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Squirrels - how to grow food you actually get to eat?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 64
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
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Two years ago, on a rental property with an "established" (but dead) garden, we decided to try growing a selection of tomatoes, zucchini, cantaloupe, beets, chard, broccoli, cabbage, butternut squash, etc.  Got some wood chips from a guy on kijiji who said "bring your own containers and take it please", horse manure from a country road (for the melons), installed rain barrels, put up a rabbit fence, and gave it a shot.  Things started growing and we thought, "hey, we're not too bad at this I guess," watered daily and hoped for the best.

Then a lot of the growing things began to be snipped off, almost as though some weirdo came in the night with scissors.  It took me a bit to realize it was garden predators, my clever and evil fur-bearing enemies with fluffy tails.  The fences obviously did nothing, and I hadn't realized they could cause so much destruction.  We didn't get a single squash, zucchini or melon as they chewed every young fruit to death.  When the tomatoes came, they picked them and threw them on the ground without even tasting them - just ripped them off for nothing.  We did end up with some healthy red cabbages and broccoli, but in all it was the most disappointing gardening experience of my life.  Having grown up rural where there was hardly a squirrel to be found (not sure why, maybe all the fields?) and currently living in the city for financial reasons before we can move onto our land permanently, I never thought of them as the garden-wrecking type of critter they obviously are in urban areas.  And again, if I were living rural right now the air rifle might have solved this already, at least temporarily.  I don't want to kill things, but I would like to be able to eat my own darn food.  A loss like this in the future could mean serious trouble for us, so I need to get it figured out.

On the land where our homestead will be situated, we don't have these southern black or grey squirrels, but we do have chipmunks and the majestic, adorable and bold red squirrel, which are curious and amusing.  I'm wondering what the future will hold when we establish gardens and begin to rely on harvesting hazelnuts, which are abundant there, as a supplemental food source and possible income.  

My question here is, how do I keep them out of the food?  Is death the only answer?  I'm not a big fan of traps, or taking pot-shots, or cats (sorry cat people!), and obviously not of poisons.  Please tell me about your experiences and solutions!  If anyone has experience specific to Northern Ontario particularly, please let me know.
 
gardener
Posts: 1109
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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I have been thinking a lot about how to setup a homestead where critters are welcomed and any damage they do is not consequential. I want to have a lush homestead with tons of wildlife while at the same time providing food for my family and I. But I have already run into trouble with deer and I'm currently fencing my property to keep them out. Not exactly keeping with my goal of having wildlife on my homestead but in this situation the deer were just too abundant and damaging to coexist at this stage of my homestead. It might be the same with squirrels at your homestead but I think it may be possible to avoid having to kill them.

What I see happening is that we homesteaders like to move out onto some land and immediately start growing food for ourselves. This goes great until the local wildlife shows up and then it becomes an ongoing battle. The issue as I see it is that we move to land that is often not that productive for us or wildlife - essentially it is a food desert. In my area there are lots of land that is made up of degraded old pasture or hay fields and lots of land that is made up of over crowded Douglas fir that were planted after the previous forest was logged. In both cases overall plant diversity is very low and there is really not much for wildlife to eat in these environments.

In the middle of this food desert we come in and establish an oasis also known as a garden, or orchard, or berry patch, etc. Of course all the wildlife in the area is drawn to it. This happened on my property with the deer. I started by building hugel beds and creating new beds where I put in hundreds of native plants and some non-native plants. I focused on native plants because I wanted to provide habitat and food for local wildlife but compared to the food desert made up of degraded old pasture land around me these new plantings were an oasis. So the resident deer just focused in on the new plants which is why I'm now fencing the deer out. The lack of large predators also causes issues since the deer can just move slowly through the land without having to really worry about any predators. This means they tend to stay in one area far longer than they would have historically. Since my plantings are small enough and the deer like to just hangout if I don't do something the plants won't have the space to get established and reach their potential.

Sometimes I think removing the problem critter might be the only option at least in the short term. In my case I do plan on opening certain areas of my property to the deer after it gets established and can take their browsing. But as far as other critters go I'm hoping that by focusing on planting lots of native fruiting plants that I can provide so much abundance that when I do put in a garden, and when I do establish my food forest, that these highly productive (for me and my family) areas won't really stand out in the larger oasis that I'm trying to turn my property into. Why would a squirrel focus on my garden when there are so many native fruiting plants around? At least that is my hope - but this thought is based on multiple research papers I have read that show that native animals tend to prefer native plants over non-native ones. So perhaps there is some logic to my hope.

