Squirrel-mageddon: A Lesson Learned
My wife and I have an “organically managed” hobby farm consisting of a small 15-tree orchard, numerous blueberry, raspberry and strawberry plants plus a large veggie garden and apiary. The fruit portion has been in the ground for 5-years and this year was really starting to show signs of producing. I hand-thinned the fruit trees, did my holistic sprays and was very excited to see how beautiful our fruit was looking–especially our peaches! The 3 peach trees in the orchard looked great and, having learned from last years’ experience that you must hand thin the trees in order to prevent limb breakage, we were really jazzed for a bountiful harvest. Then I had to go to NYC for a few days…
The night I returned home, my wife told me she had bad news…The 600+ peaches that were days away from being tree-ripened candy were entirely GONE! Vanished! Not a peach on a tree! Not even 1! There were 5-10 peaches on the ground, all with teeth marks caused by, you guessed it, gray squirrels! In 3 days, they entirely stripped our orchard of every single peach, half of our plums and most of the early apples that had finally appeared after 5 years. Our corn? Forget about it! We managed to eat or freeze about ¼ of it. Crows and those “furry tailed rats” also feasted on half of our blueberries! Several hundred hours of management for naught.
As you may have already learned by listening to NHPR or reading the Sentinel, this has been a bad year for veggie and fruit farmers/gardeners across New Hampshire due to the squirrel explosion this year. In 2017, a mast year of acorns created an abundance of resources for them and they actually were able to breed twice, creating what led to our “squirrel-mageddon”. With the lack of natural food available this year, some orchards, farms and gardens came under attack. Our electric orchard fences are designed to keep deer and bear out of the orchard and apiary. Unfortunately, squirrels easily run under them. I’m not sure how much it would have mattered as the electric fence around our veggie garden IS intended to keep them out. Instead, we watched them run right through the same fence that would make our eyes spin whenever we accidentally touched it (proving I am not as smart as our dogs, who only touched it once before never venturing near it again).
As disappointing to us as this was, it really made me think about all the hurdles faced by our regional farmers every year as they strive to provide us highly nutrient-rich, local food and also make a living for their families. I do not know how they do it, but I sure am thankful they do!
Now, if I can only train those honey bees to dislike squirrels as much as I do…
Written by: John Snowdon
CCCD Associate Board Member