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Vegetable gardens and (4 legged)pest management

I'd like to start a bigger vegetable garden but because our house backs on to a natural area we have voles and richardson ground squirrels (aka Prairie Gophers) that have taken up residence in the yard. Last summer I had tomato plants and some herbs on the deck and they fared well... but there are only so many containers I can put on the deck before I run out of room. We have a pest control contract (covered bait traps).

My question is: can I attempt a traditional vegetable garden? Or will the four legged interlopers just eat it all?

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  1. I don't have voles or ground squirrels - we have lots of regular squirrels and raccoons... I managed to keep them out of the garden with a generous dousing of chili flakes in the soil as my vegetables were growing... Early on, they raided my container garden but when I re-seeded - and sprinkled the chili flakes - they didn't dare come back all season long.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Apple

      That's fantastic information - thank you Apple!
      I spray cayenne solution on established plants that squirrels are eating, but I didn't know I could stop them from digging up my seeds and seedlings with chili flakes . . .

      1. re: pitu

        At first I was abit timid about it - and they came back - then I liberally sprinkled them and it worked. Didn't impact the flavour of the vegetables either.

      2. re: Apple

        Thanks for the tip about chili flakes, looks like I'll have to pick some up in bulk at Costco :)

        Voles and ground squirrels both dwell underground, neither raided my containers last summer thankfully(.. the kids were the ones raiding the tomatoes lol). Do you think chili flakes are enough for the pests or do I need to work on some sort of barrier?

        1. re: maplesugar

          Maplesugar - i don't know the answer to that... never even seen a groundsquirrel...

          I found this board talking about the subject: http://davesgarden.com/community/foru...

          good luck... chili flakes help with the squirrels who travel above ground!

      3. When I was gardening full swing I litterally wrapped the entire garden with the wide mesh fabric that is used to cover berry bushes and small fruit trees to keep birds and other animals away. I used green garden stakes, about 4' tall, spaced evenly around the perimeter of the garden. There were 4 entrances to the garden with paths that crossed in the middle....dividing the garden into 4 squares. Where there was an entrance, I cut the mesh and clipped it to a stake with clip style clothes pins. Since I started all my vegetables and flowers indoors under lights, I wanted to have the fruit of my intense labors in our stomachs not in the stomachs of the wildlife that exsists around here. It worked "a treat."

        2 Replies
        1. re: Gio

          This is exactly what we do and it works nicely to keep the birds, dog, and deer out of the garden. For moles or voles you may try trapping (and dispatching of) a rat or mouse and burrying it in one of the tunnels. They can smell the odor of a dead rodent and it keeps them far away.

          1. re: Phoo_d

            Yes - we used the "Have-A-Heart" traps for the dang squirrels and once caught a possum who couldn't be coaxed out. That critter kept rolling him/herself into the proverbial ball. Very funny....

        2. There are lots of little tricks that people use but often the critters will find their way into your garden one way or another. The chemicals people use work well... for about 2 or 3 weeks, then you have to switch up with something else. That's been my experience anyway.

          One great addition to my garden that the animals have NOT gotten used to is the Scare Crow motion activated sprinkler. It's hilarious and completely harmless unless your particular animals happen to melt if they get touched by water. That was a joke for anyone wondering. It's a little pricey at about $60, but it works and it lasts.


          1 Reply
          1. re: Squirrels

            A motion-activated sprinkler! Instant cat toy, and hours of entertainment for the humans. I don't know what it would do for dogs or wild pests, but unless your cats are completely brain-dead this is THE way to keep them out of your garden.

          2. Our garden is shared with three nice dogs who are not pests but we are also plagued with squirrels who are so this is a tempting, cheap and environmentally-friendly solution. It doesn't seem as if sprinkling chili flakes would harm our poochy pals at all, but does anyone have any experience?

            15 Replies
            1. re: LJS

              I am a retired mail carrier. The aerosol dog spray issued to mail carriers is liquid hot pepper. For it to repel an attacking dog, it needs to hit them in the face. It does no permanent harm but is just as uncomfortable as it would be for a human. If a dog walks through the chili flakes and then licks its feet it will be unpleasant. I'd be more concerned that chili pepper from the dog's feet or fur would get onto your floors and furniture, and thence onto people's skin and clothing. All this would cause temporary discomfort, which is a bigger issue if you have young children.

