Sunday, September 2, 2012

Stupid squirrels

Our eggplant crop has fallen victim to a most unexpected predator. In fact, predator isn't even the right word; vandal would be closer to the mark. We'd been warned about the possible depredations of flea beetles, which chew holes through the leaves and can eventually kill the plant, but no—our plants are green and healthy, and they produced flowers right on schedule and, eventually, tiny little fruits (see picture for scale). And then, before they could grow to a size suitable for eating, the fruits would suddenly disappear. They clearly hadn't been eaten; there were no teeth marks or anything in the plant to show where the "eggs" had been. They'd just been—removed. By something capable of grasping the fruit and pulling it right off. And that left only one plausible culprit: squirrels.

Unlike groundhogs, which we think we've finally managed to exclude from the garden with a complicated fence, squirrels can't really be kept out of the garden unless you're willing to enclose the entire area in a three-dimensional cage with gaps too narrow for them to squeeze through. In the process, you'd block out a fair amount of light and also keep out most birds, which are good for the garden, because they eat harmful bugs. So we figured we'd just live and let live with squirrels, especially since they probably wouldn't be particularly interested in any of our crops. And the thing is, there's no evidence that they actually are interested in the eggplants—that is, in eating them. The one shown in the picture, in fact, was pulled off the plant and simply abandoned, presumably by a disappointed squirrel that had just that moment figured out what it had in its hands wasn't a nut. But the stupid little furballs apparently aren't smart enough to figure out that they don't really want eggplants before pulling them off the plants.

Since keeping the squirrels out isn't an option, we've had to progress to chemical warfare. Following my dad's recommendation, we brewed up a batch of pepper spray by tossing half a jalapeno pepper in the blender with some water and a bit of dish soap (to get the chili oil to mix with the water) and pouring it into an empty spray bottle. Of course, at present there are no eggplants left to protect, but there are still blossoms, so we might eventually get some more if we can manage to keep the stupid squirrels off the plants. We're hoping that spraying the plants regularly (after every rainfall) will make them unappealing enough to the squirrels that they'll eventually learn to avoid them.
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