Keeping Squirrels Out Of The Garden

In the previous post, we looked at how to form hoops to use for supporting a covering over the garden. In this post, we use the hoops to add netting over the garden to keep squirrels from ruining our tomatoes. Obviously, this also keeps birds from damaging the garden.

The netting is made up of 4′ x 50′ rolls of plastic netting that I bought at Lowes Hardware. Because of the size needed for this project, it took five rolls sewn together to make a piece 20′ x 50′. To sew the pieces together, I roll them out on the concrete driveway and sew them together using trot line cord that can be found wherever fishing equipment is sold (at least down here in The South, since it is used for catching catfish). I made a “sewing needle” from a piece of stiff wire and formed an “eye” in one end. Bend a bit of a curve in it to make it easier to use.

Each hoop consists of:
• 10 section of 1/2″ EMT (galvanized metal electrical conduit) bent into a 4′ radius
• Two 5′ sections of thin-wall PVC pipe slipped over each end of the metal conduit. There is a 3″ overlap on each end.
• Duct tape at each joint to keep it from slipping.

Try to keep all hoops uniform in size and shape. When the hoops are assembled, any differences will become very noticeable and make the finished structure look very sloppy.

The finished structure includes three sections of PVC pipe cable-tied to the sides and the top. This provides support for the covering and makes the whole structure strong enough to hold it together. When it is time to disassemble the structure, just cut the cable ties and the whole thing can be easily stored in a fairly small space.

Side view of the hoops and netting covering the tomatoes

End view. Squash is in the foreground.

There are three sections of PVC pipe that run the length of the frame - one on each side and one along the top.

It is important to keep the lengths of PVC pipe on the INSIDE of the hoops. Otherwise, the covering will hang up on it and be very difficult to work with. For the same reason, the cable tie ends must also point toward the inside.

About Stephen Clay McGehee

Born-Again Christian, Grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Southern Agrarian blog. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc., Vice President - Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Webmaster - Military Order of The Stars and Bars, Kentucky Colonel.
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8 Responses to Keeping Squirrels Out Of The Garden

  1. J says:

    Hi! I was hoping you could tell me a little more about the cage you built. Can you explain how you attached the netting to the bed itself and how do you get into the cage to pick the fruit? Thanks!

  2. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I’d be glad to, J. Thanks for writing.

    The netting is just draped over the hoop frame – it isn’t fastened to it at all. The sides extend down over the concrete block walls and almost to the ground. To keep the squirrels from getting in, I use long pieces of wood (old fence rail, but 2×4 would work well also) that rest on the top of the block wall to keep the netting in place. To pick the fruit and do other work in the garden, I remove the wood and set it down on the ground. I then get under the netting so that it sort of drapes down my back as I face the garden. As long as it hasn’t just rained so that the netting is wet, it actually works quite well.

    I have looked into ways to roll or bunch it up and clip it out of the way, but this seems to work well enough that I’ll probably just stick with it rather than trying to get too fancy.

    I may not have explained it very well, so please don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. I can take other pictures if that would help.

  3. trout007 says:

    I have a question about your raised beds. I live in FL and had the same experience with nematodes. With the raised bed do you ever have to replace the soil? How frequently? Do you try to use solar sterilization in the summer?

  4. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    This was built as a permanent garden, in that I should only have to add more compost as it decomposes and the plants use up the nutrients. I haven’t had it long enough to be able to say for certain over the long term though. Here’s my thinking:

    • Since there is virtually no sand in the growing mixture, and nematodes only move from one grain of sand to another, I should never have a problem with nematodes.
    • Since there is a layer of crushed concrete and drainage fabric separating the growing mixture from the ground, I should never have a problem with pests, such as moles, that might try to get in from underneath.
    • Vermiculite makes up a large part of the growing mixture. Vermiculite is a mineral, so it will not break down or be lost.
    • The only thing that breaks down and is “lost” is the compost that is used by the plants, and that is just replaced as needed.