              1. re: greygarious

                I use chili flakes for container gardening and I don't have a dog (yet)

                I would be careful using chili flakes with the dog ... I would hate to cause them any discomfort, even if temporary...

                1. re: greygarious

                  and I do.. have young children, (three, 7yo and under) who also want a dog. desperately. Now from what I understand from the pest control people a dog would help curb the gopher and voles. Good point about tracking in chili flakes. If we do expand the garden I need to consider a mesh barrier for a few reasons then.

                  1. re: maplesugar

                    Here's a link to the netting I use. It's very effective.

                    Actually, I would be very careful about what you use to get rid of larvae and grubs. I never used chemicals near my vegetable garden. The only pests I really had, though, were a groundhog and a really swift chipmunk. But they did enough damage to make me consider using a cannon.....

                    1. re: Gio

                      Thanks for the link Gio - I hear you about chemicals, I'm not in to spraying my veggies either (unless it's with salad dressing at the table ;) hehe)I pull rather than spray my dandelions and nettles. So far the only pests I have are 4 legged and furry so I'm hopeful the mesh works as well for me as it does for you....if not, cannon here I come ;) (think Acme Co. cannon a la Wile E. Coyote lol)

                      1. re: Gio

                        the netting is great until a bird gets stuck in it. Then its just agonizing.

                        Like I said in another post, my Mom and Dad use electric fencing around the whole garden area (as do their neighbors who also have major garden plots) which generally keeps out the deer. even though its only about waist-high Within that they will cage their blueberry bushes and some other crops (maybe lettuce?) against birds and burrowers. during the season when it matters.

                        1. re: jen kalb

                          Don't the birds land on the electric fence? Talk about agonizing....

                          1. re: greygarious

                            not that Ive ever seen - and even if they did, less agonizing than having to extract them from netting.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              I have kids, I don't imagine an electric fence would foster a love of gardening ;)

                              1. re: maplesugar

                                One of the things that makes kids love gardening is THE RESULTs. If you plant seeds and your seedlings are gobbled up or if you wait and watch and nurture and an animal eats all the fruit, or if you plant a lily bulb and watch it rise only to see it lopped off as it is about to bloom by a browsing deer, thats no fun at all. I gardened as a child in my parents yard and it was easy - there were simply no deer in those days, no woodchucks, no racoons. Year by year they have had to build the barriers because it has become simply impossible to raise a crop without them.

                                re the fence, I remember relatives who had a dairy farm when I was a kid which had electric fences - I bumped in once and got a pretty good jolt. After that I remembered sort of as part of a fun adventure.. Kids are more realistic and tougher than you think.. Its not going to hurt the deer at all, just give it an aversion to that area, so why sacrifice your garden to some kind of sentimentality? These fences deliver a pretty light jolt compariatively, and the fences arent particularly obtrusive.

                          2. re: jen kalb

                            I have to say, Jen, in the 20 years or so I used the netting a bird never did get caught, thank goodness. We have a back garden between the barn and the house which is where we feed the birds. The VG garden is on another area of the property and although the birds are all over the place we never did have an "incident."

                            1. re: Gio

                              theyve got caught in my Mom's blueberry netting before - sometimes they sneak into the enclosure somehow and get frantic trying to get out. Youre lucky I guess.

                              1. re: jen kalb

                                That must be so very sad to witness. We've had our share of avian death and destruction, though. Hawks, cats, goodness know what...we have a special section away from everything where we;ve buried pets and other suburban wildlife. As a neighbir said recently, "that's nature."

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  she has been able to free them but that takes some nerve too

                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                    Last year, the robins started eating our cherries, so we threw a net over the tree and caught a possum. It hissed at us viciously while we tried to free it, but it was fine. Catching a bird would be really upsetting.

                    2. The best thing I have found to combat Voles is to treat your lawn with Grub-X. Taking away the little buggers food source certainly worked for me and no more torn up lawn after the snow melts. Because of the deer here I am primarilly planting in pots on my deck now.
                      Does any one know if the red pepper flakes work on rabbits? They had a nice snack on our tulips over Easter.

