Question: We always love your articles and website. Keep it up!!
In this past weekend article on tomatoes, you didn’t answer the burning question: what did your brother do about the squirrels??????? They have already chomped the small tomatoes that were forming on our one plant and I know they are just waiting for more. The plant is doing very well, is covered in blossoms, but the furry thieves are lurking and watching. I have thought of making a chicken wire cocoon to go over the plant, but I wondered if you had any other suggestions. Lots of wildlife in the centre of the city!
Answer: Hi Virginia,
The quick answer is nothing. He did nothing, and consequently only managed to get a taste of a single homegrown tomato. On the flip side, he did say it was the best tomato he’d ever tasted in his life and it has made him eager to try again this year, but with some kind of security measure in place.
When it comes to dealing with mammalian critters I find that there are no hard and fast solutions. Cities are not the lifeless concrete jungles we’ve made them out to be, which is a very good thing. I appreciate the surprise and awe that comes from discovering a bit of wildlife up on my third floor roof in the sky, even if it means we have to share space and an inevitable loss of food. However, I will admit that it is easier to take this generous attitude in June when my tomatoes haven’t yet begun to produce. I’ll be shaking my fists and raging come July when half-eaten tomatoes start appearing on the vine. Why must they taunt me by only eating half? If you’re going to take my hard-won food, eat it all!
Mammalian critters have complex brains and personalities. Like us, there is a lot of variation in temperament and taste between them, even those of the same species. What works for the raccoons around here, might not work for raccoons across town, let alone across the country, or the continent. In fact, what works this year might not work next year when the local posse have had time to figure out their own solutions to your trickery.
Feeling optimistic yet?
Of course, you could always luck out. The squirrels are particularly ravenous in my brother’s part of the city, whereas I can get away with less protection and still come out at the end with a decent crop and only a few tomatoes lost. I pout and whine, but in comparison to some I don’t lose much. If your garden is in an area like my brother’s, I suggest doing exactly what you mentioned above — wrap the whole thing in a chicken wire cocoon and call it a day. It’s not the prettiest solution, but it does seem to keep the critters off the goods. My brother only has one plant so there’s no point in messing around. Chickenwire may be ugly but it does lend itself to interesting shapes. I like to use lots of extra and sculpt those bits so it’s not just a big blanket of wire around the plant and pot but something almost interesting that looks intentional.
If your critters aren’t great climbers, you can try wrapping just the bottom of the pot so they can’t get in. I’ve never seen a squirrel climb an actual plant, but that’s not to say it can’t happen. They do tend to prefer a perch, whether that’s inside the pot, a chair next to it, or a railing where they can easily sit and get at the fruit near the top.
If you’ve got multiple plants, then you’ve got an opportunity to do some testing to see what works and what doesn’t. There are lots of other solutions that others have employed. Most of these don’t worked for me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you.
- Pepper flakes and pepper sprays: There’s a lot of contention about this one. Some say the critters touch the pepper and eventually get it in their eyes — not a nice feeling to experience. Some say that’s a load of garbage and the animals aren’t that dumb. I have no answer one way or the other so I don’t use this method. Do know that to be effective, you’ll have to be diligent about reapplying regularly.
- Obnoxious music: Set a small radio next to your plants and set it to an AM station that plays something grating, like ABBA. Let it be known that I enjoy a little ABBA now and again, but even I will agree that it grates after a while.
- Things that smell like your pet: Used pet bedding and hair are popular deterrents. Simply spread bits around the soil, hang around plants, or clip it to stakes. This has never worked for me and our immune city critters — they’ve attempted to raid the garden when all of us, including the cat, were sitting right there!
- Vinegar soaked rags: This is another homemade trick, but you’ve got to contain the rag from dripping vinegar (a natural herbicide) onto your plants and soil. A small margarine container should do the trick.
- Pinwheels and whirligigs: Set them in the pot with your plants. I find that the constant motion scares away the birds but doesn’t seem to phase our city squirrels and raccoons — they’ll think you’re cute for trying!
- Sprinkle bloodmeal around the plants: This can work, although I can’t say I love the smell. Coffee is also used but tends to do more to deter digging animals than those looking to score a free meal.