At war with squirrels

By Vicki Hyatt | Jul 12, 2012

When our family moved back to my husband's home town 16 years ago, I couldn't get enough of the lush green landscape and most of all, the trees. I had lived in Montana all my life, a place where the average annual rainfall is under 15 inches.

I had a job at one point where I spent most of the time on the road, meeting with farmers and communities for the Montana Farmers Union. There are some places in Montana where you can drive for miles and see nothing but wheat fields, the horizon and the sky. It is sort of like the ocean with its endless waves.

There a place where a single tree — the only one in 80 miles or so — has a sign reading "Lone Tree National Forest." Montanans do have a sense of humor.

Anyway, you can imagine my fascination with squirrels when we first moved here. I had never seen them up close and took great delight when they scurried up nearby trees. The fascination waned after a time and soon they were just part of the rich outdoors that surround our home — one of the many critters we try to feed on occasion.

That's all changed now that our nearby squirrel population has turned vegetarian — in particular into near-ripe tomato lovers.

Tomatoes are among our favorite garden produce, and we go to great lengths to produce a June tomato, including planting outside early and protecting the plants with a Wall-o-Water. These are plastic tubes with pockets that are filled with water. The spring sun warms the water and helps the plants grow by day and protect the plant when the evening temperatures dip. These were a necessity in Montana's short growing season where we were as likely to get a frost in the first week of June as we were in the last week of August.

We first noticed something was awry in late June when a ripening tomato just disappeared one day. Soon after, another of our pink tomatoes went missing. We later found the partially eaten tomatoes about 50 feetfrom the garden. Then we noticed tomatoes on the vine would have several bites taken out of them — enough to draw the flies and ruin the tomato.

We knew exactly who the culprits were as we had experienced the same thing several years back. It was then we learned that squirrels could develop a taste for tomatoes. We tried the same thing that worked back then — spraying the ground around the plants with the urine of a known squirrel predator. There are several varieties available at the hardware store and we found fox urine worked back then. Not so this year.

Our nearly ripe tomatoes are still being eaten by something other than us or found elsewhere in the yard with just a bite or two gone. Online research shows how futile our battle could be. People facing a similar problem are downright angry and call the squirrels nothing but varmints or tree rats. Fencing them out is extremely complicated, chasing them away requires getting an outdoor cat or dog — something that would drive our house dog (who thinks she's a person) right off the edge.

The next tactic suggested will be to scatter corn in the wooded areas where the overgrown rats hang out in hopes they will leave the garden alone. We're frustrated beyond words as we estimate about 40 to 50 tomatoes have already been lost and we haven't tasted a one. Any dreams of enough tomatoes to make salsa are gone by now and we're just hoping as the rest of the tomato crop started ripening in earnest, the squirrels will leave enough for us to sample. Our mouths are watering at the prospect of a vine-ripened, home-grown tomato.


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