gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

It’s been The Year of Critter Woes in our garden. I don’t give up easily, but this time I came very close to throwing away my trowel and watering can. While the occasional rabbit chowing down our greens has been depressing, the biggest problem are the squirrels. Apparently, the squirrel population in our city exploded a couple of years ago, and now they are everywhere… including our front yard garden. I would sow seeds in the raised beds with great hope and excitement, and just as the tender seedlings started to reach out to the sun… the squirrels dug and trampled their way through it all, and I had to start from scratch again. Often, by the time I got something to grow beyond the seedling stage, it was already getting either too cold or too hot and the plants either bolted or froze.

I admit that I was slow to react and re-strategize. Partly because of being in that new-parent daze, partly out of foolish hopefulness that the squirrels would understand and change their ways, I kept planting — and being disappointed.

Finally, this winter, I started investigating squirrel-deterring methods:

  • Home-made pepper spray repellent, with hot peppers such as Scotch bonnet, is an organic option. It doesn’t kill plants, and is quick and affordable to make. But such sprays are toxic to beneficial critters like spiders and bees, so that wasn’t an option I wanted to pursue.
  • Some methods involve actually killing the squirrels, but again that was not something I was willing to do. It’s not just that I’m a softie — which I am. Squirrels play an important role in the ecosystem: among other things, their digestive tract is home to a living organism called microriza, which supports tree growth.
  • Natural squirrel deterrent pellets
  • Mechanically blocking the squirrels

In the end, Dan and I settled on mechanically keeping the squirrels out of the garden beds by suspending bird netting over the planter boxes. Simple as it was, it did the trick.

We needed some “hoops” to support the netting, but wanted to avoid a trip to a big box store. Instead, we decided to use bamboo, which grows here in abundance (and in some spots in excess), so we could harvest it with good conscience. I did a bamboo-harvesting trip with my friend Barbara, who has a small collection of very nice Japanese bamboo crafting tools and knows of an enormous bamboo patch she has permission to harvest from:

We selected bamboo rods that were sturdy enough, but still flexible and green so that they could be bent over our 4 x 8 ft raised beds without breaking. Over these hoops, we spread bird netting.


Although almost invisible from a distance, the netting has kept the furry creatures away (except when we’ve forgotten to tuck or staple the net securely). My faith in the possibility of gardening, even along the Squirrel Highway that our street has become, has been restored. Which is good, because the snap peas, rainbow carrots, and collard greens have been a sweet reward for our efforts.

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