How do I keep squirrels and rats from eating my grapes?

My beautiful picture

I’m running an experiment this summer on our grape arbor. Using our CritterCam, I’ve photographed both squirrels and rats munching on grapes. I decided to see if either paper bags or plastic clamshell containers would deter the daily and nightly mammalian fruit buffet. Preliminary results:

  • Clamshells don’t work. The fruit fermented, and not in a nice way.
  • Paper bags seem to work, but probably only because I left a lot of the fruit exposed in the hopes that they would eat that first and leave the bagged fruit alone. It’s also hard to tell when the fruit is ripe when it’s in a paper bag.

I’m thinking the long term answer is to make custom fruit cages out of hardware cloth. If the grapes were neatly tended on a vine it would be much easier to net them. Netting is not an option on our arbor.

Look carefully in this image and you can see one of the “perps” reaching out to grab a tasty grape:

My beautiful picture

Have you tackled the mammalian grape buffet issue? How did you deal with it?

Extreme Measures: Squirrel Proofing Your Fruit Trees

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this fruit tree cage that Kelly spotted on the Theordore Payne garden tour this spring (see some more images of that lovely Altadena garden here). Squirrels just stripped our peach tree of every single fruit (though I’ve found that I can still eat the half-gnawed ones I find on the ground). Other options I’ve considered:

  • Bird netting. But this stuff is a real pain to work with. And it doesn’t always work. Squirrels are persistent!
  • Removing fruit and ripening it indoors. I did this last year with some success, but I was not on top of the situation this year.
  • Squirrel stew. I just don’t have the heart for this option.

Two Running Violet V Forms, UCSD.jpg

Robert Irwin, “Two Running Violet V Forms, UCSD” photo by Tktktk – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I think there’s a way to make aesthetically pleasing fruit tree cages. Crazy idea: what if they were as carefully crafted as Robert Irwin’s running fence piece at UC San Diego? It’s too late to fence the trees in our own garden, but I think if I were planning a new garden I might try to find a way to make those fruit tree cages look like 70s era land art.

How do you deal with the squirrel/fruit tree menace?

My Apologies to the Skunk Community

For years I’ve blamed the nightly vegetable carnage that takes place in our raised beds on skunks. The other night, our CritterCam (a Wingscapes BirdCam Pro), revealed the culprit: raccoons. And they work in pairs trios!

No wonder it’s been so difficult to secure the beds! Given the strength and agility of Racoons, I’m surprised that bird netting has worked at all (though, I’ll note, only when that netting is firmly secured with many staples). Perhaps it’s time to consider escalating to metal wire.

The “citizen science” lesson this week: raccoon and skunk diets overlap considerably. Both are highly adaptable urban foragers. In the case of our raised beds, both the skunks and raccoons are digging for figeater beetle larvae (Cotinis mutabilis). These huge larvae must be a delectable treat, the equivalent of a raccoon and skunk sushi party. Maybe I should overcome my squeamishness and join in the nightly feast. A plate of Cotinis mutabilis larvae ceviche could just be the next hip LA food trend . . .

Ways to Critter Proof Your Vegetable Beds: A Competition

Day and night superimposed: bird netting fail!

Day and night superimposed: bird netting fail!

Root Simple is proud to announce our equivalent of the X-Prize. No, we’re not asking you to figure out a low tech method to catapult rich silicon valley executives into the vacuum of space. What we’re looking for is a means to mammal proof vegetables beds that is:

  • Convenient
  • Effective
  • Attractive
  • Wildlife friendly
  • Easily disassembled in the off season

Note that we’re going to be particularly stringent in judging the aesthetics of the solution. Mrs. Homegrown has an M.F.A., and is a blistering in-house art and design critic around our little homestead.

Participants can leave a comment on this post linking to an image, or send us an email at [email protected] The winner will get a package of our newest publication–a series of booklets we wrote in collaboration with the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano.

I will also be participating in this competition which does seem unfair, but we’ll let Mrs. Homegrown be the judge.