                      1. We bought this property with the intention of starting a large garden. The first year we got wiped out by woodchucks. So we put up a fence- one that was graduated in size from bottom to top. That held them off for one year. The second year we put in corn and the day that my husband declared it would be ready to eat the racoons decimated the stand of corn. The following year we put in an electric fence. It worked pretty well for years. Then the coyotes moved in and took care of the woodchucks and life had been good.

                        1. If the yard is fenced, a terrier is highly effective at keeping critters away. It might dig holes in the yard to get to the tunnels, though. Of course, then you've got another 4 legged pest to deal with...

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            At least the kids can play with that kind of pest ;) Our yard is fully fenced and we are looking at getting a family dog, just have some allergy issues (mine, and not to all breeds) to work out...plus I don't have the energy to keep up with a Jack Russell... We will eventually settle on a breed and it may be that that kind of "organic" pest control along with some barriers will be the way to go. :)

                            1. re: maplesugar

                              As someone who is owned by a Jack Russell Terrorist, I can safely say that they don't require much energy. As long as they can run at top speed for five miles every day, they stay relatively sane. ;-)

                              But that boundless energy sure is an effective at dealing with critters. When rats start milling around in the crawl space under the water heater closet (we live next to a greenbelt, and they look for dry lodgings when the rains start), he'll actually forgo food and water for days while standing guard in front of its door. Last spring he excavated a paw-sized hole into the nursing den of some unidentified subterranean rodents and snacked on their hairless babies for more than a week, completely freaking out my wife. And killing a few skunks is his way of celebrating the arrival of summer.

                              So what you need to keep up with a JRT isn't energy, it's a job - keeping away the critters - and an exercise program. We keep threatening to buy ours a treadmill...

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                I'm laughing and kinda nauseous. :)

                                I always thought the Jack Russell would do a good job in terms of pest control but I guess I thought of the pooch more as a deterrent - keeping the four legged furry f... er, I mean friends, from picking our yard. I don't know if I (let alone the kids) could handle seeing that kind of snacking... it's nature at work but (if I can get girly here for a minute) EW! :)

                              2. re: maplesugar

                                If you don't mind a circular/oval track rototilled around the perimeter of your fenced yard, a retired racing greyhound might be right up your alley. The short. thin coat is hypoallergenic for some people, and other than a 30-second sprint around the yard they spend the day on the sofa. Very easy to leash-walk, seldom bark. When outdoors, they will naturally chase garden pests and low-flying birds.

                            2. In Re: the fence mentioned above by alanbarnes :
                              If one is able to dig a short trench outside the fence and half submerge 12" or so of wire wire fencing the kind sold at nurseries - or even Home Depot.... bend the bottom edge outwards away from the fence. The critters have a very difficult time digging under the fence.

                              1. In the area (suburban Ohio) where my parents live there has been an enormous proliferation of wildlfe, from deer to raccoons, woodchucks, etc etc etc. My parents have always had a large vegetable garden which had NO protection when I was growing up and we had asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, lettuce, corn, beans etc etc. The woodchucks destroyed a 40+ year old asparagus stand a few years back. Now the entire garden, + some perennial borders are surrounded by an electric fence - Dad says 1 wire at 30in tall is sufficient- to deter the deer. (third pic)Then, witnin this perimeter, various vulnerable crops are protected by enclosures. I have attached some pix below of these.
                                (1) a large cage is mounted around the blueberry bushes when the start to turn blue (not mounted yet, no pic)
                                (2) chicken wire enclosure with removable tops are used for greens. In addition to extending 1 foot below the soil line, the chicken wire also goes 1 foot out from the enclosure below the ground. this discourages all diggers. (pic 1) A similar structure is erected at the foot of the pea/bean/squash trellis (pic 2 and a taller one, without a top around the bush bean growing area.(4th pic)

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  I have a little garden every year and have no problem with 4 legged pests. When my family goes and have hair cuts, I ask for the hair that they are sweeping up lol yes...I get weird looks but ahhh who cares haha I sprinkle the hair around the veggie garden and viola` no pests. I do use my own concoction of pepper water for the 6-8 legged variety of pests that are on the plants time to time.