Protecting Your Garden Harvest from Squirrels, Rabbits and Pests

One of the most important parts of bringing food from the garden to the table is protecting your harvest.

Over years of having lost 95% of our harvest to squirrels and similar animals we developed a number of strategies to combat this problem. One of the most effective is growing your garden in an enclosure that is entirely protected as shown above. The sides are covered with a wire mesh and the top is covered with a netting. The wire mesh extends down 18 inches under the ground to prevent animals that burrow. The size of the enclosure is 25 feet long and  15.9 feet wide. Within this enclosure we grow the items that are the favorites for squirrels which are the number 1 predator for our garden. We have found that squirrels will take the following veggies unless they are protected: tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Items that they have no real interest include: root crops, asparagus, green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, swiss chard, and spinach. Of special note is asparagus. We have found no predators bother asparagus. In the early spring squirrels may pose a problem for outdoor planters or beds where you have started seeds. They usually have no interest in these seedlings but they do have a love of digging in beds and they can ruin a garden freshly planted simply from their digging. Thus in our outdoor raised stone bed where we like to grow our greens we throw a bird net over the garden bed in the spring. This allows the new tender seedlings to get established. Once the plants are large the squirrels tend to do less digging and they also will not kill an established plant by disrupting the soil around it.

In addition to squirrels we also contend with rabbits. Their preferences are different then squirrels and the means of protection is different. Their favorite plants include swiss chard, lettuce and spinach. 

Although one does not need a full garden enclosure to protect your harvest from rabbits, we have found that a raised bed that is approximately 18 inches tall is a sufficient barrier to rabbits. Even if you have certain gardens that are well protected you may still consider tucking some plants into open areas. This is a must for gardeners trying to make use of all available space when you live on a small piece of land such as a quarter acre. One year we planted tomatoes and threw a very large net over them. However chipmunks created a tunnel system under the net and ruined many tomatoes by either stealing them or taking a bite out of them. The following summer we decided to grow only garlic and shallots in the garden space with no net. Many tomatoes sprouted from tomatoes that had fallen to the ground the prior year. We found no tunneling in the garden bed as the smell of the garlic made a home in such a location less desirable. The tomatoes grew with little disturbance even after the garlic was harvested in July. This year we have continued this strategy as shown below by planting garlic in this open bed. If tomatoes happen to spring up from seeds dropped from last year then we will have a happy surprise. 

One parting note on protecting your harvest. A new gardener may have a few honeymoon years before you feel the full weight of the garden predators. Having gardened over 17 years in on our quarter acre, generations of squirrels were raised feasting from our garden. Yet neighbors just starting out with new gardens seemed to have less trouble. Be grateful for any time you have without pests but recognize once they find you strategies will need to be used to protect the vegetables that you worked so hard to grow.