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How Do You Pest-Proof Your Barrington Garden?

Do you know any remedies or secrets for keeping local wildlife from treating your garden like a brunch buffet?

Shortly after we moved to Barrington about 12 years ago, I saw my first coyote.  For a while, there seemed to be quite a few of them around.  We saw them from time to time, and some of my kids’ friends had cats whose status was missing and presumed delicious.  Perhaps not coincidentally, I never saw a single rabbit.

I haven’t spotted a coyote for two or three years now, but these days I see plenty of rabbits.

From early spring to late fall, my husband, Bill, and I leave the house around 5:30 in the morning and walk the two miles down to Starbucks, take a coffee break, then walk back.  In that short time, we’ll probably see a dozen or more rabbits. 

And don’t get me started about squirrels.  I am, to put it mildly, not fond of them. The best I can say about a squirrel is that they have cute, fluffy tails.  If the species underwent mass electrolysis and were left with naked rat tails, people would see them for the voracious, unstoppable, fiendishly clever and slightly horrifying rodents that they are.

We don’t see opossums or skunks in our yard very often, but we know they’re around. There’s a patch in the front where the sod is dug up in dozens of places —small divots that indicate the presence of either grub-seeking omnivores or unskilled golfers.                

All of these creatures (golf aficionados excepted) can wreck havoc on a garden.  Rabbits strip my blueberry bushes and snack on Swiss chard.  Squirrels are fond of tomatoes and berries.  Skunks limit themselves to ground-level plants, whereas raccoons will devour just about anything but cucumbers.  Possums don’t eat garden plants, but they will dig them up to look for worms and grubs amid the roots.               

Barrington garden pests also include domestic animals.  I took down my bird feeders hoping to make the yard less attractive to wandering neighborhood cats, but they still like to hang out in my flower beds or stop by for a hit of catmint.  To keep them out of my vegetable gardens, I plant a lot of marigolds and rue.                 

Coffee is another good cat deterrent.  Sprinking coffee grounds around a garden patch is almost as good as an invisiable fence, and I've found that mixing grounds into the compost or directly into the soil keeps cats from digging. 

Coffee grounds are easy to come by in quantity, since Starbucks has a corporation-wide policy of supporting organic gardening. The folks at Barrington Starbucks are very good-natured about bagging up grounds for local gardeners. Just ask them in the morning to save the grounds for you, and pick them up later in the day.               

Thanks to coffee and malodorous flowers, cats are fairly easy to keep out of the vegetable patch, but wild critters are more highly motivated.  The first year I put in a veggie garden, I had very little trouble with them, but now that the critters know where it is, they stop by frequently and bring their friends.                

It’s time to start deploying pest deterrents, but what?   A fence would cut down on rabbit incursions, but it would only amuse the squirrels.  Most of the suggestions that are bandied about lack appeal.  Daily applications of hot pepper spray?  Blood meal? Fox urine pellets?   Seriously?  How do they go about collecting fox urine in quantity?  Put a six-pack of Bud Light and a port-a-potty next to chicken coops? Whatever the method, I want no part in it.               

I’m handy when it comes to growing a vegetable garden, but I’ll freely admit that this part of the process puzzles me.               

Does anyone know where I could rent a coyote or two? 

Jay March 11, 2011 at 02:43 PM
How can I protect my hostas from garden thieves ? By September there is not a leaf left ! I suspect rabbits are having a field day. Any suggestions ?
Elaine Cunningham March 31, 2011 at 12:48 PM
Jay, the Ace Hardware in town has several varieties of rabbit repellent. Also, squirrels will eat hosta during drought if no other source of water is available. If yours is disappearing during the hot, dry days of August, putting out a birdbath might help.

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