Garden woes

So for the most part, things are going along swimmingly (or should that be sunningly?) in my garden. The tomatoes are ripening, one is even now orangish! My basil is growing like mad, and following the instructions in the wonderful McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container, I've cut the flowering plants back so that only four leaves remain on the stem (thereby creating a "basil factory" as they say, because now it will start growing again). With all the basil, I've been making pistou, a sort of French pesto without nuts, which freezes really well and tastes delicious on the grilled pizzas I've been making (recipes soon). So yes, things are going well. Except something's eating my climbers! 🙁

I came home a few days ago to find a bunch of my morning glories all wilted and fearing I'd failed to water appropriately, dashed out my window with my watering can in hand. Upon inspection though, I realized they'd been bitten off at the base. By a bird? A squirrel? Also the top of one was bitten off as well, so I lost two morning glories and one cypress vine and maybe the top-bitten-off one will cease to grow too. Does anyone have any idea what could have done this? And how to protect my garden from future attacks? I fear for my luscious tomatoes! And all my other lovely plants.

25 thoughts on “Garden woes

  1. The odds seems to be on squirrels, which seem to be a continual problem for urban gardeners. You might want to look into a product like Squirrel Away. I have absolutely no experience with that product, so don’t consider this to be an endorsement, but your local home & garden center might be able to make some recommendations.

  2. I think you guys are probably right. Alas, I’m never home when they attack. And they left things alone for so long, why now? Why?!?! Will they try and eat my tomatoes too? I will be so sad if they do. I was already almost crying when I saw what they did to my climbers. It will be too much for me to bear if they destroy the rest. Perhaps I need to become less attached to my garden.

  3. Maybe you should start a squirrel garden. They get a bad rap, and they’re awfully sweet. You could make little fun rollercoasters for them, like squirrel sim city. Now I carry acorns and nuts with me in the autumn as I stroll through the parks. They run right up when you make clucking noises. God, I’m becoming someone’s nutty Ukrainian grandmother. Help?
    No. Get some Squirrel Away. I really can’t imagine they’ll come for your tomatoes, but that would be dreadful awful bad.

  4. I would concur on the squirrel verdict. Birds have had access to your fire escape since you started, whereas it would have taken a squirrel a bit longer to discover you. Even rural gardeners have these problems, except that deer eat a whole lot more…

  5. i suggest house plants and then put bird feeders and nuts out on your patio. birds and squirrels are fun to watch and are there all year long.

  6. Hmm. I’m gonna pin this on the squirrels; they’ve given me trouble in my own fire escape garden that birds never would. Our birds here aren’t really plant attackers (“Winged Migration” to the contrary), at least in my experience, although tomatoes are tempting for all sorts of critters, flying and not. Also, there’s almost no way to protect yourself from squirrels here, except by scaring the pants off them if you see them near your window. My squirrels jump from a really far away tree, and scale the building. Now we’re friends.

  7. oh man, don’t kill the squirrels!
    i saw a documentary once on animal behavior in which this british researcher put a bird feeder on a very high pole with a series of 12 very difficult obstacles that a squirrel would have to get through to get to the bird seed. they had to go through the obstacles in sequential order.
    the first day a group of squirrels came out and immediately went for the food. unable to get at it, they went to the 11th obstacle, 10th, and so forth until they reached the 1st one. they spent the rest of the day figuring out that one successfully.
    the next morning they came back, remembered how to get through the first obstacle, and tackled the next two in a day. the third day they remembered how to get through the first 3 and so on. by the eighth day, they were in birdseed heaven. they’re patient, smart and work as teams. i don’t think chicken wire will keep them out.
    would it be possible to get/make a glass or plexiglass terrarium to plant your herbs and veggies in?
    embrace the squirrels, meg!

  8. No, can’t do that. The tomato plant is too large, and they’re all on my fire escape (see here). I got some heavy-duty wire at the hardware store during lunch, will try to construct something this evening and see if that works. If not, it might be all over for the tomato plant… 🙁

  9. I asked my mother if she had any “down-home West Virginia” solutions for this, and she recommended using a mesh wire screen (smaller than chicken wire) and constructing a cylinder around the plant (if that’s possible). She also uses moth crystals or moth balls to keep small animals away from her flower bed; I’m not sure how obnoxious the smell from this would be in a small window box garden. She also thinks it might be a bird that got ahold of the tomato plant, in which case the moth balls wouldn’t help.
    Squirrels are tenacious, ingenious little critters. You probably won’t be able to “defeat” them completely, short of installing an electric fence and hiring a sort-of hamster Pinkertons. Your best bet to to hope for some kind of detente. Good luck, and keep up posted!

  10. …er, keep “us” posted. Or “keep up posting,” though the first option makes more sense.

  11. Perhaps you could try liquid pepper spray around the area of the plants. I live in the woods (I am an urban person, don’t ask how I got to the woods, I am still trying to figure it out) but we have squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, blue jays, an eagle that nests somewhere very near and deer. Besides planting herbs that pests and critters do not like, I am misting pepper spray about and placing a daily offering of nuts where I am not growing anything in an attempt to make friends with/divert the woodland critters. Good luck!

  12. Make friends with the squirrels?!?! Now it’s war!!! They ate my tomato last night, the one that was almost ready to be picked, the very first one. This morning I got up to water and there was a giant, almost human-sized bite out of it!! 🙁
    So I’m wondering: can I put chicken wire around my plant to keep the squirrels out? Has anyone done that? Does such a thing work? And the dumb “Bountiful Container” book that I’ve been speaking so highly of has *nothing* about squirrels in it, or how to protect one’s containers from them.
    Any and all advice about how to keep squirrels away — whether through poison, pepper, cages, or just plain sitting on my fire escape 24/7 with a shotgun — is appreciated.

