Tag Archives: squirrels

Squirrel War II

Or, Caleb: 1, Squirrel: 0

The tomato plants pushed out the top of the hoop house. Next year I will plant compact bush varieties.

The early spring heat wave fried my sugar snap pea vines before they had even bloomed. The mid-spring freeze weakened my beans. I had a good run of cucumbers and early on—until a rat (or rats!) chewed through the netting on my new hoop houses and ate the rest, plus the early crop of squash I had not yet harvested.

This makes me cry.

I set high hopes on the many fat, beautiful green tomatoes growing in the hoop houses—until last weekend.  The variety I grew inside them was too large, and the plants have pushed out the top, creating easy access for the squirrels, who decimated my crop.

It has not been a happy growing season for me.

The squirrel proof net tent is showing signs of wear and tear.

To add to my woes, the famous Squirrel Proof Net Tent is now three years old, and it’s beginning to show signs of wear. Holes have opened in the net here and there, allowing for squirrel incursions.

So a few nights ago, I set a couple of traps. I caught a squirrel and a rat. I re-set them and caught another of each. I re-set them again, but then some varmint figured out how to steal the bait without springing the trap.


What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that someone was watching my struggles, learning and absorbing, and working out a strategy. I finally understood this last evening, right around sundown.

I was in my big kitchen chair working at my laptop, when my Australian shepherd, Caleb, came over and said, “Woof.” He nudged my elbow with his muzzle. Thinking he just wanted attention, I scritched his head and went back to work. But he was insistent: “Woof!” Another nudge, this time more urgent.

Squirrel warrior

“Caleb, I can’t play with you right now. I’m working.”

“Frrrf! Arr! Arrrrarrrarr!” Another nudge. Then he ran to the back door, looked out, and looked back at me. “WOOF!”

I grumbled, relented, and hauled myself out of my comfy chair to open the door into the backyard for him. That’s when I saw what he was trying to tell me.

There was a squirrel inside the Squirrel Proof Net Tent, casually munching on the last of my green tomatoes. Caleb dashed out and proceeded to chase it around and around the perimeter of the tent. Inside the tent, the squirrel ran, dodged, turned. Outside the tent, Caleb ran, turned and followed. After several minutes of frantic circles, the panicked squirrel began to run headlong into the net, blindly trying to shove its way out.

Caleb caught on. After a few misses, he pounced on the squirrel as it hit the net. I heard a short squeak, then silence.

Caleb’s prey

Caleb stood panting at the edge of the tent and looked at the dead creature at his feet, still wrapped in the sagging net. Then we looked at each other in utter surprise.

“Caleb, you killed a squirrel!”

He looked back at the squirrel and then back at me. Still panting, he trotted over to the 12-foot diameter inflatable pool I have installed in my driveway for the summer (that’s a whole nother story), hopped in, and cooled himself off with a victory lap.

Victory lap

I went into the house for a pair of gloves and a sack for the squirrel. Seeing me head for his kill, Caleb hopped out of the pool and ran to it. I picked it up by a forepaw. He grabbed the hindquarters through the net with his mouth.

“That’s mine.”

I let go of the squirrel for a moment. “I know, buddy, but we can’t leave it here. It will stink.”

He let go, too. I picked it up again. Then he grabbed on again. “It’s mine.”

“Caleb, leave it.”

He’s a good boy. He dropped his prey, and I bagged it and disposed of it.

Afterwards, Caleb got a big thank-you treat for

  1. figuring out that squirrels in the garden = bad
  2. giving himself the job of squirrel-proof net tent watcher,
  3. insisting that I pay attention, and
  4. actually catching a squirrel.

And from now on, I will listen to what my dog is trying to tell me.


Thank you to my friend and marvelous musician Tom Godfrey for sharing this little clip, and to Wes Funderburk, Atlanta trombonist extraordinaire, for using his powers for good.



Filed under Gardening

Hoop Dreams

Regular readers of this blog know of my ongoing war with the evil squirrels who are intent on decimating my garden. My best defense so far has been the squirrel-proof net tent, which has covered the garden bed closest to the house for 2 1/2 years. It has worked magnificently, but tough luck for the several other garden patches I have growing in other parts of the backyard, exposed to the wiles of these demonic creatures.

