Calling Boris and Natasha....
August 21, 2008 4:39 PM   Subscribe

Squirrel! Crazy squirrel is eating my tomatoes! What can I do besides offering it napkins?

OK. As part of my ongoing War On Nature (tm), a squirrel has decided that the home-grown tomatoes we have in tubs in the back patio are just damned delicious!

The problem is that I agree, and that I'd like to have a chance to enjoy one or two myself. The cheerful little critter (grr) has taken to biting even the green tomatoes.

I put a bowl of water out, because it was mentioned on another board that squirrels tend to eat tomatoes during droughts. So far, it's been happy nicking tomatoes.

I wouldn't mind if I had, say, 30 or so tomatoes growing. But I only have five, and I don't hold out much hope of seeing them ripen unmolested by grabby little rodent hands.

So -- what works as a squirrel deterrent? Couldn't find blood meal, which was recommended. I was thinking of trying to find some fine mesh to wrap the plants in.

Suggestions? Commiserations?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mesh works- not even all that fine. Just make sure they can't reach the plants through it or they'll just yank the branches through.

I have heard predator urine works, but I haven't tried because it smells bad. They sell it at the Ace Hardware here.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:47 PM on August 21, 2008

I had exactly this same problem, lost EIGHT cherry tomatoes who'd take a few bites and be done, cried like a baby, and finally confounded the squirrel by allowing tomato plants to die. However, sprinkline cayenne pepper on the tomatoes and/or tomato plants was suggested to me, and I wish I'd tried that before I gave up.
posted by onlyconnect at 4:53 PM on August 21, 2008

tomatoes to squirrels who'd (i.e., tomatoes were not biting themselves).

sprinkling. Sorry!
posted by onlyconnect at 4:55 PM on August 21, 2008

A chicken wire cage around it should work.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:08 PM on August 21, 2008

I had this exact problem, though mine was squirrels and a groundhog. Very annoying. We got this stuff called Deer Off, which is rotten eggs, garlic, and capsaicin in a convenient spray bottle. It stinks and burns their little mouths so they learn quickly, but the smell wasn't noticeable to me a couple minutes after spraying. You can find it in any home depot like or garden store.
posted by JonahBlack at 5:37 PM on August 21, 2008

Peanuts. Seriously. Buy a huge bag of in the shell peanuts and put them out in another part of your yard. They'll eat the peanuts and leave your 'maters alone.

But, be careful. My own personal Chip & Dale are now so spoiled that they come right up on my back steps and practically knock on the door if they can see me in the kitchen. They do love their nuts.
posted by Corky at 5:51 PM on August 21, 2008

Squirrel Cannon? Naw, but it might be a funny way to condition him to hate tomatoes, don't you think? Also, turn down your speakers before you watch that.
posted by TomMelee at 6:36 PM on August 21, 2008

Got a friend with a dog? Maybe you could ask them to stop by on a walk. A bit of dog urine keeps quite a few animals away. Cat urine will work too. Harder to get them to pee where you want.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:44 PM on August 21, 2008

I used Frank's Hot Sauce- it worked quite well and washed right off when I picked them myself.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:07 PM on August 21, 2008

My experience is that owning numerous dogs does nothing to keep squirrels away. I love the idea of the hot sauce though.
posted by fshgrl at 7:17 PM on August 21, 2008

Well, you COULD eat the sqiurrel - they're quite tasty. However, cayenne pepper seems to work just fine for me. Or, you could buy a live trap for around 20 or 30 bucks, bait it, trap it, and then transport it somewhere else. You know, like a park, where it could squirrel its way through life, eating trash and handouts.
posted by bradth27 at 8:28 PM on August 21, 2008

1) Make pneumatic potato gun (firing a hairspray-based one in the city can get you a firearms citation. Don't ask me how I know this.)
2)Load it with a half-eaten tomato.
3)Launch at squirrel nest up in tree.

They'll associate tomato smell with nest destruction.

My squirrel problem involved them dropping acorns on my car to set off the alarm before my wakey-time, every fucking morning. I filled the 'tater gun with acorns, making a pneumatic, organic shotgun. Scared the little fuckers shitless.
posted by notsnot at 9:18 PM on August 21, 2008

From my experience fighting the endless war against these vicious monsters:

urine (of any kind) does not work

hot pepper (of any kind) does not work

garlic/rotten egg/ammonia/whatever repellents do not work, they will repel you more than the squirrels

dogs/cats, unless aggressive and constantly within visual distance, do not work

physical barriers only work if strong and effective
--must be unbendable in any way, with no holes large enough for squirrel to squeeze through, which is small, i.e., largish chicken wire won't work
--also must not be chewable, almost no plastics of any kind will work against a motivated squirrel (I've seen squirrels chew through 1/2 inch of heavy solid plastic and 1 inch thick pine planks)
--and of course, would have to be securely fastened somehow
--glass, however, would work (if you own a greenhouse or glassed-in porch, say)

feeding/watering them do not work (only encourages them)

mechanical baffles will not work, and the sort of things people put on bird feeders would probably damage a tomato plant

mechanical water/squirty repellents might work if they're strong, very well-aimed, and won't overwater the plants or topple them by sheer force

