I love raspberries.
Lucky for me there is a raspberry field in the backyard that has migrated around the yard for the past 30 years. It is a remnant of my neighbor’s planting from many years before.
Every year I look forward to the second week of July when the berries generally ripen. I don’t get much, a few liters maybe, enough to make a few pies and pick and eat for a while.
This year it went south. The vines were lush with new berries a month ago, which is a sign of a great harvest ahead. It never happened. When the berries started to develop, they also started to disappear. I’ve always lost a few to the squirrels and birds, but this year was ridiculous. I might have picked three berries that were somewhere close to a deep red, but that was it. The critters got each other.
It could have been the same for the lettuce. I had planted so early and it started to come. I didn’t pay attention for a while, then one day I realized it didn’t seem to be growing at all. Well, it grew, but it was also eaten, and not by me.
Mine is suburban, but you would think it’s in the middle of a national nature reserve. We have armies of squirrels, squads of rabbits, platoons of squirrels. We have skunks and possums and deer and foxes and woodchucks and voles and mice and sometimes I wish we had more hawks or even eagles to take a few to their eternal reward. I’ve seen them do that a few times.
These animals are interesting and cute in very small numbers, but if the number is more than two, you have a problem if you are trying to keep a garden.
“Well, they have to eat too,” I’m told.
Of course they do, but Mother Nature has given them more than enough. They pick out my yard because all animals – including humans – will do the easiest and laziest thing given the chance, and especially when it comes to filling their bellies. I don’t admire that quality.
So, what are we doing to protect our gardens? The proposed solutions are many. Some work part of the time. A few can work all the time. Could be.
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I fenced the lettuce very tightly. That worked very well. The raspberries? hopeless. You can’t keep the squirrels and birds out.
One of the solutions suggested to me – and I’ve tried several – is to use human hair or bits of Irish Spring soap or homemade pepper spray to repel the pests. Others include wind chimes, windmills, mylar strips, owl decoys, and the like. Some of these work occasionally, but the critters soon find out that none of them pose a real threat. I remember the owl decoys on the Route 8 bridge over Genesee Street. After a week or so the pigeons were upside down.
Commercial sprays have worked for me at times, but birds don’t seem to be scared. Certainly the crows and cats that specialize in stinging tomatoes are not bothered by it at all.
I’ve found that most predation occurs when plants are young, but that’s not always true. I have a bunch of mature pepper plants that have been thoroughly trimmed by one or the other – I’m not thinking of deer because I don’t see any tracks or “ticks” – and I doubt I’ll get a single pepper from the group.
And sometimes I wonder if the animals are just evil. One year I had just finished planting a dozen tomatoes, went inside, looked out the kitchen window and saw a crow pulling the plants out of the ground. It flew away with one and left the rest to die.
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My biggest success in fighting animal predation is using temporary fences – that plastic coiled stuff that you can configure however you want – but you have to make it really tight because some animals will penetrate underneath. Last year I found a rabbit struggling to free one of its hind legs from the fence. I should have made it stew, but I let it go. I liken the experience to the fable of Androcles and the Lion, except in that story the lion shows gratitude to his benefactor, while I’m pretty sure this rabbit was still trying to eat that lettuce to the root.
My mom used to take potshots with her BB gun every now and then at squirrels digging up her garlic. I’m a better marksman than she was—she never hit anything but the back fence I know—but I think the real answer is a permanent fence, and maybe a fenced-in awning. I have a friend who has much of his yard fenced in and it seems to be working fine. It’s expensive and time consuming, and I don’t know if I have the talent to make a good fence, but I think I’ll have to do it.
Of course, some of these animals are very determined and sometimes they just find a way. One thing we don’t have to worry about here, at least not most of the time, are bears. We’ve planted some special trees on our Steuben County property, and one memorial tree in particular, and the bears won’t leave them alone. You wouldn’t believe what even a little bear can do with thick wire fencing and heavy metal posts in his quest to rip a sapling to shreds.
Anyway, if you’ve had solid success with a particular animal deterrent, I’d love to hear about it.
Write to John Pitarresi at 60 Pearl Street, New Hartford, NY 13413 firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 315-724-5266.