Squirrels. Cute little critters - at least I always thought that growing up. I never understood why my grandmother had such animosity for them. As in hatred, an emotion and vibe from her that I really never saw otherwise. One year she even wanted to borrow my BB Gun to shoot at them.
I thought she just got angry with them for robbing the bird feeder. Every one she tried. Even the ones that said they were "squirrel-proof". The devices or additions to block them didn't work, greasing the pole that the feeder was on didn't work for long (they'd start jumping past the slippery part).
Jump forward a couple decades and I've had my fair share of squirrel wars. Starting at the first garden Joey and I had together on Kingston Ave in Wilmore. We watched as our tiny green tomatoes were snatched away from the plants before they'd ripen, the peaches taken from the trees. And the worst part - don't think that humans are the only wasteful creatures on this planet - these little tree rats would take these, take a bite or two, and leave them all over the yard barely eaten.
Not only will they steal unripened veggies and fruits, they dig up freshly planted flowers and seedlings. Actually they dig all over the yard. Their foraging in search of last seasons nuts and seeds take them all over the landscaping and in the garden - and the worst for the gardener - your nicely tilled, loose "perfect to plant in" soil is their favorite! It's easy to rummage around in, much better than the hard dirt around most the rest of the yard.
To further our predicament here at Linwell Farms in NoDa are the two huge pecan trees in the front yard and the four additional ones in the back. Oh, and the handful next door in the vacant lot. Our squirrels are fat. And they seem to reproduce well, so we have a lot of them. We do have a neighborhood hawk or two so they work on the population. The traffic on the streets around us levels the numbers out a bit as well.
One year in Southend we even bought "have a heart" traps which catch them but don't kill them. One-by-one we drove 13 of them over the span of a few week period to a nearby park and released them. Then we found out that little things are territorial, and the ones we took there likely were fought, and probably many killed, by the Freedom Park tribes of squirrels. We also found out that North Carolina has a law about "transporting wild animals" and technically we'd been breaking it. Eh, I'd be kinda proud of having "transportation of a wild squirrel" on my record. Still...we stopped.
So now we take the battle like hardened war vets. We strike at a few angles, working to prevent damage and do our best to work with what we have.
The biggest concern we actually have isn't so much them taking fruits or tomatoes from the plants - they do, but we have a whole lot growing plus our neighborhood vegetation gives them a lot of options away from our garden. They don't pilfer here as bad as they did in Wilmore. But they dig in the raised beds a lot (if they can). It makes getting sown seed past the "little guy" stages when the soil they are trying to get started in is continually turned over on them. And partially grown seedlings can't get their roots started when they are planted in the beds if they are continually kicked out of the soil by foragers in search of pecans which aren't even there!
So our main battles are during any season where we are planting new stuff in the beds. As in right now. Our solutions? We have a few. First, we have dogs. They don't really mess with the beds or the plants, but they love to chase critters - including these grey little pests. So during nice weather we leave the pups our a bit exta and keep the back door open for them to go in and out as much as they please.
We cover our beds with chicken wire and wire fencing for the first couple of weeks they are in. The squirrels can't get through them, and for as much as they like getting into the soil in these beds, there isn't really anything there that they can see or smell to make them work too hard to do it.
Finally, we have a fake owl. It only works for a handful of days after we bring it out, they get used to it. But until they do it gives our little plants a fighting chance to get established. We are going to add a scarecrow this year - probably the same thing with the owl, they'll get used to it eventually but worth a shot plus its sort of fun thinking about making one.
Ok, enough about these guys, Joey is calling me from the garden - it's Sunday, it's sunny, and its getting into the low 70's today! We'll be out there most of the day, and when we are out there they stay away, so this will be one day that they won't wreak too much havoc!