The strategy at my place is to try to get a lot of native plants established in hedgerows around my property. The plants I'm choosing are ones that produce fruits, berries, or nuts/seeds that will provide a lot of food for local wildlife. I'm also trying to make sure that I have a mix of native plants that fruit at different times of the year so that something is always available. This has meant that I have very few fruit trees or berry bushes or vegetables planted at this point. The ones I do have are located close to my house since I figured this area would be less attractive to rural wildlife and so far this seems to be working. The garden will have to wait and so will my food forest. In the mean time I'm establishing a 0.3 acre native forest and a wetland area in addition to my hedgerows. All of this will hopefully keep the local wildlife happy when I put in my garden.

But I'm also planting native plants around all my non-native plants. Say I'm putting in a fruit tree - I will plant some fruiting shrubs and other crops with it but I will also plant a mix of native fruiting plants such as the coastal gooseberry, trailing blackberry, coastal strawberry, beaked hazelnut, etc. close by. The goal is that while the fruit tree may be my focus it won't stand out to any visiting critter compared to the abundance of native plants around or near it. I'm also purposefully picking native fruiting plants that produce fruits/nuts that are good for me to eat too. That way if there are some left I can still hopefully get a harvest too.

Another example is my garden plan. I will be putting in a series of contour garden beds but for every two garden beds that are focused on growing food for me I will have another contour bed that is filled with native fruiting plants, rock piles, logs, stumps, etc. creating a great habitat area for wildlife. These wildlife beds are also where I will grow perennial vegetables such as miners lettuce (native here), Good-King Henry, Turkish rocket, etc. I will likely mix in a few herbs too such as chives. But if any of these get munched I won't care since these are first grown for wildlife and second for me. So even though the garden area will focus on non-native plants there will still be a lot of natives mixed in.

I guess ultimately my strategy is to make sure that any plant I have that I want to get a harvest from disappears in a sea of productive native plants. In the end I figure my property will end up around 60% native plants and 40% non-native but there will be specific areas that are more 70 or 80% non-native like the garden but even there I will be mixing in more native plants than I see most people doing. There will also be some areas that will be made up of mostly only native plants. But I am selecting the native plants to be ones that I can get a good harvest from too. In many ways I see this as similar in concept to a polyculture bed - the idea that planting a mix of plants confuses any pests and therefore limits damage to your crop. I'm trying to scale this up to cover my whole homestead and expanding on it by not just planting a diverse mix but also by adding a large amount of native plants. Hopefully my crops won't stand out and will be hard for any critter to find and hopefully the critters will be so happy munching on all the native plants that they won't even be drawn to my crops.

Really just in the theory / planning stage at the moment but this is what I'm aiming to do on my property. I have 2.86 acres of land and I'm not trying to sell my crops. My goal is just to provide at least 50% of my families food (hopefully more!). I'm not sure how easy this strategy would be to apply to a commercial growing operation but it could be possible by potentially focusing on hedgerows around the crops and if you have enough land you could do every third row as a wildlife focused row.

I get why people start their homestead by putting in all the crops that they want to harvest for their income and for their family. In many cases this may be necessary to support their homestead financially. But I also think it should not be a surprise that these crops can become a focus of the local wildlife if the surrounding area is essentially a food desert for wildlife. Often what looks like an established natural area can still be heavily degraded due to past logging or other actions that resulted in a habitat with little diversity and little for wildlife to eat - at least compared to a lush garden or orchard.

Not exactly a post focused on squirrels but I hope you can get something out of this overall strategy that I'm trying on my place. Squirrels are on my list of potential problem critters but so far they have not been hanging out on my property. But there are some red squirrels living across the street from my place so it is only a matter of time.
 
Posts: 107
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
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I feel for you Norma. Our urban garden is under constant assault from grey squirrels as well.  You're lucky you ever saw fruit on your squash and zucchinis.  They eat the flowers off ours. But we tried out a product from Lee Valley last year that worked well, to my surprise.  They call it a walk-in garden cage.  I was surprised because the mesh (it's a stretch to call it a cage) is plastic and I would think a squirrel could easily chew through if it tried. Yet it rebuffed them on more than one occasion while I looked on.

However as you will see from Lee Valley's catalog photo, it covers a very small area (about 5'x8').

Ultimately, I think I will be going to chicken wire on a home-made frame.  It'll be much more practical for a reasonable garden scale. Whatever the solution though, it won't succeed unless it covers the top as well as the sides. You need a complete exclosure to keep out those devils.
 
pollinator
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Location: Anjou ,France
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Encourage predators nesting box for owls etc
How about a small dog , being allowed to chase squirrel would make him/her very happy
Have you enough space to put a tree free zone around your garden such animals like to move in cover and can be reluctant to cross an area exposed to predators

David
 
gardener
Posts: 1264
Location: Middle Tennessee
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Hi Norma, I feel your pain and I used to have that problem. You mentioned you're not into cats, but the solution for us was cats! While I had put up an electric net style fence around my garden to keep the rabbits out, and it solved that problem, the squirrels could jump through the holes in the net, and while airborne jumping through the net they're not grounded so the electric pulse has no effect. We didn't get cats to solve the squirrel problem, we took in some cats that our neighbor was neglecting, and from day one we no longer had squirrels in the garden anymore. Perhaps don't view the cat(s) as a pet, but as a working homestead animal, similar to livestock guardian dogs. They are employed to do a job. It may be worth it to provide a bowl of food and water, they'll find shelter to sleep and stay out of storms, and they'll keep those squirrels at bay. I'm willing to bet you can find a free cat, hopefully a long haired variety if they are to be outdoors 100% of the time in the great white north. Hope this helps!
 