  13. Oh crap! They bit your tomato! That’s awful.
    All the sources I’ve seen say chicken wire, one-inch mesh, embedded a few inches in the container. And squirrels are diurnal, so they’re definitely coming while you’re at work. Now they have a taste for tomato: they’ll be back and they’ll be stronger. Backup plan: poisoned peanut butter. Kill them. (That’s illegal, I believe. But who cares?)
    What a gardening nightmare.

  14. I blame the morning glories themselves. Aphids got mine. They’re like the lemmings of the flower world.

  15. In one of the gardening books I took out of the library this spring, I read about “cutworms” that do the sort of damage you describe. If your tomato plants are already producing fruit, they are probably large enough not to be susceptible to cutworms – young tomato seedlings are the most vulnerable. The author recommends fashioning a “sleeve” around the stem of the plant at the ground to protect against cutworms – he used toilet paper tubes (pushed an inch or 2 into the ground, actually). good luck – enjoy those tomatoes!
    ps: re squirrels – I had problems the 1st year I had a garden, but they haven’t been a problem since. Dunno why. Maybe pick your tomatoes before they are entirely ripe, so the lil bastards don’t get a chance.

  16. Well I’ve outfitted the whole plant now with a very severe screen so we’ll see what happens next. Yesterday during the day a few nibbles were taken out of a green tomato, and one small one seems to have disappeared completely, so someone/thing is definitely liking those tomatoes. This morning as I was surveying my tomato fortress (which seems to have survived the night intact) a cardinal landed on the fire escape right next to the plant. So maybe it’s birds and not squirrels. Or maybe it’s both. But I don’t think it’s rats, there’s too much tasty stuff in all the trash for them to bother with a 5th story fire escape tomato plant, I’d think. I’ll post pictures when I get a chance.

  17. Sorry, no, I know I’m late on this, but you’re all missing the big sign of a problem here: Meg is intentionally growing morning glories.
    Now, as any good Missouri farmer, such as my father, will tell you, the only way to get morning glories to grow well is to not plant them. They spring up automatically and begin throttling your corn, your tomotoes, your snow peas, your snap beans, your what have you, almost immediately, and they never die. Even when you hack at them like Jack the Ripper with a hoe. You can burn them, poison them, shred them, pull them up by the roots, but in the morning, there they will be, their cheery little blue-purple flowers turned toward the sun like dishes at Woomera tracking a satellite. Morning glories are tough sons of bitches. The delicate-little-ivy act is a cover for a rapacious mutant lifeform hellbent on consuming everything in your garden.
    Next year, just put out an empty flower pot filled with a lot of nice dirt. Plant some okra or summer squash and watch the morning glories magically appear on their own. You’ll soon see no end to them, and will have to clear out room in the freezer for the large harvest of morning glories you will reap. Be prepared to learn how to make morning-glory-and-rhubarb pie. It tastes like hell, but what else are you going to do with the beast?

  18. I grew tomatoes one year, during which there was drought, and, just before they ripened, squirrels ate a hole in every single one of them, in order to drink the juice inside (they were thirsty, I guess). I was very annoyed and it took me many years before I felt like growing them again.
    I don’t think your problem is cutworms, they attack the stem near the ground usually.
    I have a squirrel that continuously chews a hole in my roof and then gets into my attic, causing leaks when it rains – supposedly scoping out a place for the winter already – I have an owl decoy that I’m planning to attach to the roof when I’m feeling brave enough, and supposedly fox urine (which you can get at hunting stores) is also a good deterrant.
    Squirrels are supposedly very intelligent and that makes it hard to outwit them. I understand that trapping my squirrel and taking it at least 5 miles away is the only way (short of animalcide) to make sure the squirrel doesn’t come back.
    I think that your wire cage is a very good defense. Some people use whirligigs or other things (like rubber garden hose cut up to look like snakes, or actual rubber snakes) that might look like natural predators. I have put bird netting all around and over my plants, but I don’t know how it’s going to go. I’m getting to the crucial stage, where one or two are starting to get a little pinkish.
    A book that might contain helpful information is Controlling Crafty Critters: Pro Secrets for Stopping Sneaky Squirrels and Other Crafty Critters in Their Tracks by Don Hershey. Amazon has it, new and used.
    And speaking of morning glories, I made the mistake of planting them last year to grow up the iron posts on my back porch. This year, I planted other things there, like cosmos, but the morning glories had seeded themselves and have returned in full force. I pulled a lot of them out, but they have taken over. They are the kudzu of the flower world.

  19. I’ve been using some startegically placed Crown of Thorn plants to repel squirrels, quite successfully. (Sorry to post so late).

  20. I vote for the rat. I have a beautiful tomato plant on my balcony in the city. Now squirrels have been around the entire time they’ve been growing and it hasn’t been a problem. We have tons of cats around, but last night I saw a rat for the first time since we’ve lived here (6 years) and this morning all my lovely little tomatoes were gone! The plant itself is fine and there are more blossoms. At least we got 4 incredible tomatoes before our nocturnal enemy attacked. I really hate this rat! They were the best tomatoes any of us had ever tasted and apparently the rat is willing to risk the cats to get it. I will try the mesh, pepper spray and rat traps and let you know.

  21. Squirrels ate ALL my tomatoes – over 30 on one plant. They are not cute – they are rats with tails. Chicken wire sounds best, but my plants are huge – I saw another web site that said putting a radio on by the plants drives them off.

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