The only three fairly certain means can't be explicitly recommended, since they may not be legal in your area. They are:

1. Firearms, from pellet guns on up (note that this generally requires some sort of stakeout)

2. Trapping/removal will only work if squirrels are moved at least 5-10 miles away, and the trap must be squirrel-proof (see the physical barriers bit above)

3. Peanut butter mixed with rat poison pellets, placed in the plant pot itself or directly on the squirrel's residence (tree or otherwise), and placed as much as possible to avoid consumption by non-squirrels (which is difficult and probably not possible to guarantee 100%)

All three of those have associated problems, and are frequently not legal in urban areas. #3 is particularly not recommended if you can't be sure the "baits" won't be found by, say, small children or dogs wandering the neighborhood.

These only work temporarily, since abandoned squirrel territories will be claimed by new invaders, but you should still get a respite before the new invaders learn bad habits of their own. (I've been told anecdotally that relocating equals killing the squirrels, since the squirrel "owners" of the new territory will harass/kill the intruder you're relocating. Don't know if that's true, but I don't particularly care what happens to them, either.)

One other outside chance: there are a few plants that squirrels actually seem not to like. Notably, I've never had the demon-squirrels-from-hell digging in my geraniums. The problem for you would be placing geraniums high enough to put them close to the actual tomatoes being protected (like literally around them).

It occurs to me that detonating some sort of radioactive device might get rid of the squirrels while radiating the tomatoes and keeping them fresh well past their sell-by date. But I'm assuming that if you wanted irradiated tomatoes, you'd just buy them at the store.
posted by gimonca at 9:35 PM on August 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

Leaving nuts out will only bring more hungry squirrels around. My neighbors have a bird feeder which they always keep stocked with seed. The squirrels from all over absolutely love this free food and after they finish feeding absolutely love to dig up my garden. In the past year I have trapped about eight and "pelletized" the same number yet there are as many now as there ever were.

The best you can hope to do is to confuse the squirrels by moving your tubs around or at least make them harder to get at by using mesh or raising them higher from the ground. I grow my tomatoes in five gallon buckets and keep them on a higher shelf.
posted by JJ86 at 5:56 AM on August 22, 2008

I have the same problem this summer. Tomato plants in pots on my patio at the base of my back stairs. Same spot where they went unbothered last summer. The little fluffy-tailed rats actually ran off with every last tomato. My local organic farmer recommended a hot pepper paste, but it was $50 and a quick cost/benefit analysis led me to believe I'd be better off buying tomatoes. Right now the plants are wrapped with two layers of bird netting while they grow new little buds. I'm hoping this works. Otherwise, dammit, it's all about the catapult.
posted by Breav at 5:58 AM on August 22, 2008

We buy big bags of red pepper at the Indian grocery, and sprinkle it liberally and often on our plants. It has worked very well for us.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:42 AM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: UPDATE: the little bastard got another tomato! I've only one left!

I smeared it with a paste of cayenne pepper (only thing I had in the house).

This squirrel is bold as brass. It comes up to the sliding glass door and peers in like it's casing the joint.

I really laughed hard at the squirrel cannon.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 10:50 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid your pepper paste isn't going to work. Trust me. I've been there.

You say the plants are in containers. It should be easy enough to attach some 1/4" hardware cloth (chicken wire with square holes, basically) around the containers. Make sure you seal off the top, too.

The 'repellent' type repellents don't work more than once. Squirrels are highly adaptable, and blastedly determined.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:08 PM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: Hmm. I'm wondering if I should remove the tomato cages as well, since it seems to act as a handy-dandy squirrel ladder.

We don't have a car, but we're renting one this weekend, so it's off to Ace Hardware or some other home-garden place for anti-squirrel fortifications.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:09 PM on August 22, 2008

I'd leave the cages, assuming that the plants have already grown into them and are using them for support. Removing the cages now could knock loose any blossoms/fruit you have remaining.

If it were me, I'd wrap hardware cloth (and upon thinking on it more, I'd actually go for 1/8" squares so that the squirrel's thieving little paws can't get through) in a cone around the containers, sort of like a makeshift tomato cage. Go up to 12" above the height of the plant, if you think it's going to grow more. You can fasten the hardware cloth to the tubs by drilling a couple of holes, inserting a bolt (and a washer, if the head of the bolt is close to the same size as the holes in the hardware cloth), and then securing the bolt with a nut.

Cut a piece of hardware cloth to fit the opening at the top. Secure it with wire or twist ties, making sure there aren't any squirrel-sized gaps. When it comes time to harvest, you can remove a few of the wires/twist ties and reach in.

Then enjoy the squirrel's wistful expression as he salivates over your off-limits tomatoes.

And hide the wire cutters from him.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:33 PM on August 22, 2008

I just wanted to tell you your title cracked me up. Thanks.
posted by bookshelves at 9:18 PM on August 22, 2008

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