Norma Guy
Posts: 64
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
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Daron; I like that solution, and I agree with the “food desert” concept to a certain extent.  While there are abundant nuts and berries in the area, we will basically be planting an oasis that I’m worried will draw more and larger beasties than just the squirrels.  The other animals are easy enough to keep out with proper fencing, and there are enough hazelnuts, blueberries and raspberries out there to keep the bears occupied for miles around.  But the squirrels are little and wily, and aside from putting up a giant dome I’m not sure what would assuage their desire for my people food.  The property is 160 acres of varied landscape including wetland, creeks and ponds, and our homestead site is between rocky hills in a flat valley high above flowing water level (the land is surrounded on three sides by a creek, and cliffs on the other).  We had always planned to rehabilitate the land, increasing biodiversity by planting native, fruit/nut bearing plants, as it was logged in the past and the damage in the area surrounding our property is obvious.  Establishing a wide perimeter of food plants on the accessible edges might make the critters less likely to wander to the interior of the property, which is protected by rocky hills with steep grade changes, and physically more difficult to reach (from  my human perspective anyway).

Micky; I love that solution for the urban garden, and you’re right the chicken wire is a more affordable option, especially since the garden we have now is 20’x25’.  I might just have to suck it up as a worthwhile expense if I want to see anything viable come out of there.

David; my dog loves to chase squirrels!  But as we are in the city and the yard is not fenced (rental) I can’t leave him out to protect the food.  I’m sure he would do a great job otherwise.  Although he had to be encouraged to roust the (intimidating) groundhog who briefly made a home back there, before our neighbour “relocated” him - so glad my neighbours are from the country, too!

James; that’s what I was worried about, that cats might be my best bet.  The things I don’t like about cats, whether considered working animals or pets, is that they attack everything that moves including birds I would rather not kill, poop and pee where they will including the garden, and can be disease vectors in themselves.  Their job is to police the wildlife, and through that interaction they might bring something home that could make us all sick.  It’s a risk benefit thing, and maybe I’m being paranoid?  When it comes down to it, our ability to feed ourselves reliably will probably drive us to any length to protect it.  I don't know of a farm that doesn't have cats, it's conventional wisdom.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2049
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I'm going to suggest something that is NOT poison.
Concrete or drywall powder in peanut butter.
Isolate someplace that domestic animals cannot access,at the end of a length of capped pipe,or in the branches of a tree.

I have not tried this method,but came across it when looking for a way to enjoy the peaches from my tree.

So barriers,baiting,abundance, and predators,domestic or otherwise.
 
James Freyr
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Location: Middle Tennessee
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While I won't say that cats can't make humans ill, the likelihood of it happening is so very rare. There are indeed a few zoonotic diseases that cats can transmit, but in almost all cases of humans actually being infected via a cat, the person is immunocompromised in some way, either having HIV/AIDS, taking immune suppressing drugs, or undergoing certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants. The other cases where non-immunocompromised people get infected, and those are babies as they haven't developed the immune system adults have, and the elderly that are weak. But in the end, most of it is avoiding infection using common sense, such as not letting babies have access to litter boxes, washing our hands after scooping/changing cat boxes, and washing scratches on our skin.

Here's some information from Cornell University for those interested:

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/brochure_zoonoticdisease.cfm
 
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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William Bronson wrote: I'm going to suggest something that is NOT poison.
Concrete or drywall powder in peanut butter.
Isolate someplace that domestic animals cannot access,at the end of a length of capped pipe,or in the branches of a tree.

I have not tried this method,but came across it when looking for a way to enjoy the peaches from my tree.

So barriers,baiting,abundance, and predators,domestic or otherwise.



That sounds like a pretty horrible way to die. If you just decide to kill them, a pellet gun is much more humane.  I don't think killing them is a long term solution anyway. Likely more will just move in.
 
Posts: 145
Location: MA
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New England seems to be a very similar environment and climate to the Ontario / southern Canada region.  We could probably learn a lot from each other.

Anyway, I was thinking that to a squirrel, planting a garden that's touching a forest compared to one that's 100 feet away or more, is like the difference between a convenience store and a grocery store...  

