2010-10-14 / News

Got a fat squirrel?

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Have you seen any fat squirrels lately?

Probably not – most of them live in the trees around my place, where they’ve raided the nut trees and taken all the walnuts, most of the chestnuts, a lot of the blueberries, a ton of acorns and even tried out the corn. I know that when old man winter comes, they’ll be at the bird feeder.

So how do you control wildlife in your garden? Your first job is to understand how wild animals eat and what they like to eat. For example, squirrels love nuts, but hate hot peppers; thus, spraying nut trees with a hot pepper spray teaches squirrels to stay out of the tree and not to eat the nuts. Try hot pepper sprays on the tree first. Some trees don’t like it either.

However, a hot pepper spray won’t work for blueberries. (Have you ever tried a blueberry with hot pepper? It gives a whole new meaning to sweet and sharp.) For blueberries, you’ll need to cover the entire plant with spun fleece or another cover that will keep the varmints out. Having tried that, I know that it doesn’t work too well. Teeth that can chew through nut shells make easy work of a spun fleece cover.

I’ve found the best way to beat squirrels in the blueberry bushes is simply to pick all the blueberries before the squirrels get up. It means picking early in the morning, sometimes before 6 a.m., but I put a lot of blueberries in the freezer this year.

If you see holes in your lawn, you probably won’t see the skunk or possum that dug them. The animals are digging for grubs, so the solution is simple. Apply Milky Spore disease (available from Jamestown Hardware and Secret Garden). Milky Spore kills off the grubs and soon, you’ll have no more holes in the lawn. It also stops the bugs from eating the roots of your grass, too.

So what other pests plague the gardener? Caterpillars, slugs, snails and birds, to name a few. Caterpillars can be handpicked or – if you dig your garden over and expose the chrysalis, you can leave it out to freeze. If you find active green caterpillars on your broccoli, handpick them or spray with Bacillus Thuringiensis. The insects eat the BT with the plant and it kills them. BT is organic and will fade away in about a week, so you will need to reapply it a week to 10 days later for complete control.

Other insects that eat plants are also killed off by BT and as it is an organic compound, it won’t harm people.

Slugs pose a different problem. You can easily find them in wet weather because of their slime trails. To protect your plants, put diatomaceous earth around them. Diatomaceous earth is composed of tiny sharp fragments of ancient corals, which cuts the slug’s foot to ribbons and kills it. It stays in the soil and is inert so you don’t have to worry about it in the future. Similarly, snails are also controlled with diatomaceous earth. If you can’t find DE, put a steep-sided saucer of beer out for them. The slugs crawl into the beer and drown.

We feed birds in winter, but in summer, they compete with us for berries, nuts and other foods. The easiest way to deter them is to cover your crops with a spun fleece. The fleece keeps the birds off your fruit, but if a squirrel cuts a hole in the fleece, a bird will get in. The only way to clear the bird out is to remove the fleece.

These are a few of the problems that gardeners have to contend with to get a nice harvest. But they are by no means the worst. The worst problem occurs rarely and ruins everything in its path – a hurricane. Hurricanes devastate a garden and there is not much you can do, except move to where there are no hurricanes. But then you might have to contend with earthquakes, eruptions, tsunamis and other natural disasters.

Next time you see a squirrel eating your produce, be thankful for small things.

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