Squirreltomato2

I laughed when doing a search on “squirrel” on this blog and finding several posts that began with “Sigh….”. Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the little buggers. Most of the time, we get along fine, and I enjoy having them as part of the community that lives around my house. They provide quite a bit of entertainment. But there are two times when our relationship becomes a bit strained (when you just might overhear me calling them….well…uncomplimentary names): (1) When attempting to plant a large number of bulbs in the fall, and (2) when the tomato plants have a decent number of sizable fruit on them. 

As for the bulb issue (see Bulb Battle with the Squirrels – Part 2 and Part 3), I’ve given up on the idea of an early season bulb lawn in the buffalograss for a variety of reasons. So now I only plant smaller quantity of bulbs, and when I do, I paint them with a liquid repellent and dump cayenne in the holes for good measure. This seems to do the trick!

Now on to the tomatoes…I cannot imagine ever giving up on having tomatoes in my vegetable garden. I’ve worked hard over the years to hone my tomato growing skills. But when the squirrels decided they liked trying the tomatoes, I was in trouble. In the early years, they might just try a red one and leave it near the garden with a bite out of it. I hoped that meant they were learning they didn’t like tomatoes, but no. So I started picking the tomatoes as soon as they started to blush. This was good enough for a bit. But apparently the squirrels started really acquiring a taste for my tomatoes. By the time we got to last year’s garden, in addition to red ones, they were picking hard green small tomatoes and eating most of those too. 

 

I’ve tried a variety of methods over the years to save most of the tomato harvest for me. (See Squirrels are Eating My Tomatoes! for one of my favorites.) But none ended up working well once the squirrels became real tomato lovers, and it was time to get serious.

 

Round One: Score 1 for us and 0 for squirrels

Here is what the tomato bed looked like by late August last year:

Squirreltomatocage

Basically, we sank some cheap wood stakes in the corners and wrapped two layers of hex wire mesh around them (the mesh is three feet wide, so we needed to layers to reach all the way to the top of the cages). We used clothes pins to attach the ends of the hex wire layers – meaning we needed to take the pins off and open the wire to harvest any tomatoes. The tops of the individual cages were covered with fiberglass window screening, so we extended that to the edges of our new cage. This worked well for a few days.

But then…..

Squirreltomato3

The squirrels realized they could climb the hex wire and chew through the fiberglass screening. Score 1 for the squirrels.

We added a layer of chicken wire across the top, using more clothes pins to attach them to the side layers of hex wire mesh. (Score 1 for us!!)

But…one very persistent squirrel squeezed herself in between the clothes pins (which were about 8” apart) and actually trapped herself in the cage! She bounced around in the cage barking for a bit and finally squeezed herself back out – this was how I learned the way she got  in. (Score 1 more for the squirrels)

Finally, we laid old iron fence posts on top of all four sides, eliminating any possibility of squeezing underneath. This seemed to finally do the trick, but you can guess how much fun it was to harvest any tomatoes! (Score 1 more for us…sort of…)

Round Two: Score 1 more for us 

I knew if we were ever going to enjoy a tomato harvest again, we would need to do something serious each year. So last fall, I started designing a better cage. Early designs included razor wire on top and motion sensor triggered catapults (I was still pretty mad at the squirrels). But I finally settled on a cage design that would be easyish to put up (and take down) and that would allow us to more easily harvest tomatoes. Here is what our squirrel-excluding-cage looks like this year:

Squirreltomatocage2

Nice, huh? Basically, we built six panels which are attached to each other. Each panel frame is made of cedar pickets cut to size, and we stapled hex wire mesh across the frames. The same chicken wire that we draped across the top last year is put into service again. I had a hard time deciding how the panels would be attached to each other and how the chicken wire would be attached to the top. I finally decided on velcro straps – they give quite a bit of flexibility but are strong enough to hold everything together. 

Squirreltomatocage3

In addition to the velcro straps, we also added screws about every 8” to grab onto the chicken wire on top of the cage as well. And finally, we still put two of the iron fence posts across the ends of the top for added security. 

Harvesting tomatoes certainly isn’t as easy as it would be without the cage but is MUCH easier than last year, when I was always getting scratched up by the raw cut edges of the hex wire. The cages have been up for almost a month, and so far, we haven’t lost any tomatoes! (I’m not yet quite brave enough to declare us the victors in this fight though.)

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