To get hazelnuts you may have to harvest them early and then ripen them off the tree.  I think I saw a youtube video of a guy doing that, which is otherwise probably a strange practice if you don't have squirrel pressure.  Oak acorns don't seem to have a husk like hazelnuts and other nuts do.  I imagine the husk helps protects them somewhat especially when they're green/unripe.  Modern tree varieties seem so productive, that it would seem worthwhile even if you lost some.  

In a forest garden overrun with chipmunks I was able to grow squash, beans and corn without problem.  Maybe the forest of oak trees was enough to keep them somewhat busy, habitually accustomed to, and well-fed with a diet of acorns?  Urban wildlife is probably hungrier, more scavenging-oriented, and more adapted-to and habituated-to being bold and aggressive and less shy around human presence.  

Chipmunks like tomatoes and love strawberries.  Maybe they like soft, sweet fruit?  I guess avoid that somewhat if you can.  Always plant a very wide diversity of crops, since you never know which ones will have a good year.  We get most of our tomatoes with a pretty basic fence, and we just plant extra.  In the forest if we want a single strawberry it has to be completely enclosed in hardware cloth.  (A fence/screen needs to be at least 2-3 times finer mesh than the creature you're trying to keep out.)  Once you've done that, it doesn't seem as bad to use traps to catch the occasional one that might break in.  Have-a-hart makes a tiny non-lethal trap that will catch one chipmunk at a time, which is great if you only have one chipmunk to catch!

This year we had a difficult mouse problem in the house.  Like you, I didn't want to kill them either, but eventually I had to try the lethal traps.   I found that I would be lazy and "wouldn't get around to it", and just not use the trap unless it was easy to use, clean and reset.  A particular product that is scarily-efficient is the "Catchmaster snapper".  It's as easy to use as a clothespin.  A pair of these seem to have de-infested a whole house where a dozen of the common type just sat idle.    

Female cats tend to be more active hunters (more instinctively-driven) than male cats, but both will catch chipmunks.  They don't ever catch grey squirrels, but they will deter them somewhat.  
Any cat that hunts will get worms and will benefit from being dewormed.  They may need food and shelter, and if they only live outdoors may breed and may go feral.  

I have also thought about trying sonic/ultrasonic deterrents.  This may be especially good if you don't keep pets/animals like cats.  You can even download recordings from youtube or wherever, put it on an MP3 player or whatever works best to playback through a speaker/stereo system.  A typical stereo playback frequency might go 18kHz-20kHz, which may be ultrasonic to most adults but *isn't* quite ultrasonic to children, pets and animals.  I was thinking this would work well to deter rodents from an insulated attic.  Perhaps this would make sense for an (insulated) greenhouse/hot house, which tomatoes like, and where the greenhouse wall might help physically deter rodents.
 
Norma Guy
Posts: 64
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
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William; the concrete method wouldn’t harm other creatures if they ingested the dead squirrel, which is a positive point.  But this method does include the protracted suffering of poisons that I would loathe to cause any creature – I don’t want to be responsible for what I would consider a “bad death”.  It would be a desperate move for me to try it, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Also, it seems like something birds would be just as likely to eat, since peanut butter is delicious.

James; my two main concerns were toxoplasmosis, which they will deposit in your garden, and rabies.  Rabies is the concern with the wildlife-to-human interaction, but vaccination (which most people don’t even consider for their cats the way they would for a dog) can prevent that, as long as the humans around are careful too, to not get bitten by the cat, or let them lick scratches (children are not so good at this).  Rabies is a horrible way to die, and while the incidence is not as high up north as it is where I’m currently living, it’s still out there.  Thank you for that list though, there are things on there I hadn’t even considered (giardia - we have beavers on the land!), and it’s nice to have the statistical data.
 
Norma Guy
Posts: 64
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
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Mike; I haven't done a lot of research on how to process the beaked hazelnuts properly, I'll have to check out that method you mentioned of picking them early.  We also plan to transplant some to areas that are easier to access, and to plant some different species of hazelnut to see what the yield will be like there, as I'm not sure what will be hardy aside from the beaked hazelnut bushes which grow wild.
 
Daron Williams
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Norma Guy wrote:Daron; I like that solution, and I agree with the “food desert” concept to a certain extent.  While there are abundant nuts and berries in the area, we will basically be planting an oasis that I’m worried will draw more and larger beasties than just the squirrels.  The other animals are easy enough to keep out with proper fencing, and there are enough hazelnuts, blueberries and raspberries out there to keep the bears occupied for miles around.  But the squirrels are little and wily, and aside from putting up a giant dome I’m not sure what would assuage their desire for my people food.  The property is 160 acres of varied landscape including wetland, creeks and ponds, and our homestead site is between rocky hills in a flat valley high above flowing water level (the land is surrounded on three sides by a creek, and cliffs on the other).  We had always planned to rehabilitate the land, increasing biodiversity by planting native, fruit/nut bearing plants, as it was logged in the past and the damage in the area surrounding our property is obvious.  Establishing a wide perimeter of food plants on the accessible edges might make the critters less likely to wander to the interior of the property, which is protected by rocky hills with steep grade changes, and physically more difficult to reach (from  my human perspective anyway).