The largest of these areas is a 20 x 25 bed next to the chicken coop. It’s too big for a giant net tent like the one next to the house, so I  usually grow crops back there that the squirrels aren’t likely to be interested in—peas, beans, arugula.

I decided, however, to see if I couldn’t take advantage of that area for a winter garden this year, to give the SPNT bed a rest. But instead of enclosing the whole area under a net, I decided to cover just a portion of it with hoop houses. I’ve seen hoop houses work on a smaller scale, mostly over raised beds, and I could see no reason why they wouldn’t work for a longer bed about five feet in width.

Off to Home Depot I went for ten-foot lengths of PVC, foot-long sections of rebar, zip ties, garden netting, and spring clamps.


And here’s what I did with all of that:

The rebar went into the ground in pairs five feet apart, spaced about every four feet.
I bent the PVC over and secured each end on the pairs of rebar.
Over the bent PVC I draped the netting and secured it with the zip ties. I left a “tent flap” on the front as a entrance and secured it with spring clamps.

Inside the hoop house I have planted kale, Swiss chard, and cilantro—all things that the squirrels of eee-ville dug up and ate when I planted them in that area last year. I’m pleased to report that a few weeks after I built the hoop house, everything is thriving unmolested. Here’s what the kale looks like today.

I have started a second hoop house but haven’t yet covered it with netting. All my fall seedlings are planted out, so I have nothing to plant in that space until spring! I’m hoping that will be a great space for tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers next year.

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Filed under Gardening, Making things

Squirrels: Just want to have fun?

If you have ever tried to grow a few tomatoes here in metro Atlanta, then you probably know how grateful the squirrels are for the easy handout.

I was in denial at first. It was about six years ago that I began to notice my produce mysteriously disappearing from the vine. At first I thought–in true, scary, cranky old-lady gardener style–that some pesky neighborhood brats were sneaking onto my property and raiding my patch. Then I decided if some poor starving person (or teenager who suddenly craved my tomatoes instead of fast food) was going to all that trouble to take my vegetables, he or she needed them more than I did. I tried to make peace with it.

But then one summer morning, from my upstairs window, I saw what was really going on.

That little bastard was hanging upside down by his toes from the tomato cage, plucking a nearly-ripe fruit from the vine, taking one bite, then throwing it down on the ground. Taking another nearly-ripe fruit, one chomp, toss. No compunction whatsoever about the abundant waste, not to mention the flagrant theft. No consideration at all for the fact that I had, back in January, carefully selected those seeds from the bedazzlement that is the Totally Tomatoes catalog, nestled them in organic seed starter on top of a warming mat and under a grow lamp in February, transferred the delicate little seedlings to larger containers in March, and finally in late April moved my green toddlers out into the sunshine and prepared earth. All that work so that the evildoers could steal my fruits–every single one.

What happens to Swiss chard seedlings when they aren't inside the Squirrel-Proof Net Tent

And they didn’t stop there. Once they had wiped out the tomatoes, they moved on to the squash, cucumbers, lettuce, chard, kale (anything leafy green, really), peppers. During the summer droughts of 2006 through 2008, they would dig up entire plants and gnaw on the roots. (I placed shallow pans of water for them outside in hopes of deflecting their interest. They thanked me then went back to decimating my green bean population.)

After three or four years of watching my optimistically started spring gardens reduced to vast wastelands, it finally got to me. I would come home from work after thinking all day about the delicious pasta sauce I would make that night–or the fabulous stuffed chard leaves, or just a salad of fresh cucumber–only to find stuff half-eaten, fruits stripped off their plants, plants dug out of the ground. I’d stomp and yell and shake my fist while the squirrels sat nearby and laughed and chattered. Tears actually flowed along with the curses.

And then there was the evening I stood, bereft, under the oak tree near my kitchen patch, my eyes scanning the landscape for the giant almost-ripe mortgage lifter that had been there only hours before, when a mushy bit of its remains fell out of the tree and landed on the ground in front of me. A final, cruel insult.