016 The Urban Bestiary with Lyanda Lynn Haupt

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On the sixteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast we interview naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of The Urban Bestiary, Crow Planet, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent and Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds.

During the podcast Lyanda covers:

  • The effect of the drought on urban wildlife
  • Invasive species
  • How to get along with wildlife such as skunks, possums, raccoons and coytes
  • The problem with relocating animals (except rats!)
  • Moles and gophers
  • Seeing raccoons during the day
  • Root Simple’s CritterCam
  • Possums!
  • Preventative measures
  • How to encourage wild animals and increase diversity by planting native plants and trees

Lyanda also answers listener questions about hawks, coyotes, and feral cats.

Lyanda blogs at The Tangled Nest.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

015 Worm Composting and Skunks

Our worm bin.

Our worm bin.

On the fifteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss how our cleaning project is going, worm composting, the ongoing skunk menace in our garden and we review two books. Apologies for some clipping in the audio and the cat interruptions.

Worms
During the worm composting segment we cover:

Skunks

What are we reading

Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

Bread: A Global History By William Rubel.

Kelly mentions Werner Herzog’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

What is that black and orange bug in my garden?

4 bugs

The suggestions on a recent “what’s this bug? post on this blog made me realize how hard it was to tell apart several common garden bugs: the harlequin bug, the bagrada bug, the milkweed bug and the boxelder bug. They are all flattish, orange/red and black, under an inch long, and seem to always be mating.

After doing the research, I really wanted to see all the bugs side by side, so I made this picture and this simple reference chart. It is now my gift to you. You are welcome.

Continue reading…

How to Get Skunks Out of Your Basement and Yard

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Basements and crawl spaces under houses make idea dens for urban critters. If we could charge rent for all the skunks, raccoons and feral cats that have taken up residence under the house we’d have paid off the mortgage by now. Our particular crawl space critter B&B was opened by virtue of a flimsy access door. Some animal, most likely a raccoon, pried it open. The problem with this situation is that you can’t just close up the door. Some poor creature would die a horrible death and then stink up the house for months. The answer is to create a one-way critter exit.

Continue reading…

How to Keep Skunks Out of the Yard

wireskunkSkunks love to dig up our vegetables in search of grubs. Our late Doberman used to enjoy late night backyard skunk hunting expeditions which never ended well for him. For years I’ve used bird netting to keep them out of my vegetable beds. The problem with bird netting is that it’s a pain to work with–it catches on things, tangles up, and occasionally traps a bird. I hate the stuff. It took me 16 years to realize that I could exclude skunks from the entire backyard.  All it takes is a simple strategy: know thy enemy.

Continue reading…

How to Deal With Cabbage Worms

cabbage worm damage

It happens every year. I forget the gardening lessons of the year before. Take my many failed attempts to grow cabbage, for instance. It always gets decimated by the imported cabbage worm (Pieris rapae), a creature as abundant in Los Angeles as aspiring actors.

There are several strategies I could use to deal with this pest (cabbage worms, that is–I have no problem with actors). I could spray Bacillus thuringiensis but I don’t like the idea of killing non-target species, not to mention the disputed human health effects of BT. I could use row cover, but this winter has been way too warm for even the thinnest material.

The best suggestion comes from the University of Florida. Find resistant alternatives:

Crucifer crops differ is their susceptibility to attack by imported cabbageworm. Chinese cabbage, turnip, mustard, rutabaga, and kale are less preferred than cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. Some cultivars of certain crops also have moderate levels of resistance to infestation by imported cabbageworm. One resistance character is due to, or correlated with, dark green, glossy leaves. This character imparts resistance to imported cabbageworm and other caterpillars, but increases susceptibility to flea beetle injury (Dickson and Eckenrode 1980).

cabbage2

I’ve noticed that the huge Franchi “kale” (collard?) that has gone into its second year, seems to be less popular with the cabbage worm than the adjoining Portuguese cabbage. Next year, I’ll skip the cabbage and plant something else. I like mustard better anyways. If I want cabbage I can outsource the growing and pick it up at the farmers market.

Have you had problems with cabbage worms? How have you dealt with it?