I get the concern but if you start growing enough food / crops for your own use or to sell you will likely attract those large animals any ways. My thought is that if they are going to come anyways you might as well give them an alternative to your crops.

Since you have so much land I would try to use the natural barriers that you mentioned and also plant hedgerows of natives to divert wildlife away from your crops. If they don't run into a dead end and are instead just naturally move away from your crops.

If setup well that could divert the big animals away - this is what I'm doing to deal with the deer at my place. But the small animals will still likely move in. That is where giving them an alternative to your crops might work.

Also, I have noticed that a lot of land that looks natural to the average person is really not due to past disturbance. I don't know what your land is like but it is really rare to find large tracts of land that are still in good shape in the lower 48s that is not up on a mountain or already protected. This is why I used the food desert and oasis terms. It may look natural but often it is fairly degraded and gardens are an oasis in comparison at least for generalist wildlife.
 
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Location: Mason Cty, WA
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Eat the squirrels.

If you must pellet gun them, eat them. They are actually quite tasty and from what I could find don't have harmful parasites. Your critters will fight over the guts unless you bury them. The pelts can also be used, are soft and strong.

As to "more moving in if you kill them", I killed, skinned and ate seven across two seasons. They take 10 minutes to process, like rabbit but faster. With each death there were occasionally-visible struggles for power and territory between males and females alike. After the seventh mortality, they did not come right up to my camp (where I got them from my deck), but kept to a perimeter about 50 yards back. They are very smart and can see when they're being decimated.

I'm more concerned with my plantings being troubled by beasties I or critters can't eat.
 
Norma Guy
Posts: 64
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
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Daron; I agree with your first post 100%, no doubt.  You mentioned the beaked hazelnut, which we have a lot of, for the hedgerows.  What other bushes would you put in there?  I really like the philosophy of planting to feed the wildlife and keep it away from my food, and enough that what they take doesn’t harm my ability to feed myself.  The hedgerows you’re talking about will have to be planted in the flat valley, I guess sort of in a “V” shape that directs them out away from the road and widens away from the homestead.  I’m envisioning a sort of baseball diamond shape with home base at the south (which is what we were already aiming for with the clearing) that meets the East and West hills at the widest part, and directs them back toward the South faces of the hills, and back toward the creek.  I have never even been to the Northernmost edge of the land, I have only seen it from the tops of the hills on the East and West of the homestead site, the middle of the valley, along the Southern creek through the wetland, to the beaver ponds in the South, and to the Eastern creek where the raspberries are thickest.

The area is grown in mostly with quaking aspen which is about 15 years old, based on counting the rings, in the road we are clearing.  The road was made by loggers, so my best guess is that every accessible part was logged to the ground at least 15 years ago.  The difference is stark off of our land.  Surrounding us there are areas of more recent clear-cutting that the loggers never even finished cleaning up, with towering piles of slash about that was scheduled for a winter burn that never happened.  The damage is obvious everywhere you go, in fact, it can be quite shocking if you haven't seen the brutality of logging operations before.  

Blueberries quickly take over these open areas, but die down as the trees grow back in and shade them.  On our land, the grade differences are so great that some was impossible to log.  The highest areas are sparse and rocky granite, with large patches of reindeer lichen (where the salamanders like to sleep) and blueberries between the pines.  From up there you can see for kilometers.  In the middle elevation there is a mix of spruce, birch, maple, and many others, and you can hardly throw a stone without hitting a beaked hazelnut bush in the areas that have been disturbed.  There are mature trees still standing from before the loggers came on the slopes.  The low areas near the water are full of raspberries, but the thickest patches are difficult to reach through the undergrowth.  

It is by no means untouched, and I'm not under any illusions to that fact.  One only has to find a few moss-eaten spongy stumps 5 feet across to imagine what it must have looked like before it was razed, possibly a few times over, since colonization.  The only reason we can reach our land at all is because of the roads left by loggers, who made our job easier by clearing the large trees from the flattest part of the land with the deepest soil, in the flat valley at mid elevation.  We take comfort in knowing there is nothing we could do to this land that could compare to the harm that has already happened to it, and our intention is to give back to it whatever we can while we live there.

The moose tend to stay down near the water, although you can find droppings even in the high places where you wouldn't think they'd want to go, as well as bear scat, but no deer droppings.  A lot of moose and bear footprints, as well as wolf, but not deer.  I don’t know a lot about how moose tend to interact with gardens, as I grew up in an area that had a lot of deer but no moose at all.  What I know about deer is that they can kill your whole season in one night.
 