My crack team of squirrel assassins

Friends and neighbors had many creative suggestions. The best idea (supplied by my dear friend the executive director of the Oakhurst Garden) was to pay the seven-year-old kid next door to sit in my yard all day with a BB gun and have at it. His unenlightened parents, however, did not see fit to take him out of school for said violation of child labor laws. Others suggested I get cats, not knowing that indeed I already have two cats, who lounge in their window bed and watch the squirrel raids for recreation between naps. If I happen to be around, they say, “Hey–look. Those squirrels are eating your garden. You really should do something about that.” Then they turn over and go back to sleep. Helpful, those guys.

I hunted around on the internet for solutions and ended up paying actual money for (hold your nose) granulated fox urine. Turns out you can get anything on the internet. I sprinkled the granules throughout and around the garden. The cats informed me that it stunk to high heaven and then turned over and went back to sleep. Caleb, my Australian shepherd, thought it was the most Exciting! Smell! Ever! And could he have a little with his dinner? The squirrels, on the other hand, didn’t even seem to notice and continued to cut their swath.

There were other ideas: dried blood spray (as effective as the granulated fox urine). Plant double everything so that there’s enough for me and the squirrels (I got double squirrels). Used cat litter (Caleb thought he’d died and gone to heaven). Human hair clippings (actually worked on direct-sewn seeds until they sprouted). My Rabun County friends had lots to say about .22s and squirrel stew (the .22s are illegal to fire in these here parts, and I haven’t adjusted to the idea of squirrel stew just yet).

It was while watching a PBS special on Ronald Reagan and his crazily misguided Strategic Defense Initiative that it came to me: I needed to intercept the missiles before they got anywhere near the garden. To paraphrase the Great Communicator himself, I needed a program to counter the awesome squirrel threat with measures that were defensive.

The Squirrel-Proof Net Tent

What I needed was an SDI for my garden.

Since I couldn’t get permitted for satellites with laser beams, I settled for a giant nylon tent made of garden netting. After pondering on it for a few months, my then-boyfriend and I hatched a plan, which we implemented last March.

Pegged and weighted down the edges

The Squirrel-Proof Net Tent is made of nylon garden netting, PVC poles secured into the ground with some short lengths of rebar, some of those plastic lock ties, and a few garden fabric pegs. To add a little prayer to my pragmatism, and to let the squirrels know I wished them no ill, I festooned the whole thing with a few strands of Tibetan prayer flags.

The center pole of the Squirrel-Proof Net Tent

Yessiree, folks had their doubts. My father told me I shouldn’t underestimate the ingenuity and determination of a city squirrel (this is the man who once built an entire carnival for the squirrels in his front yard–zip lines, ferris wheels, whirligigs–all baited with dried ears of corn). Others delighted in reminding me that squirrels can dig, chew through wood, and fly through the air. They were sure the squirrels would chew holes in the net.

Corn and Squash

O ye of little faith. Ye just want the terrorists to win.

My beautiful Roma tomatoes

But I had faith. I planted strawberries, Swiss chard, beets, salad greens, and my beloved tomato plants. Then I got really bold and put in four rows of corn. Cucumbers, squash, peppers, sweet potatoes. Then I held my breath. And guess what? It all grew. Thrived, even. I had a gorgeous tomato crop, and even the corn was delicious. I had won!

Rainbow Swiss chard

And then one night the outside light over my driveway threw a few sparks and died. The squirrels were mad. Livid. Banned from my garden, they took their frustration out on my wiring. Chewed right through the insulation. Got it fixed. Chewed threw it again. Have to fix it again.

Time to make that pasta sauce

And so, the squirrel wars continue. A few holes did appear in the Squirrel-Proof Net Tent by this fall, and the insurgents did do some damage to my broccoli crop. I patched it up this past weekend, however, so we’ll see if she holds.

Sam has his own BB gun now. Hmmmm . . .

Maybe I’ll get new prayer flags. Or a hired gun.


Filed under Gardening