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AForlorn Fruit Grower Asks: "Can Anything Stop These Ravenous Tree RatsFrom Boosting My Blueberries and Copping My Kiwis?!"
Q. Dear Mr. McGrath: I read your recentsuggestions about preventing squirrel damage to Springbulbs but none of them seem practical for my situation, so I askyour advice about these three problems:
1. I havefifteen blueberry bushes in a 45 foot long linear bed, which I hadpreviously been able to protect from birds with netting. But, beginningthree years ago, squirrels began to eat holes in the netting and noweat all the blueberries.
2. Ihave three jujube trees. This year for the first time, squirrels ateall of the fruits (about 300-400) just as they were ripening inmid-October.
3.Finally, I also have three hardy kiwi vines (the "Anna" variety)trained on a pergola that's eight feet tall, 25 feet long and six feetwide. This year, also for the first time, squirrels ate all of thekiwis (1000-2000) as they were ripening.
Deer repellent does not seempractical to spray on fruits close to harvest. The size of the areathat would need to be covered does not seem practical for hot pepperspray or motion activated sprinklers. A Jack Russell terrier does notseem practical for my suburban yard of 50 x 50 feet. I tried a Havaharttrap, which was successful in trapping squirrels, but I could only trap andresettle (across the Schuylkill river) one pest a day, which wasn'tnearly enough. I would appreciate any other suggestions.
---Peter; Merion Station, PA
A.Well, you have my deepest sympathies. Andadmiration—I never 'met' anybody who actually grew jujubes ("TheChinese date") before! Anyway, squirrels don't normally bother suchplants. When they do, it's often because someone in the neighborhoodhas started feeding them. People, please: DO NOT feed squirrels! It'snot good for the tree rats (they can lose the ability to forage ontheir own) and the ravenous rodents become the single most perplexingpest problem in all gardendom when they develop a taste for home-growngoodies. (By the way, some listeners tell me they have it evenworse—that squirrels eat the FLOWERS off their fruit trees in theSpring.
The website www.deadsquirrel.com may offer some solace to all rodentravaged gardeners. A couple of crazy guys (the Squirrel DefamationLeague, whose motto is "All Squirrels Must Die!") put together thiswonderful (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) site to warn us that squirrels arenot the cute cuddly little forest creatures some folks are fooled intobelieving, but furry fiends bent on nothing less than world domination!Think about it—first they eat all our food. Then they send the suicidesquirrel out to jump on the nearest transformer and knock out ourpower. Then, when we're cold, hungry and helpless…
Anyway, you could put up a couple offake hawks and owls—their natural enemies. And attract REAL hawks andowls by providing roosting spots—a couple of well-positioned crossbeams about six or eight feet off the ground.
I was going to say that I didn'tthink squirrels were all that scared of snakes, but a couple oflisteners just told me that had great success hanging fake snakes intheir squirrel-attacked trees. Attracting real snakes is always goodfor garden pest control, but snakes down on the ground wouldn't be muchof a threat against squirrels. Got a friend willing to lend you theirboa for a few weeks in the summer?
And while a Jack Russell terrier is agreat defense against almost any other form of wicked wildlife, thosearboreal acrobats would just torment the pooch from their fruit-filledperches. They'd probably pummel the poor pet with jujube pits.
I'm glad to hear that the Havahart trap is catching fiends for you, but I'msurprised you still have the 'hart' part after the way they've pillagedyour poor orchard. I'd think about showing a little less hart towardsmy tormentors, if you catch my drift.
You would need a lot of motionactivated sprinklers to protect all that tasty fruit. (And squirrelsmight not mind running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day.) And Iagree with you about the deer repellant in this instance. Its perfectfor protecting things like shrubs and the bark of young trees from thenot-so-tender-attentions of those giant-stomachs-with-legs, but I'm notsure I'd want to eat actual fruit that had recently been heavilysprayed with the stinky, sticky stuff.
But there is something sprayable thatmight protect the fruit without fouling its flavor: "Surroundat Home". This clay-based sprayfrom Gardens Alive is designed to protect fruit crops from insect pestsand disease by covering the developing fruit with a light gray filmthat physically prevents disease spores from reaching the skin, andthat insect pests don't like the feel of on their widdle buggy feet.I've been thinking of spraying some on my new peach trees next Springto see if it can help protect them from deer, and it occurs to me thatit might just keep your bushy-tailed bandits at bay.
It better. Because if it doesn't,your only answer is something I saw years ago at Longswamp bed andbreakfast, out in rural Berks County Pennsylvania. They had a bigbeautiful stand of blueberry bushes in their orchard. As all blueberrygrowers know, birds love those tasty treats quite a bit—and protectivenetting is no help if it just hangs on the bushes. So the owners woundup building an eight-foot high cage-like structure around the entirepatch—plastic piping bent into an airplane hanger-like frame, coveredwith birdnetting all around, with ahatch-like door they used to get in and pick. Bees could get in; humanscould get in; but birds could not get in.
Of course, birds don't have the teethfrom Krypton rodents are equipped with. Perhaps you could soak thenetting in something really nasty—dried blood, deerrepellant, a brewed-up batch ofmy old stories—to protect it from those teeth. Or cut to the chase andfence in at least some of your fruits with metal. A roof and sides madeof animal fencing, perhaps, with a screen door for produce pickin'people. Just make sure the openings are big enough to allow beesinside, but small enough to deter malicious mammals.
Oh, and these ARE squirrels, so keepthat door LOCKED.
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath
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