Norma Guy
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Fredy; yes, I would like to eat anything I kill if I can.  It's something you could roast on a stick at the campfire  This reminds me of an article I read last summer while wondering how best to deal with the squirrel problem in my city back yard;

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/squirrel-meat-hunting-debate-quebec-hunter-1.4188720
 
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Location: Coastal British Columbia
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Hi Norma! I used to build 2"x2" frames over my raised beds and draped bird netting over it, then stapled it in place. The birds wouldn't go anywhere near it (and I adore songbirds, so that was good), and the squirrels left it alone...unless there was a gaping hole, then they would be in there in a second. They had no fear! I swear they used to watch me digging and planting tender baby plants from their treetop "watchtower" then run down immediately and eat/dig/rip apart anything I did moments later. I also have a neighborhood cat (male) who couldn't keep them at bay despite lying on my fence all day long waiting to catch one. Squirrels are bold, brassy, and in charge in the city, that's for sure! One thing they didn't like was this blood powder stuff (Plantskydd) that you mix with water and spray on your plants. It's advertised as a deer deterrent, but it does work on squirrels. The only problem is that it's messy and you have to apply after every rain. Here's the link for it: Plantskydd  Hope you have better luck this season!
squirrel-frame.jpg
[Thumbnail for squirrel-frame.jpg]
On the left you can see the "frame" I'm talking about
 
gardener
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I've been urban gardening on this place 4 years and you know, them squirrels be the only critters that have successfully dodged the dog.  And they be the only ones that use their words when you do something they don't like.  Now there wasn't a garden here and I have had my losses, but you know, the more I hang out at a place, the less they do.  Not that they won't sneak after my stuff, but they seem territorial and also able to see other critters as something that invades or not their territory.  Maybe it's just the squirrels here. They are also ambitious tree planters too.  So far we've learned to co- exist though.  Bunnies here ain't bad neither.  They are mostly interested in lawn weeds.  Them ground hogs on the other hand....

Guess I'm wondering if since the squirrels were there with the garden first you didn't invade their territory or something. But,  I don't know how the squirrel culture is up by you.
 
pollinator
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I am living in downtown Toronto, and the squirrel pressure is insane. I got one zucchini last year, and some kale. One zucchini.

A neighbour across the street had been coming into our backyard since before we moved in, and for a while after, though I had asked her to stop, specifically to feed her squirrels in the bed that was to become my garden.

She had effectively trained them to come to that spot to feed.

I finally had to talk to her again, pointing out the mangey, diseased squirrels, the squirrels that were regularly squished in the street by cars they no longer feared, throttled to death by dogs they no longer feared (she had a yappy, useless little thing that wouldn't bark at the squirrels), and pointed out that this behaviour was caused by her treating wild animals as pets.

She argued, so I pointed out the red-tailed hawks circling overhead, and sadly (not sadly) informed her that the hawks would thank her for concentrating their prey for them.

She's still feeding squirrels in the neighbourhood, and I wish they would swarm her one day, sometimes, but she'd probably get squirrel superpowers and feed them more.

Which brings me to my permaculture solution. I am building and installing wrapped perches designed to be comfortable for the red-tailed hawks in the neighbourhood. If I could encourage them to build a nest on our property, I would do that too. I am trying to figure out how to combine a perch and a fountain combo off of our third-floor balcony, as a safe water source is something that encourages them.

I would build a crow shrine to attract crows, instead, except those clever corvids would watch where I put the tasty seeds in the dirt and have great fun making a yummy memory game out of all my works.

I have seen a hawk take a squirrel off of a power line and eat it on the top of a pole. They will also take smaller raccoons, which is a serious bonus.

In addition, if I move to one of the wards in my city where chickens are permitted, I would trap squirrels, kill them, and use them to generate black soldier fly larvae for chicken feed.

In the wild, they apparently do much more than we usually consider in terms of the dispersal of tree genetics. In urban areas and in food production, they are only suitable for feeding something, and maybe for a bit of fur and skin.

-CK
 
Rosemary Hansen
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Location: Coastal British Columbia
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Chris, that is truly sad/insane how your neighbor used to feed them! I think that's a big reason why they survive so well in the city. But they probably go through "booms & busts" where a neighbor stops feeding them and their population crashes and every squirrel is desperate. Maybe that's why we get so low yields in city gardens! The first 2 years I gardened in the city they didn't touch my garden and after that it was similar to you. I planted 300 flower bulbs (carefully selected to be not edible/appetizing to squirrels) and they still dug everything up, bit into them and tossed them aside, and ate white strawberries that weren't even close to ripe, etc. Oh, but the wild chokecherry tree was left completely alone! I did notice that they weren't able to get the saskatoons from my bushes as the bushes are high (4+ feet) but the branches can't support the squirrels' weight. So that was a win. We got 3 small buckets of saskatoon berries harvested last summer on my urban lot. Pretty cool!
 
