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Garden in the City: A War on Squirrels

By Patty Wetli | October 25, 2014 4:15pm | Updated on October 27, 2014 8:30am
 You're going down, squirrel, you're going down.
You're going down, squirrel, you're going down.
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Flickr/Richard Heyes

LINCOLN SQUARE — I'm not sure how gardening ever gained a reputation as a peaceful pursuit, because as often as not, it sends me into a blind, murderous rage.

You know of what I speak, my fellow growers.


Squirrels, those conniving, demonic, taunting, fluffy-tailed rats, digger-uppers of plants, ravagers of flowers and killers of my corn (my apologies to actual rats, originally fingered in the crime).

I declare war.

Patty Wetli says she's come up with a few techniques to ward off the rodents:

The final straw came this week, as I salvaged what was left of my corn stalks. Though denuded of their ears by the aforementioned rodents, the stalks were still quite lovely. They reminded me of a thicker version of bamboo, which makes sense since both are grasses, and the stems had darkened in places to a burnished cherry-wood color.

I decided to convert them into "harvest" decorations.

As I dug up the stalks, I realized just how insane it had been for me to worry that they would topple over in the wind. The spidery roots ran deep and clung to the earth with the deceptive strength of an infant's grasp. It took me nearly an hour of hacking and tugging to free them from the soil.

I had to call in reinforcements — Dave — to help carry the stalks home. Picture us walking along Lawrence Avenue: 10-foot-long stalks held horizontal, tassels pointed forward like jousting lances. Not a single passer-by gave us a second look or so much as blinked.

I divided the stalks into two bunches, and attached them sentinel-style to the fence on either side of our building's gate. They didn't look as grand as I had pictured in my head — our fence is like 100 feet long and the stalks appeared more lonely than imposing — but for the first time in the history of our condo association, we were fall festive-ish.

My work was done. Or so I thought.

What happened next was utterly predictable.

Squirrels, smelling fresh meat, attacked.

I caught one of the little buggers red-handed, either chomping on the base of a stalk or using it like an living emery board to sharpen his hideous claws.

 DNAinfo.com's resident urban gardener will stop at nothing to protect her corn stalks.
DNAinfo.com's resident urban gardener will stop at nothing to protect her corn stalks.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

I bum-rushed the squirrel, slapping my boots on the sidewalk to chase off the critter, each smack of foot against pavement declaring, "Get. Away. From. My. Corn."

The squirrel scampered to the top of the fence and held his ground. I glared at him from the sidewalk, and held mine. We stared at other across the yard, one of us full of hate, the other possessing a brain the size of a pea. We were enemy combatants engaged in a game of chicken that the squirrel could have easily won if he'd made the slightest move in my direction.

Instead, he clambered down the fence and slunk away.

I pressed pause on the errand I had been in the process of running and headed back inside in search of a weapon. I had recently caught a screening of the aptly-titled "Fury" and oh what I would have given for a 76-mm tank gun. Absent that, I grabbed the next best thing: Deer Off.

A mix of putrescent eggs, garlic and the chemical that makes hot peppers hot, Deer Off smells like Mordor, a noxious fume somewhere on the continuum between landfill and corpse.

It seems, thus far, to have done the trick.

So I can't tell you how pleased I was to discover that Deer Off is OMRI-certified organic. Note to self: Read product labels.

Bliss. I will literally bathe my corn stalks in the stuff next year. Buy stock in the spray's manufacturer, y'all, 'cause I'm ordering it by the truckload.

In the event squirrels develop an immunity to or taste for Deer Off, I've researched a number of back-up plans: hanging bars of soap in the garden; erecting a VHS tape fence, which consists of winding videotape around stakes (dude on a gardening forum swore it worked); and covering my ears.

Not my ears, my stalks' ears. Apparently placing plastic cups or paper bags over not-quite-ripened ears is a potential deterrent.

And if you know anyone willing to sell, I'm also in the market for a Sherman tank.

For previous episodes of "Garden in the City" listen here: