Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grounded Gardening

The Conscious Shopper battles a squirrel for her garden

We have a dastardly squirrel in our backyard who sneaks into my garden in the wee hours of the morning and digs enormous craters, scattering my poor seedlings right and left. We call him Mr. Squirrel.*

All of my friends tell me I should buy a bb gun. Um, remember how I was a vegetarian for 12 years? I'm not that kind of person.

My kids decided to take matters into their own hands by building elaborate squirrel traps all over our yard. Don't worry - Mr. Squirrel would have to be pretty dumb to fall for one of those traps, and if he did, well, it'd be natural selection, I suppose.

No squirrels were harmed in the making of this trap.

I decided to seek out more humane methods to save my garden from the squirrel by asking the Internets. Their advice included:
  • Cover your plants with chicken wire.
  • Put a birdfeeder in your yard and allow the squirrels to eat from it.
  • Put a birdbath in your yard - often squirrels attack gardens because they're thirsty rather than hungry.
  • Spray your plants with pepper spray.
My husband and I found one piece of advice particularly intriguing: sprinkle coffee grounds all around your plants. Since our problem isn't that the squirrel is eating our plants but simply digging in the garden, we decided to give the coffee grounds a try. Except for one little detail...we don't drink coffee!

Not a problem! The Internets had a solution for that too. It seems Starbucks is drowning in coffee grounds and is quite willing to hand them out for free to anyone who asks.

Does it work? Yes, sort of. (As is the answer to so many questions.) The coffee grounds seem to keep out Mr. Squirrel for the first day or two after we spread them around the plants. After that, he is nonplussed.

But wait - is it okay to spread coffee grounds all over my garden? Yes! In fact, they are a good way to add nitrogen to the soil. However, some sources say that it's better to add the coffee grounds to your compost pile rather than directly to your plants. I'm pretty new at this whole gardening thing, so I won't make a judgment call on that debate. But I can say that coffee grounds greatly improve the stink of the compost pile!

Have you tried using coffee grounds on your garden?

*Have any of you ever read the Diary of a Wombat? We are the human family in that book, and the wombat is our squirrel. Despite our differences, we are quite fond of him.


Chile said...

I can sympathize because we have to take elaborate measures to protect our garden from pocket gohpers (who dig underneath and eat roots, or in the case of my wildflower transplants, simply pull the whole plant underground) and cute little ground squirrels (think pint-size meerkats or prairie dogs) - they dig, too, but they also clamber up plants and fences (and trellises) to eat ripe produce. We use LOTS of aviary wire, which is 1/2" chicken wire. For tender roots, the tree holes and future wildflower beds are lined with the wire: underground fencing, so to speak.

Anyway, to answer your question, yes, I've used coffee grounds. But, I put them through the compost first and also try to avoid overdoing it. The thing to remember is coffee grounds are acidic and some plants do not like that. Tomatoes, for instance. Blueberries, on the other hand, love acidity so nowadays I'm pouring some coffee grounds directly into their pots.

Also beware putting up a seed feeder for the squirrels. All you'll do is end up attracting more and keeping them well-fed enough to breed ... increasing your population!

Green Bean said...

Ha! I'll agree with Chile re attracting more squirrels with a feeder. I've tried that one and had all the squirrels in town move in.

Re the coffee grounds, I sprinkle them around in the garden here and there. More for fertilizer than to repel pests. I haven't had much luck repelling squirrels. Interplanting works wonders for deer and insects but squirrels?

Mostly, they attack our fruit trees and tomatoes. My usual tactic is to have enough to share and to pick early. For instance, with tomatoes, I usually pick before the tomato is fully ripe and let it ripen inside.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Chile - I found differing opinions on the acidity issue. Some said that they are highly acidic so you shouldn't use them on your plants at all. Others said that because they're acidic, you should only use them in compost but make sure to add lime or hardwood ash to balance out the acidity. Others said its okay to put them on the garden as long as you only put a thin layer (what we did). And still others say that coffee grounds are actually neutral. The Internets can never agree on anything...

@Green Bean - Yes, having enough to share was our solution last summer. This year, though, it seems that he buried a bunch of pecans in the garden over the winter and now he's back to dig them out. Besides the coffee grounds, I covered the whole garden in bird netting (like you'd put on berry plants), and so far we seem to be winning.

Daisy said...

I use coffee grounds in my compost. I've had some luck hanging CDs in the garden. The reflection and motion scares the birds and squirrels away - most of the time.

Vermont Girl said...

I'm an avid fisher, and coffee grounds are my friend. I take the grounds and put them in a select place in my backyard. Around midnight, I run out there with my flashlight and pick up night crawlers galore! They loooooooove being where the grounds are.

Not only am I not paying for crawlers at the local store, I'm also not getting the plastic or foam containers.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Vermont Girl - That's a very interesting use for the coffee grounds. I'll have to remember that one!


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