Norma Guy
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Rosemary: I will definitely try plantskydd (I’ve seen it at TSC) on the Northern patch.  I didn’t think of it being effective for squirrels as well.  I watched the video of Sepp Holzer making bone sauce several times and would like to try that, I imagine it would be somewhat oilier than plantskydd?  But I have never used either.  I love your frames, I watched a video the other day of a guy who made little hoop tunnels over his raised beds that could be lifted on a hinge for working and ventilation, and he showed the difference in his pepper plants from outside and inside.  I would like to do something very similar to your design, to keep the birds out of the berries, and probably also the tomatoes.

Amit:  Haha, yes the groundhogs have attitude!

Chris: Love the idea of perches for the hawks.  We’ve been talking a lot about bat houses to encourage night predators, but I didn’t give much thought to encouraging wild day predators.  I guess the problem would be if we had small livestock at the same time, we probably wouldn’t want to encourage them so much then.  It seems like a brilliant solution in the city though, if you don’t have chickens.
 
Rosemary Hansen
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Good point about bone sauce, Norma!

But I've never made it before so someone else more experienced will have to speak up about whether it is oily or not. I'm going to try it this year with my tasty fruit trees for the deer since we're living in the bush now. My mother had her cherry tree eaten right to the ground by deer! It was a 2 year old tree so quite small & delicious for deer, I guess.

Oh and I forgot to mention that I stapled the bird netting on the north side of the raised bed, but tied it to nails poking out every 4 inches on the south side (for access). It totally protected my strawberries from the squirrels. Glad I could help...squirrels are the bane of my existence and only gardeners understand what I mean! I don't see them as cute any more, haha.
 
master steward
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A few years back, Joseph Lofhouse posted about how he puts the squirrels to work harvesting the nuts for him, by providing convienient places for them to store the nuts, and then taking their stores! https://permies.com/t/45993/Nut-Trees-Squirrels#371137

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Perhaps recruit the squirrels to harvest the nuts for you. For example, this box was filled with walnuts soon after being installed.

I can't find the photo right now, but one year I inadvertently left a half bushel basket at the base of the walnut tree. It had a gallon pot in it. The squirrels filled the whole thing with nuts. I emptied it, and it got filled twice more. They poke nuts into every cavity in every tree. They poke nuts into every hole in the ground... Upright cinder-blocks laying on the ground are a nut magnet. One gallon pots are highly favored.

There's a project for a permaculture inventor.... Study squirrels, and test designs, and share blueprints for boxes that are irresistible to squirrels as a stash place for nuts. I think that the best designs will have an easy empty feature so that they can be easily robbed.



Here's a picture, from another post he made in that thread, of a stash of nuts that the squirrels made in his bird feeder!

 
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That behavior of storing nuts in any available above-ground container must be  specific to the squirrel species he has in Utah.  The eastern gray squirrels bury their nuts in small stashes in the ground and have never offered to fill up any of my pots or containers.
 
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I have an urban garden like the one you describe. The dominant predator in my area is the kitty cat. So I go out of my way to make hiding places and ambush locations in my garden. I'll find at least one dead squirrel in the garden every spring and since they don't get eaten, I presume it's the work of a cat.

That said, last year not one pea plant survived so something has changed.
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
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I have been thinking of seeding catgrass around my garden and screening off the beds in which I garden with netting to keep things out.

We have crazy intense squirrel predation pressure, as I mentioned, and in addition to the hawk perches I want to put in, I think drawing neighbourhood cats on walkabout in for a tour of my garden and a tasty treat or lethal (for the squirrels) entertainment will do wonders to chase them away.

Or kill them. I would rather they die.

-CK
 
Norma Guy
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Worker squirrels... I love that idea, it's genius!  I'm not sure how red squirrels stash, as that's the species we've got up there I'll have to research their stashing behaviour and see if we can make it work!
 
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I was blessed enough to find myself in white oak Savannah.   The grey Squirrel population was saturated.  I have heard and seen the raccoons, climbing 100 feet into grand or doug fir to kill and eat them a few times.  It's one of the most vicious nastiest interactions I've ever heard.  Funny how raccoons can be adorable, or sound like a demon.  And the way the Squirrels beep like guinea pigs is so goddam sad.  I wonder if this is a dying squirrel, or a mother lamenting the loss of her young.  The raccoon snarls sound like a fight, but I haven't seen what is actually happening up in the canopy, only the raccoons descending after the deed is done.

The point, we have a lot of wild hazelnut and oak on this 3 acres.  To reduce my consumption of industrial agriculture, I decided, MINE.  

There is no way around it.  Anywhere there is continuous canopy, the squirrels are better at it, and will beat me to it (the nuts).   I guess in another sense I am lucky, as they have never messed with my squash or tomato plants in my 5 years here.

