An Open Letter to Our Mammalian Friends

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Thank you Mark Frauenfelder for digging up this image.

I get it. This drought has been hard on you. Fewer resources leads to intense competition. But can we show a little more courtesy?

To the raccoons of Los Angeles: I thought we had a deal. Like club hopping hipsters, the night belongs to you. So what’s up with the recent daytime activity such as the bold raid on our chicken run that took place on Saturday? I’m not going to apologize for spraying you with a hose. Thankfully you had the good sense to run away. If you had grabbed a chicken I’d be organizing small game hunting trips for dentists. It’s bad enough, because of you and your robust fingers, that I had to build a coop that I’ve dubbed “chicken Guantanamo.” I thought I could have a less robust daytime chicken run. I’m not happy that I had to spend over $100 to beef up that run. My accountant will have to devise an elaborate amortization strategy to keep our eggs affordable. I’m also not cool with the daytime raids on the fig tree even if it entertains our indoor cats.

To the rats of Los Angeles: avocados do not mature on the tree. This is probably why you take a single bite and allow them to fall to the ground. You’ll never get guacamole this way. And can you please not drop half-eaten grapes all over our patio furniture. Not only does it create a mess but it leads to unseemly First World meltdowns, “My Martha Stewart patio set is ruined! How will I survive!”

To the Fox squirrels of Los Angeles: you know you don’t belong here. The residents of a veteran’s home released you back in 1905. From there you displaced your more polite, native cousins. I get that you’re not going away. But can you please leave at least one peach for us humans? Keep this up and I’ll put together an unfavorable social media strategy to rebrand you as “#cuterats.”

To the possums of Los Angeles: I appreciate your freakishness and you’re actually kind of cute up close. But you guys don’t look so good under the glare of an unflattering patio floodlight. We do value appearance here in Southern California. Please consider some better hair and skin care products. Go to the gym. Splurge on a better stylist.

To the skunks of Los Angeles: what’s up with the OCD digging? Please note the comment Brad just left on our blog,

I’m eating skunk right now from the crockpot with brown rice. Tastes fine. I’ve eaten it before, but the crockpot skunk is the best I’ve tasted. Neighbors don’t want them, and it was clean, didn’t see any parasites. Watch for the roundworm.

To the coyotes of Los Angeles: I dig the trickster thing. You’re way better styled then the possums.

To the mountain lions of Los Angeles: maybe it would be best to stay out of our crawl spaces. You’re scaring our plumbers.

To the humans of Los Angeles: you’re mammals too! What’s up with the lawns, corrupt politicians, freeways, ugly mini-malls . . . oh, wait this could go on forever. You drive like a bunch of jerks.

Anyways, I hope you all get this memo. Don’t make me put up signs.

Our Grape Arbor is a Stacking Function Fail

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Grapes on an arbor over patio furniture: what could possibly go wrong? It’s the very embodiment of the permacultural notion of “stacking functions.” The grapes provide both shade and food. The fantasy was to spend the summers like a Roman emperor, reclining on a couch and occasionally reaching up to grasp a succulent cluster of grapes.

Let me, however, add a few a few unsavory slices to this permacultural sandwich (in addition to the delusions of grandeur): rats, mice and squirrels. All day and night hungry mammals rain down half chewed grapes. And the freak rain over the weekend, combined with a few days of heat and humidity, got some very funky fermentation going. It’s like something out of my inner Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare.

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A poster by Benjamin Dewey. Available in his Etsy store.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post with a miraculous solution, like say specially trained roof Chihuahuas. I don’t. I do wish that the non-fruit producing Vitis californica vine that grows along our northern fence could be swapped with the prodigious one on the arbor. If fruit grew on the fence vine I could more easily net or cage it, or it least thin it out without having to move a ladder and patio furniture around.

As always, I’m open to reader suggestions or just commiseration . . .

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.

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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 . . .