Amid a sprawl of grassy lawns, our edible forest garden of fruit and nut trees offers sanctuary for insects, birds, and lizards. And squirrels.
Squirrels weren’t a problem till the spring that they removed every unripe peach from our peach tree. Then nectarines. Then apples, hazelnuts, and pecans. By summer, we watched our pears disappearing and took action.
Aromatic and Taste Deterrents
Theory: squirrels dislike the smell of coffee grounds and the taste of cayenne pepper.
Method: We spread wet coffee grounds around the base of our pear trees and slathered the trunk and lower branches. We also brewed pepper spray using cayenne pepper and chopped hot peppers, saturating the pears and the ground around the dripline of the tree.
Result: The squirrels continued to steal pears, sampling and discarding the fruit.
Rubber Snake Visual Deterrent
Theory: squirrels avoid snake-like objects.
Method: Chancing upon a rubber snake after encountering this advice, we draped the snake in the tree branches and moved it to a new position each day.
Result: The snake went unnoticed by the squirrels. Our cat, however, loves playing with it.
Not every squirrel will abhor pepper spray, flee from rubber snakes, or avoid coffee grounds. All individuals have preferences. (The Resilient Farm and Homestead has a superb explanation of this concept.)
Trap and Release
Theory: squirrels enjoy peanut butter as much as we do.
Method: We purchased a Havahart Cage Trap for Squirrels and Small Rabbits. We placed a spoonful of peanut butter on the release plate, set it by the pear trees during the morning and evening raid times of greatest squirrel activity, and swiftly caught and released six squirrels. For small squirrels capable of stealing the bait without springing the trap, we weighted the plate with a rock. We placed the trap in a cardboard box to calm the panicking squirrels during transport.
We released our captives at a farmstead bordered with untended and squirrel-free woodland habitat, where (we hope) they might assist in propagating native oak, hickory, and walnuts. We want to create ecological disturbance that enriches habitat, and squirrels have an important role to play.
The implications of live catch and release are complex—many animals do not survive relocation or can wreak havoc on existing ecosystems. (Nature Wars and Where the Wild Things Were explore this subject at length.) Ultimately, to paraphrase Aldo Leopold, we have a responsibility to tend to the populations of animals preyed upon by the apex predators extirpated by our culture. We must act as the bobcats and coyotes, the eagles and hawks, the foxes and lynxes that would keep the squirrel populations in balance.