Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

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.


  1. J

    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!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      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.

  2. trout007

    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?

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      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).

  3. Blissful Elf

    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 🙂

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      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.

  4. Linda

    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!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      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.

  5. Robert Bowen

    Hi! I was just planning on building a cage of my own to protect our garden when I came across your article. I was wondering, how far apart are those hoops spaced? I have two 4×4 beds, and one 4×8.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I just went out and measured it – they are 3′ apart. One thing to remember is make sure that any bracing or other “stuff” you add is on the INSIDE of the hoops. That way it’s easy to slide the netting over it without getting hung up on anything.

  6. Jane

    This looks like it just might work for my garden. My question though is…can pollinators get through the mesh? Did you wait to put this up after a certain point to ensure good pollination? And did you notice any fall off in production afterwards?

    This is a great idea, but I’m wondering if timing of the “application” might be just as important. Any input is appreciated. Thanks!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Good morning, Jane. I honestly don’t have a good answer for that, and it’s an important question. In the next few months, I plan to start keeping bees here (I’ll be building two “Top Bar” hives). That should give me the opportunity to really observe what happens. I just don’t know enough about bee behavior, but my suspicion is that netting may indeed be a problem. A bee can certainly fit through the netting, but will they? I just don’t know. Yet.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  7. Denise

    Hi Stephen,
    I found this article full of wonderful information. This is the first year I got so frustrated with the squirrels eating my tomatoes I pulled them all up…if only I’d found your solution first!!!
    So the last response was in January and Jane was wondering about pollinators. Do you have an answer for us yet? Did you indeed bring bees into your garden? I’ve also been thinking of a Top Bar hive. Would love to know how it has done for you. Thanks and many blessing to you and yours!

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Hi, Denise. Thank you for checking in. When your comment was posted, I was in the middle of watching a video on queen rearing. We now have three hives of bees here – two of them were captured swarms, and one was given to us by a beekeeper who had a surplus of bees and needed to get rid of some. The key, I believe, is to find a group of local beekeepers and get involved with them. At my first meeting (January), I volunteered to build their web site, so my wife and I plunged in head-first. She is enjoying beekeeping as much as I am, and it’s great to find a hobby that we both thoroughly enjoy. We attended a two-day Bee College put on by the University of Florida, and that was a great crash course in beekeeping.

      Top bar hives are becoming popular and there is one gentleman in the club who has only top bar hives. I am getting ready to build a vertical top bar hive called the Warre design. It is sort of a cross between the Kenyan design (what most top bar hives are – based on a Peace Corps design in Kenya) and the Langstroth design (the typical commercial hives). I want to try different hive designs, but mostly just as an experiment. The ability to really manage hives that the Langstroth design provides is pretty tough to beat.

      There is so much that we’ve been doing since my last post, but I’ve been so busy “doing” that I haven’t made the time to write about what we’ve been doing.

      Now, with all that said, I don’t have an answer yet. We just got our first hive of bees in May, and we didn’t use the netting this year. Part of the changes we’ve done here is to remove all of the old Water Oak trees so that we could plant an orchard of fruit trees (more on that when I start writing again), so the squirrels haven’t been a problem this year. They are, of course, in the trees in the surrounding property, but they don’t like to be out in the open where they make a tempting target for the hawks here. That will change as the fruit trees get bigger, but for now, squirrels aren’t a problem in the garden.

  8. Tom Hahn

    Can’t the squirrels eat through the plastic net. I have two box gardens I have built a frame around. I am looking for a netting to put on the frame. Something better looking and easier to use than chicken wire.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      For a while, all was well. Eventually, they figured out that they could chew through it though. We can chalk that one up as “nice idea, but back to the drawing board.” The netting is now being used over the chicken pen to keep the chickens in and the hawks out. I suspect that some of the green vinyl coated chicken wire might be a good way to do it for a smaller operation, but what I was doing was just too big for that. I have since moved the tomatoes to the regular garden, and I’ll just have to deal with the squirrels there.

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