The first time I grew a backyard veggie garden, I kept discovering nibbled, half-rotten and abandoned tomatoes in our yard.
It never occurred to me to blame the squirrels that played all day on our back fence. Between those short little arms and their small stature (the tomatoes were about twice the size of their heads!) they didn't seem very likely culprits.
That's what I thought until the day I walked out onto my deck and caught one
of our furry little neighbors red-handed, playing with the fat, juicy tomato I'd
planned to pick for my salad that evening. Mr. Squirrel saw me, froze for a
moment, then dropped the tomato and bolted for a nearby tree.
Since we lived in a city flat with a shared yard, shooting the squirrels wasn't an option even if I'd had the stomach for it. With little kids and pets I worried about poison, and I could never have gone for gruesome kill traps. So I knew we'd have to find a natural, non-poisonous way to keep the squirrels at bay with humane and neighbor-friendly methods.
After considerable research, here's what I learned about keeping squirrels and other rodents away from your prized produce:
- Pester them back. You may be able to annoy the pests away with sprinkler systems, sensitive motion lights, high-frequency sound emitters or a variety of scent-based repellants, like garlic, hot peppers, or animal urine. Stake out your garden for a while to see what kind of animals are doing the damage, and search the Internet for tips on repelling your specific unwelcome visitor.
- Bring in a predator. Dogs and cats can make great rodent deterrents, and some dogs, like the Rat Terrier, are bred for the purpose of hunting small animals. If getting a pet isn't an option, consider putting up barn owl houses.
- Fence them out. Wire fencing can be an effective way to block pests. Be sure to bury the wire to keep out those persistent diggers, and consider electric fencing as extra deterrent. Using raised garden beds can make it easier to block critters with fencing under and above the bed.
- Play nice. You may be able to entice your small thieves to another area of the yard by providing them with a better option. Turns out squirrels don't really like tomatoes, which is why they kept taking a nibble and then ditching them in our yard. We put up a feeder with sunflower seeds on the opposite side of the yard, and it seemed to do the trick.