Common Garden Problem

After 3 years, something has figured out how to get into my fenced garden and eat all of my young shoots, but first some background… I live in Northwest Montana on a 7 acre parcel and have built a large fenced in garden with raised beds for vegetables. This is our 4th season, and for the first 3 seasons we didn’t have any problems with varmints eating our young plants.

There is an 8 foot fence covered in chicken wire to keep the deer and black bears out, but we have our share of squirrels, rabbits and other critters, like chipmunks. Everything is fine on one day, and the next day all of the young sprouts are chewed down to the ground. I have checked for holes in the fence, and I have layers of rock around the fence to keep burrowers out. I have only seen one critter actually in the garden, and that was a Columbian Ground Squirrel. When he saw me he made a bee-line for the fence and either went over it or through it with ease.

Since I don’t want to get up at 5 am every day and wait in ambush with my pistol I was thinking of using a large Victor rat trap. The only thing I could think of to bait the trap was peanut butter, the bait I use to catch mice that happen to get into my garage or house.

Is there a better way to deal with this problem? And wrapping the multiple beds in some kind of netting would be difficult and expensive given their size (8 feet by 11 feet). Is there any poison I could use that would be selective for this particular menace?

Any useful advice would be greatly appreciated!

What about replacing the chicken wire with 1/4" wire mesh fabric? It is harder to work with, but I don’t think there are any of the varmints you mention that could get through that.

Here’s an example, they call it “galvanized hardware cloth”. There are lighter gauges that might be cheaper.

Now if the squirrel or other critter was going over the fence, that’s a different thing. I don’t have any idea how to prevent that.

I’m in NW Montana too, and if the deer, the rabbits, and the grasshoppers don’t get my garden, the voles usually do. I’m a big fan of electric fence in addition to other barriers around things I want to keep Not Dead. It can be fairly inexpensive to run a single strand, and that helps keep out jumpers and climbers. You can run another strand around the bottom for burrowing fiends, but there are no guarantees.

First thing is to determine what is eating your plants. Slugs, snails and caterpillars can all chew plants down to the ground overnight. Just because you saw a squirrel doesn’t mean that it is a squirrel.

A rat trap isn’t really big enough for trapping squirrels. It will usually work, but if it doesn’t you end up with a mortally wounded squirrel that may take days to die. In many jurisdictions it’s also illegal to trap wildlife with inappropriate traps for exactly this reason. You’re better off trying to get a proper squirrel trap, either the gin trap type or the live capture type. Even a rabbit trap with a filed catch would be preferable to a rat trap.

Personally I would just apply some repellant to the sprouts. Squirrels are usually only a problem when the plants are young anyway. I’ve had good success with Ropel against possums and they will eat anything, so I imagine it would work a treat against something as fussy as squirrels.

ETA: If you are trying to trap squirrels, you will do better by mixing some actual nuts or sunflower seeds with your peanut butter.

FWIW, I will mention that I have had good luck sprinkling all my garden vegetables generously with blood meal. It is considered a fertilizer, but it seems that squirrels dislike and, I think, rabbits too. I saw three raccoons in my backyard two days ago, but they were rooting in he grass (for insects, I assume) and didn’t stay long. I had never seen them here before.

Something was chewing all of my bean plants off just above the ground, I put out a Havahart trap but caught nothing.

A few days later I saw pinwheels on sale at the local hardware store. I stuck 6 of them around in various places in my garden and all of my plants have been safe since. That was about 6 weeks ago and it’s still working.

After I sent this post I went out to the garden and set two large rat traps that were both baited with peanut butter. The traps have a hair trigger… and I have the scars on my hands to prove it.

I expected to hear a loud snap during the night since my bedroom window is not that far from the garden, but I didn’t hear anything… or maybe I just slept through it…

I got up first thing this morning and headed over to the garden only to find that both traps had been licked clean… but were still in their armed state. So which ever critter is getting into the garden was able to remove the sticky bait without setting off either of the traps. Something I couldn’t have done myself.

Since their are dozens of critters around my property I doubt I will be able to catch all of them anyway… so I may have to resort to ‘Plan B’, electrifying the fence, to see if that works. If I only had a an outlet somewhere nearby to plug in the power source…

Not a bad idea! I think I will try this too.

I too have had mice and squirrels lick the peanut butter clean off the top and bottom of a snap trap trigger. What worked to perfection then was to break off part of a Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwich cookie and glue it to the trigger with regular Elmer’s glue.

It works and there’s all these peanut butter sandwich cookies left over… win win.

I’d suggest the Have-A-Heart type traps (don’t know how they spell it). Not to save the life of the critter, but they seem to have no qualms about going inside to get the bait. YMMV

What kind of underground critters could you be dealing with? I’ve had to deal with gophers and woodchucks. They just sneer at above ground fences. And if the fence isn’t high enough, deer can just lean over the top and eat everything without entering the garden.

The fence is 8 feet high, so I don’t think the deer are leaning over it. I’ve never seen evidence of a woodchuck in my neighborhood. If there were voles or moles or gophers I think I would see the signs of digging and, of course, the holes themselves. It looks to me like something is munching on the young shouts from above. I really think it’s the ground squirrels since they are everywhere and manage to get in all sorts of places you wouldn’t expect them to. I just wouldn’t think they were smart enough to avoid setting off those rat traps!

So it’s almost certainly slugs.

Good luck erecting that slug proof fence.

Pillars of salt maybe?