    The whole growing mixture should never need to be dug out and replaced. I am just adding organic compost as needed.

    As for solar sterilization, there is no need for it in the raised beds. I have tried it in my conventional garden area. Not understanding what I was doing, I used a rototiller when I was finished, so I ended up just stirring up the soil to bring the deeper nematodes up into the sterilized area. Dumb mistake, and it negated that whole solarization effort.

    In addition to the nematode problem, our sandy soil means that whatever organic matter and nutrients we add just gets washed down below the root zone fairly quickly. Trying to build up a good soil from sand is a very difficult thing to do. You would have to add massive quantities of organic matter, and perhaps some clay, to get to where it doesn’t wash down below the root zone faster than it gets replenished.

    We have some real advantages here in Florida, but the soil is definitely not one of them. If you want a good, productive, sustainable garden for the long term, you have to create your own growing mixture rather than just trying to amend the existing sand. There are a lot of farms and farmers in my family here in Florida. They have to pour on the fertilizer, and chemicals to get a good crop. They often end up spending piles of money for diesel to fuel the irrigation system because the sand doesn’t hold the water very well. I understand that there are some parts of Florida that are blessed with good organic soil, but it’s not where I live (western Volusia County).

  5. Blissful Elf says:

    I just found this post because I’m suffering from squirrels in my garden, too. I had protected strawberries (and other very short plants) with a home-made chicken wire cage/top of sorts. But then the squirrels found the cucumbers that just started growing, so now I’m desperate to protect those, yet out of chicken wire.

    I’ve bought the plastic netting from Lowes, the same size actually as you so that must be standard nationwide. I’ve temporarily stapled it up & over the cucumbers & wondering if it’s “good enough” to be used permanently – at least for a whole growing season.

    So if you don’t mind letting me and all of us know, did the squirrels ever get into the area protected with the Lowe’s plastic netting? It’d be wonderful to know they won’t eventually chew through it! Thank you in advance :)

  6. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one suffering from the squirrels.

    The squirrels did get through it – but only due to my own sloppiness in not securing it at the bottom well enough. The sides are easy to do, but on the ends where the netting gets bunched up, it takes a bit more care to make sure they can’t get under it. When I was careful to put the 2x4s and old fence rails down so that the bottom edges were sealed, then the squirrels never got inside to do their dirty work.

    They never tried to chew through it as far as I can tell, and I really wouldn’t expect that to be a problem. When you’ve got something as big as that, animals tend to spend all their time looking for a way in rather than trying to chew their way inside. There are exceptions, of course, but I think that’s the way it usually works.

    I have used this same netting for other projects and left it out in the weather, in the hot Florida sun, for quite a while. I am satisfied that it will hold up quite well, so “Yes” it is plenty good enough to be considered a permanent barrier to squirrels.

    The trick to using netting like this is to make sure that there aren’t any holes for critters to get through, yet it also has to be easy enough for you to get inside to take care of the plants and harvest the fruit.

    I’ll be curious to hear how your setup works out over time, so please stop back by and let us know.

  7. Linda says:

    I was looking for some kind of hoop house to put over my garden beds because of squirrels! And I found you. I really like this idea. I have problems with deer as well. I am just in the process of building the garden beds, but one thing I have chose to do is put hardware cloth under the bed to keep out the myriad of moles here. I am hoping this hoop covering will work to keep out the deer and squirrels… thanks for the post!

  8. Stephen Clay McGehee says:

    Glad to hear that you found it helpful, Linda. One thing you’ll want to keep in mind when using hoops like this – they really need to be braced in the end-to-end direction more than I anticipated. This year when I put it up, I’ll pay more attention to that. Overall, it works very well. I’ll try to post any “tweaks” that I make to the design.

    Regarding keeping moles out, you might want to consider using a layer of crushed concrete as shown here rather than hardware cloth. There are pros and cons to each, and the rock might not work for you for any number of reasons, but it will keep any burrowing critters out, and it won’t ever rust, and it could be cheaper than hardware cloth. Just an idea to consider.

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