Varmints: garden pest critters

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sun, Apr 7, 2013 - 6:58am

Some animals can cause problems in your garden.

Cats:

The inspiration for this post was the near-destruction of a 13-ft by 2-ft raised bed of newly planted seed. Our cats saw the freshly-turned dirt and thought, "Litterbox!" Since much of that south-facing bed was killed by two extremely late killing frosts we let the cats live, but we lost radishes, lettuce and carrot seedlings.

In a situation where we relied on this food such destruction would not be amusing. How to avoid it in the future? We left an unmixed pile of sand by our compost pile for the cats to use, and added a light layer of pine straw mulch over the seeds and seedlings so the soil is not visible.

Dogs:

They run and can leave paths. They dig. Their urine can cause gardening bald spots. But they can be essential whern you need to protect things--like your kitchen garden in hard times. We are getting a dog. The only suggestions I have heard that makes sense are to separate dog exercise area from the garden area wth a fence, or have an indoor dog that you exercise on a leash. Additional ideas from those who have dogs and gardens would be welcome.

Birds:

I was planting our herb garden yesterday and a seed-eating zebra finch swooped down into our peach tree--not three feet from me--watching me add seed. Don't get any ideas, bird. That seed is mine. Having four cats does cut down on the amount of damage from birds, but see above regarding the cats thinking the raised beds are litterboxes. Still, cats are pretty good about keeping birds out of the garden. But this year we bought bird netting, just in case.  And we have a mulberry tree and plant small-seed sunflowers to distract the birds. Remember, you want the inset-eating birds in your garden! During harvests you can hang aluminum pie pans around the garden, which will distract the birds and keep them away for about two weeks until they get habituated to them.

Deer:

High deer-proof fences seem to be the key here. Those critters can jump 8 feet high!

Rabbits:

Yet another reason we have cats is to discourage rabbits. I fiind it helps if we plant things rabbits do not like near the wooded area behind out house (they hate potatoes and onions.) Fencing seems to be the key if you have no cat(s). My chief mouser-cat not only catches rabbit but has been known to eat them.

Mice, Moles and Voles:

Our raised beds have 1/4-inch hardware cloth underneath. No problem with mice moles and voles. Plus we have an organic garden which encourages skinks, snakes, and other natural predators. See also, our cats, who leave us the remains of such pests on the  porch, letting us know they did their job.

Squirrels:

You would think that our four cats would discourage the squirrels. You'd be wrong. We bought the bird netting to keep them away from our ripe peaches, and will use the netting on the apples when they start coming it. With the grapes, we just planted way more than we need. They are welcome to the excess grapes. I have a 22 long rifle with a scope (varmint gun) in case it becomes a contest between them and us as to who gets to eat. For now, the trick with the pie pans works as well on squirrels as it does on birds.

8 Comments

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3176
Cats and birds and rabbits, oh my

We don't have cat problems because we keep them indoors.  And, we, shall we say, discourage others from frequenting our yard and gardens.  Remember, in the outdoors cats, which are an invasive species in the US, are extremely distructive animals.  They kill more songbirds than any other animal, including mankind.

We have no significant problems with most birds.  The two situations in which we have had problems are with crows stealing corn before they sprout and birds eating our cherries before we get a chance to.  The crows are effectively repelled by putting short stakes around the corn patch and running string between them in a sort of web formation about a foot off the ground.  Crows will not enter that area even though they seemingly could easily walk below the string.  We use a mist net on the cherry tree (beginning this year, trees) which is quite effective keeping birds out of the trees.  A neighbor used an owl decoy and a noise maker of some kind with no success.

I recall someone posting that if you don't tie the net up around the trunk below the folliage, birds will get under the net and have a picnic.  We haven't had that problem, although I will pay more attention to that in the future.

The only rabbit problem we've had is that they chew the bark off young fruit trees, somtimes girdling and killing them.  We are putting plastic pipe of various kinds around the trunks to protect them.  Also, my neighbor hunts rabbits and we keep in contact if we seen any lurking about.

Oh yeh, I live trap squirrels and transport them far from home.

Doug

Doug's picture
Doug
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Posts: 3176
one more comment

Much to my surprise we haven't had any problem with deer, although there are plenty around. 

One critter you didn't mention that we do have problems with are woodchucks.  We put up 4' fences around the garden which only partially helps, so I shoot them on site and my dog has mastered a technique by which he grabs the chuck gives it a good shake and lets it go.  It remains alive enough to make it back to its hole, from which it never again emerges.  Local varmint hunters suggest gut shooting them so that, again, they make it back to their holes and don't come back out.

Our biggest problems are with bugs, mostly japanese and cucumber beetles.  Any solutions that don't involve chemicals I would be interested in.

Doug

Woodman's picture
Woodman
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 26 2008
Posts: 1028
garden critters

Woodchucks have been a problem for me in the past. They chew through plastic deer fencing and go straight for the cucumber plants first.  I put a low wire fence but it took a Have-a-heart trap to finally get rid of them.

Chickens will wreck a garden fast, so once things are planted the garden gate stays shut.  Once I have field crops planted like potatoes, I can't let chickens run around the yard and they stay in one of the paddocked areas. 

Deer fencing protects my fruit trees and also serves as a chicken paddock.

Rarely can I harvest corn that is not fenced in without it being knocked down and eaten by deer or racoons.  so half my yard is surrounded with deer fencing, but I'd rather grow vegetables than have nice grass!

Mice or rats tunneling in my raised beds were a big problem last summer; they seemed go in from both below and above, and traps didn't work.  I don't like to put out poison.  Any other ideas?

 

Woodman's picture
Woodman
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 26 2008
Posts: 1028
What's Eating my Squash Leaves?

We planted a lot of squash and pumpkins, but something is eating the tender small leaves as they emerge, just leaving green stems from the base of the plant.  I haven't caught it in the act, but suspect deer woodchuck.  Crops are in an area of my lawn I can't fence in unfortunately.

What is the best strategy fomr other's experience - trap, fox or cyoted urine, row cover or netting barriers?  thanks 

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
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Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 60
Woodchucks: traps; Them & deer: "Liquid Fence"

Woodman, we've had the same problems with deer & woodchuck, and agree that traps have been the most effective for woodchucks. We've also had some luck with a product called "Liquid Fence", but it has to be applied weekly. Monthly (as the label claims) is too long to be effective. Fences have proven to be the best protection. And maybe encourage your local hunters?

Haven't any wisdom to offer on the small rodents. Cats help, but the price is high (digging in the garden to make deposits.)

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
cats digging in your garden?

We have four cats and they and other neighborhood cats would sometimes ruin freshly-planted areas trying to use our square foot garden boxes as litterboxes. We stopped that by covering newly seeded soil with a scattering of pine straw that obscures about half the dirt. Pine straw is scratchy, so cats do not like it and will dig elsewhere. Then we provided them with an "elsewhere," leaving them a place that is loose dirt or sand for cats to "do their thing."

Another thing that worked for us was to set down bird netting at the soil level. No cat can dig through that.

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 60
Deposits atop

We actually have one old feral cat in the neighborhood who is borderline senile and makes his deposits on top of the bird netting that we stretch over the beds.  *sigh*

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3176
local stray

A local stray that we have seen from time to time does her business in my neighbor's small barn.  He is not happy.  He doesn't know how she gets in.

Doug

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