I shot 3 grey squrriels with a Russian made pellet gun.  My diet is 99% vegan based on emotional rather than health principles, but I'll kill and eat a few squirrels to reduce my amplification of industrial agriculture.  Two out of three of those deaths were nasty and came to a second shot, after a  period of fleeing.  No, let's not do that again if it's not a life or death effort.    

You also wouldn't be able to grow a thing here the deer eat.   I'm still torn between the idea, that instead of bothering with fencing and putting up barbed wire which has hooked and slashed a few deer that were courageous enough to jump in and I had to chase out, I should have just shot to kill

I feel the humane solution is, if you aren't going to wait on owls or cats, which may or may not be able to catch squirrels based on your garden and tree layout, is figure 4 dead fall traps.  If you aren't going to get to leave this world by falling asleep and not waking up, a swift blow to the head is about the best way to do it.  Can confirm, seeing as how I've lost consciousness twice as a result of this, and you don't feel a thing until you wake up (snowboarding, climbing, whew I'm still here.)  Deadfall traps work, the only problem is you can kill a curious domestic cat or raccoon with them as well. Oh no, it has a collar...

I am hoping, that if I reduce the squirrel population but don't kill them all, they'll collect acorns and hazelnuts for me.  I'm going to try putting up my nut pipes this summer.  Awesome.
 
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Kill the squirrels and then eat the squirrels.

We don't waste meat where I live. We have no farmlands besides our yards.

If you don't want to kill and eat them, live with them and the damage they can cause? I don't know.
 
pollinator
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Norma Guy wrote:
My question here is, how do I keep them out of the food?  Is death the only answer?  I'm not a big fan of traps.



Then you probably will not like my solution.  I must tell you, it's very effective.

Norma Guy wrote: Please tell me about your experiences and solutions!



A simple box trap.  Squirrels are tremendously easy to catch.  You set it on a wall or some other elevated surface where they run, bait it with a small handful of nuts, and they walk right in.

How you choose to dispose of them is your business, but I feed the squirrels to the Black Soldier Flies, who in turn get fed to the chickens.  The problems (squirrels) becomes the solution (chicken feed).

Squirrels tend to come in waves.  You'll catch 5 or 6, and then there won't be any for a couple of months.  Then you'll get another wave of them.  But if you catch one or two a day, they'll be thinned-out in a week.  


 
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I'm on the opposite side of the coin from Marco, which is to say I agree with most of what you say but I differ with the take home message.  Traps definitely work. If you're in an area with a lot of squirrels, it's not worth it to kill them.  Because it won't matter.  You can kill dozens and dozens of squirrels and more will just come. There may be lulls or peaceful periods as the social sphere at the time backs off, but another unknowing social sphere will move into the vacuum and bam! more squirrels.  

I suggest you build a room for your crops.  It has a floor (chicken wire and/or mesh in the dirt), walls (more chicken wire?  greenhouse plastic?  wrought iron? You decide.) and a ceiling, all attached to stout posts or a frame of some kind.  This will keep out birds, squirrels, diggers, bunnies, and probably deer.  All of which can decimate your garden in minutes flat.  Right when it is at the peak of ripeness, which is a cruel irony.  Yes it sucks to build all that and it takes away the romance of growing a garden, but if you're in an urban area with squirrels, its one of few options.

The option I went with, which worked really well, was upside down planters suspended from a thin rod.   Topsy turvy is the trade name, though mine are DIY based on 5 gallon buckets.  I plant tomatoes, peppers, and squash from the bottom hole and basil, greens, herbs, or marigolds from the top.  Set up a timed irrigation system, then wait for the harvest.  The squirrels can jump onto the top of the planters but are too heavy and don't have a foothold to get to the tomatoes.  This is not good enough for a production system and your growing choices are limited, but if you want enough tomatoes and basil to last through the growing season this is a good alternative.
 
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On board with Marco, this year I dedicated late winter to three or more weekly hunts of squirrels in one acre of large canopy trees. Over the course of two months, there were less and less squirrels. They still arrived continually, but I didnt give up. By the end of Spring, not a single squirrel living in the trees of this one acre (oaks I believe). Southeast USA.

My next step is to find out who preys on squirrels in Florida. Here the list of large predators in Florida is Black Bear, Florida Panther, Coyote and Bobcat. So I will buy urine of coyote and if possible Panther. Apparently, it's organic and doesnt involved chasing down squirrels, trapping them or anything. Just a repellent. Cant wait to try this and report back. I'm so sick of squirrels. And birds too for that matter.
 
I just had the craziest dream. This tiny ad was in it.
Self-Sufficiency in MO -- 10 acres of Eden, looking for a renter who can utilize and appreciate it.
https://permies.com/t/95939/Sufficiency-MO-acres-Eden-renter
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