hoses to squirrels, who puncture them repeatedly for some reason (and no, it isn’t for the water, since I provide water for the wildlife). This year, I lost my entire vegetable garden. They ate every single thing just before it ripened. Every one.

    I’m not amused. I also have no good solutions, since in my county, we are not allowed to trap, poison, shoot, or otherwise bother the squirrels.

  2. sorry but I’m a little more evil minded I guess. I would have let the neighbor have at the squirrels and thought about how they might taste in a stew:)

  3. I’ve found that bird netting is a good deterrent to squirrels (and chipmunks). They don’t like to get their feet caught in the thin plastic netting. It isn’t that they couldn’t eat through it, but mine at least hate it enough to avoid it. Loose netting is better than tight netting.

  4. Nature has rules and boundaries. Squirrels can learn to stay out of the garden – it all depends on how you want to manage your property. If it doesn’t bother you to watch your plants feed someone else, then that’s fine by me. I’m a bit more strict about my food and protect it fiercely, with my bare hands if need be. The only drawback is that the garden looses all its charm with the extra fencing and protective netting. Now if I could just get the snakes and turtles to stop getting tangled up in the netting.

  5. Squirrels are really nothing more than rats with fluffy tails. The reason we consider them as cute is thanks to Disney. But if we saw a rat………..

  6. I am SO sending this out to my friends who are bemused at my utter loathing for these degenerate fell-beasts.

    I’ve been lucky where I’m at now. THe presence of 4 sizable, plucky dogs and relative minimum of “friendly” trees (mostly chinaberry or some horrible euphorbia) keeps them at bay. They don’t even mess with the crab apple tree.

    Best thing I can recommend for ground-level crops is spraying the hell out of your plants every time you water with a HOT pepper tea. These are semi-helpful, but it’s over if it rains. Trees are a lost cause unless you can train cats.

  7. My neighbour has also adopted the squirrels, not that it would matter, we have walnut trees and chestnut trees, they would be here regardless. I haven’t bothered trying to grow food here yet, I do miss the fresh peas, but in my small yard I have gone totally ornamental, and hope that the squirrels are happy enough with the bird feed that they leave my plants alone.

  8. A slingshot and ping pong balls. Ping pong balls won’t hurt the squirrels, but it will sting enough for them to get the hint they’re not welcome. Alternately, you could use a paint ball gun.

    The only squirrels we have around me are invasive, alien eastern gray squirrels some idiot introduced to the area. I see no reason to tolerate them. If they were the native western red squirrel, that would be a different story.

  9. We call them “baby wolves”, and since we live in the country, we have no compunction about doing whatever it takes to “dissuade” them (and death is a good dissuader). In addition to fruit and other garden items, if they can get into the chicken coop, they will go after the eggs….

  10. Okay – I’m taking notes! Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I’m contemplating the paintball gun and possibly a puppy… My dear old dog, bless her heart, likes mostly to sleep in the sun on the back porch, and can’t be bothered to leave the glider for anything less than a ten pound tom cat.

  11. What about using the little nylon ‘socks’ on your apples, commonly used for maggot protection. It might slow them down. Squirrel stew is delicious by the way. You can use a bow and arrow where firearm discharge is prohibited.

  12. Oh, how I feel your pain. I lost most of my heirloom tomatoes to raccoons. At first I thought it was one, but was informed by neighbors who saw them taking a midnight stroll (with one of my Meyer lemons, no less) that it was a Mother and three babies. How could I deny a mother food for her children ? But surely they could have left me one whole Amish Paste ?

  13. I had a squirrel lob a tomato at my front door.

    I was growing them in pots in a little enclosed patio at an apartment. There was a fence around my patio and just a 9-12″ hop from the top of the fence to the bottom of the roofline.

    When I caught one running along the top of the fence with said pilfered tomato I screamed at it. It ran even faster, ditching the tomato, which sailed in perfect alignment to smash all over my front door as if that squirrel had taken lessons from some very surly teenagers.

    I quickly got a Hav-A-Heart trap and hubby was moving the thieves 5 miles away to the open parkland across from his office.

  14. In a previous life, I used to haul out the live trap a couple of weeks before the apples reached the puckery stage the squirrels so love. I could catch one or 2 squirrels/day and relocate them to the grounds of a golf course nearby that doesn’t permit women to enter-not that I ever aspireded to play golf there but I figured an organization with such a bad attitude deserved the pests. I was able to reduce the local concentration of squirrels just enough that we could harvest the apples from our one tree before squirrels from neighboring areas realized there was empty habitat they could move into.

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