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A Squirrely Situation

Think of them as cuddly, cute creatures or as the more deservedly descriptive title of “tree rats”, squirrels are a hazard to gardening among other things but especially gardening. My first negative encounter with the furry little guys was when one day Nancy came up to me while I was working in the garden shed and said, “There is a squirrel living inside the sail cover.” Immediately, I suspected the worst and sure enough the little bugger had made a nest inside our mainsail cover using the finest dacron she could find and turning it into a fluffy, comfy, show white bed for her and her soon to arrive family. She had eaten holes in every panel of my $2400 mainsail. AAAHH!

And from the onset, they reeked havoc on my garden, digging up freshly planted plants, eating my growing fruit and veggies, and taunting me at every turn. Since our house is located in the Ocala National Forest and we are surrounded by trees of every kind and size and since trees are an integral part of the BoonJon gardening system, I couldn’t very well cut them down, nor did I have any desire to, considering the shade they provided during Florida’s hot summer months. But year after year tropical storms and hurricane Irma especially, convinced me that some of them had to go. And after judiciously removing several large oak, pecan and maple trees and a few tall palms over time, it became feasible to take some kind of action to discourage them from coming in my yard.

Have-a-heart trapping and banishing them is an exercise in futility. There is an infinite number of them at the fringes waiting to replace their relatives almost immediately. So is killing them which I just don’t like to do. There is enough to go around right now. I did have a squirrel as a pet a couple of years ago and he was an adorable and a wonderful little guy. When he was a baby, he literally hopped over to me one day, starving and cold. I put him in a box and took him home with me. I kept him in a cage but he was free to come and go much of the time and he always come back to the safety and luxury of his cage. My grand kids loved him. I had him for several months but finally forced him out of his home/cage by hiding it while we took a week long cruise. The squirrel specialist at the local pet store told me that once he had a girlfriend, she would discourage him from associating with people. When I came back I fully expected to never see him again but as I stood in the front yard the day we returned, amazingly and out of nowhere I felt him run up my leg to my shoulder and give me what felt like a kiss on the cheek. Does it get any more Disney? I petted him on the head and back for a minute while he climbed from one shoulder to the other and then he ran down my back and off into the trees and I never saw him again. I guess his girlfriend was scolding him from up in the trees. So when the thought of shooting one of the little devils enters my mind, I feel him sitting on my shoulder again and grudgingly consider some other option. They are clever little creatures so it takes some creativity to get rid of them.

There is, however, a good solution to use in conjunction with trapping them and I do mean solution. The solution is a spray bottle full of 50/50 diluted urine. I would only dilute it to keep down the build up of scale inside the bottle. Once you have them trapped, while they are in the cage, spray them with a stream of the urine mixture. Skunk’em good. The smell will linger on their fur giving them a good and prolonged reminder to stay away from your property. Probably chase away all their buddies at the same time. Most of the animals I trap seem to get loose bowels when trapped as is common in any scary situation so I have to hose down the trap every time I catch a squirrel, raccoon, opossum or armadillo anyway. This may seem perverse, but it is humane and animals are keenly aware of the smell of urine as they use it to mark territories. I’m sure that this will be a new twist for them but at least the will live to tell about it. I don’t recommend spraying the area to discourage them because it will smell.

I do think that getting a terrier of some kind would do wonders, but that is a major ongoing investment and expense. Maybe in the future. So . . . I did four things. I screened my fruit trees with deer netting. I wrapped my palm trees and oak and cypress trees and telephone poles with a band of corrugated polycarbonate sheeting that they can’t climb past. I capped my privacy fence with pointed angle metal trim and I got an airsoft sniper rifle. It is not accurate enough to hit them from any distance or powerful enough to seriously harm them, but you get close enough that they know they are being shot at. They are smart enough to know what a gun is, so you can’t get close enough to be very accurate. If they see me with my gun in my hands, they take off and don’t stop.

For the deer netting, I used short metal t-stakes to anchor the pvc pipe poles. I clamped the netting to the first pole and then wrapped it around the tree. I attached the two ends by threading a fiberglass rod sign stake through the netting and then fastened it to the pole using zip ties. The bottom was anchored to the ground using a section of cattle panel as stakes. I can pull up the cattle panel stakes to “raise her skirt” so to speak, to mow around the base of the tree.

The tree banding was made from Lexan corrugated panels usually used to cover green houses. I simply cut the panels into sections that were 24″ wide and for the smaller palm trees, one piece would wrap around the tree completely. The nice thing is that they are flexible and can be minimally stretched to fit. The also allow light to go through the band and provide ventilation under the band. Being clear they are less visible that my original choice, metal sheeting. They work great. So now the squirrels learn that they dont’ have anyplace to easily escape to if they are chased by me or hawks and eagles that abound around here. The band around the base of the telephone pole causes them to travel long distances on the wire which creates a major exposure to predatory birds so they think twice.

The metal trim on the top of the privacy fence prevents them from running along the top of the fence, which is also a major escape and evade route. I had the trim custom made at a local sheet metal shop. Twelve foot sticks ran $9 each. I simply cut them to length and screwed them in place along the sides. And they look nice.

And lastly my airsoft sniper rifle. Since I normally only use it after seeing them chowing down on my garden, well, it is just plain fun but it’s an after the fact remedy. My grand kids will get more pleasure out of it from target shooting in the back yard.

In a survival situation, where controlling vermin would be critical to success of the garden, the squirrels will disappear quick enough since they represent a food source, protein at that. Since the BoonJon garden system is designed for residential lots with higher populations, demand will surpass supply significantly. So the measures I have taken so far should suffice for my current situation. I still have all my peaches in tact, so far, which is a first. Usually the squirrels will strip my peach trees in two days once they start. Having a loaded mulberry tree has helped keep them away from my peaches too. Fortunately there are plenty of mulberries to go around for everybody, birds included.

Follow up: Seems to be working. The squirrel population in my yard has definitely gone down. Even the temptation of my peaches doesn’t seem to overcome their fear of not being able to escape easily. I’ll keep you up to date.

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