Squirrels And Raised Bed Gardens

In the fall of the year I cover up my raised beds with a big blue tarp and lay large rocks on the sides. This is done partly to keep the squirrels from burying an endless stream of tasty nuts. They probably have ten times the food they need at this time and it’s “squirreled” away in many places even as winter is about to begin. They begin by burying nuts found under trees into soft soil. Unhappily, most of the ground here on the southern shore of Lake Erie was laid down from rocky deposits of the last ice age. The squirrels try to work with the soil as much as they can but find it tough going. When they find the soft soil in a raised bed garden, they kind of go nuts (no pun intended). Unlimited burial rights for nuts and uncovered raised beds means that squirrels may bury 10-12 nuts or more per square foot. Trying to get a garden started the following spring is a fool’s errand.  Thus, while it’s going to push the squirrels a bit to find other accommodations, it’s either that or no garden–the season is short. Planting nuts selectively in raised bed gardens means that the squirrels will be busy all May digging up nuts and then will come back in June and even August to get a few they forgot. The activity will minimally disrupt garden seedlings just getting started even before the rabbits come along and gobble up seedlings the squirrels have left standing.

The first order of business is to prevent the squirrels from storing nuts in the raised beds, therefore the tarp weighted down with large rocks. No telling how many rocks are required to stop a determined squirrel. I once filled an old plastic canister with a firm screw down top with acorns that dropped from a tree a couple streets away from my place. I got it out now and then in mid winter  to spread around a few dozen acorns in my back yard when I saw hungry squirrels looking around for a meal. They usually collected everything I tossed out there. Eventually, I noticed squirrels coming around more often looking for treats. But, in for a penny, in for a pound. I began regretting what I had started. Nevertheless, I continued to toss out more acorns regularly.

One day after my big plastic container was about half empty, I went out back and tossed out my requisite 12-15 acorns as usual and tightened up the lid once more again.  I set it down on a stump while I attended to some dead branches and had a brief talk with a neighbor over a side fence. After that I went back into the house, but I had forgotten to pick up my plastic container still half filled with acorns.  Several hours later when I remembered that I had forgotten to bring in the container I went back out to retrieve it. I found it empty! The squirrels had evidently collaborated on an ingenious solution to getting at the rest of the acorns. The top half of the plastic base and container’s harder plastic top had been gnawed through and a gaping hole produced in the side large enough I imagined for a squirrel paw. As near as I could tell the acorns had been pawed out one at a time and passed along or simply laid out on the ground, and later carried away. By the time I had returned to where I had left a half container full of acorns, the lid had been breached and all the acorns were gone–not a single one was left on the ground near the broken container. I was at first a little disappointed that my squirrel- feeding, mid-winter, errand of mercy could not continue, but when I thought about it, I was just impressed. If the squirrels could be that resourceful, I’m not sure they really needed my help.

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