Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gardening update (warning: with death)

I've declared war on all rodents.

I discovered, just as the tomato harvest was coming in, that squirrels and chipmunks were devastating the harvest. They were stealing and eating as many green tomatoes as they could carry. So far I estimate I've lost at least 25 big beefsteak tomatoes and who knows how many cherry tomatoes, and that's just counting the tomato carcasses I could find.

I mean, just look at those big beautiful heirloom tomatoes up there. Those are MINE. That I've labored over since FEBRUARY. Those squirrels and chipmunks can SIT AND SPIN, and that's putting it nicely.

Here are the bullet points:

1. Squirrels and chipmunks will eat all your tomatoes.
2. Repellents, mothballs, cayenne sprays, and individually Ziploc-ing all the tomatoes will not stop the slaughter.
3. The only thing that works is to kill them.
4. Rat traps and Death Buckets work best for this. (As an added bonus, I've been getting some mice, too. The fact that there are mice around outside mean I will very soon be putting mousetraps back out inside the house.)
5. Death Buckets = fill a 5-gallon bucket about halfway with water. Float about an inch of black sunflower seeds on top. (They float.) Place a board running up the side of the bucket to the top. The chipmunks (and mice, apparently) will run up the plank, see the sunflower seeds, think it's a solid base, and jump in. Then they drown.
6. So far I've nabbed 10 chipmunks, 2 squirrels, and 4 mice. The tomato carnage has dropped precipitously (though it still continues).
7. Don't worry, I brought all the rat traps inside when children arrived. I've been relying solely on the Death Buckets since then.

Unfortunately, rat traps will not automatically kill squirrels--just slowly suffocate them. My husband, bless his heart, obliged by putting them out of their misery with several well-placed shovel blows to the head. That took a little piece out of both our souls. I was hoping to find a more, erm, efficient way to dispatch them, but in the absence of the rat traps, the squirrels are getting especially brazen. They chewed two big holes through a metal mesh screen to get inside the sunroom, whereupon they devastated the bag of sunflower seeds. They're also eating all the seeds out of the Death Buckets (even when there are, you know, bodies in there--ewwwwwwwww), and generally being a giant pain in the ass. I think I will have to put the rat traps back out, and just drown them after they're caught.

(And no, I can't humanely catch them and re-release them somewhere else. That's illegal here.)

The good news is that my cat killed a snake. My blind cat. Killed a garter snake. He was so proud of himself. He finally earned his keep.

The other good news is that things are finally starting to come out of the garden. Tomatoes, a little, but also zucchini and tons of herbs, including the long-awaited basil. The cucumbers and peppers are coming along nicely, I should have something from those plants soon, and the corn is starting to tassel out.

Here's part of the tomato garden, shored up with extra twine:

Here's part of the squash patch and some peppers:

More peppers:

A baby butternut squash!:

A baby pepper!:

Next year, to prevent this kind of wholesale carnage, I think I'll plant one big garden patch (rather than lots of locations all over the yard), plant onions all around the outside, and continue the trapping throughout the winter. If I'd known the chipmunks were going to cause such a problem, I would have done something about the exploding population a long time ago.

Other things I'll do: not plant so many beefsteak tomatoes. They seem to like those way more than the sauce/cherry varieties. Not plant cauliflower or carrots (I lost those to the rabbits first thing). Not plant so many peppers--it doesn't seem to get hot enough here. Plant more kinds of squash and green beans. Get a dog.


  1. Yes it is neverending battle to save the crop.My biggest worry are the oposums here as they attack my chicken!:)

  2. Gardening is not for wimps...this is true. It doesn't sound like you feel guilty, which is good.

    But, I thought snakes in the garden were good, huh? They'd potentially eat some of your pesky pests, no?

  3. A dog does not help sufficiently. We have rabbits this year and my dog has not yet caught one (he's tried, but he usually sees them when he's inside, and they hear him coming and slip through the fence!). Also, I think they know when he's sleeping... at least well enough to mow down our kale every time it gets close to picking time!

    @ Stephanie - A garter snake isn't going to help much with squirrels... a big one might catch some mice.

    Our biggest pests this year have been bugs though... lost almost all my squash and zucchini to vine borers.

  4. ugh. With spring just around the corner here, this fills me with dread. Bats are our problem. BOOO! I wish bats liked sunflower seed. Death buckets - how sinister! Im going to call them "live-like-every-day-is-your-last buckets" 'cause guess what, mousey...it is....