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Evicting Evil Squirrels!

Q. Murray in Northeast Philly writes: "What do you think of this idea to protect tomatoes from squirrels? Take a plastic shopping bag, snip off the bottom corners to make drain holes. Cut a viewing slit in the side of the bag. Hang the bag over a group of tomatoes, tying the handles to the branch of the plant holding the tomatoes. Is there a danger of rot?"

A. That was my first thought, Murray--that rainwater would collect inside the bags. It would also get really humid in there; and direct sun would turn the bags into little microwaves and ruin these sensitive fruits. I also suspect that The Long Tailed Servants of Satan would simply rip the bags to shreds to get at the tomatoes.

There is some merit, however, in the basic idea. Growers of high-end fruits destined to be placed in fancy boxes and given as gifts will often bag their fruits to protect them from direct sun--which can cause sunscald and cat-facing--and attack by insects and birds. The ones I've seen in the field have been paper--specifically the classic brown paper lunch bag, stapled over the fruits. Much too labor intensive for my money, but a better option than supermarket plastic.

Q. Matthew in Ontario Canada has a 'craftier' idea. He writes: "This is not really a question - it is a comment on squirrels and fruit trees. I think that I've tried everything possible over the years to keep squirrels at bay. This year I went to a craft store and bought a bag full of plastic eyes. I had some old sheep skins sitting around, glued the eyes around the edges in pairs, then draped the skins over the branches. My pears are progressing well for the first time ever. I've also been spraying the trees every few weeks with a mixture of egg, milk, water and a few drops of dishwashing detergent."

A. Wow--Halloween fruit trees; that's a spooky creepy image, Matt! I was confused, however, by the egg recipe. The most effective deer repellants are made with rotten eggs (labels use the term 'putrescent egg solids'--because that sounds so much better), but I can't see a regular homeowner actually handling such nasty stuff--or spraying it on fruit. So I emailed Matthew and asked if he was using rotten eggs or fresh.

Q. Matt replies: "The eggs are fresh. The soap emulsifies everything when I blend it. I reasoned that if critters don't like blood meal then perhaps animal products like eggs and milk would work--although I think the plastic eyeballs are what's actually keeping them away.) I previously tried human hair, shiny aluminum plates, rubber snakes, mothballs, etc. They all worked for a couple of days--but this new tactic has kept the squirrels away for a month."

A. I'm with you on the eyeballs, Matt--use the milk and eggs to make pancakes instead.

But I have to chastise you and warn everyone out there to stay away from mothballs. I know they're a staple in the 'home remedy' style of gardening, but they are one of THE most toxic substances you can buy. Inhaling their fumes can cause dizziness and confusion--and kidney cancer in the long run. Remember: If you can smell a chemical, it's entering your bloodstream. I am amazed that they're still allowed for sale.

Now: Evil Squirrels are smart, acrobatic and have a lot of time on their hands to torment gardeners. And one of their favorite tricks is to take a single bite out of every tomato. I don't think they even LIKE tomatoes; they just love to torment us. Here's my plan to fight these garden-ravaging menaces.

• First, don't feed seed to birds. If you have a feeder up it will attract every Evil Squirrel in the area--and then they'll look around for other mischief to get into. Feeding birds in the summer is also foolish--just give them fresh water and they'll eat your garden pests instead of getting filled up on birdseed. Then feed them lots of suet in the winter to make sure they nest at your place.

• Grow tomatoes inside cages of welded wire animal fencing. Six linear feet will give you a cage about two feet in diameter once you roll it up. Make a lid out of more of the wire and attach it with twist ties. If they learn how to work the twist ties I give up.

• I really like Matthew's creepy creation; stock up on spooky eyes this Halloween.

• Motion activated sprinklers are a great way to defend a defined area, like a raised bed garden or a row of fruit trees. You hook one of these battery-operated devices up to your garden hose and it comes alive and shoots a stream of water when it senses motion in the area being protected. Yes, you'll forget it's there and get wet one morning, but you'll also get tomatoes.

• I have long been suspicious of the power of human hair to repel animals, but dog hair is another matter. Dogs hate Evil Squirrels and Evil Squirrels hate dogs. Small scale growers in the Netherlands have found a mulch of dog fur to be very effective at protecting tulips, which are squirrel candy. And dog fur actually makes a very good mulch!

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