With oak trees and more than a half-dozen fruit trees in our yard, we battle hungry squirrels for fruit every year. Nature won while we slowly developed a design to protect our fruit trees from the ravages of squirrels. This year we were finally successful.
We like eating fruits and vegetables, but oak trees simply have squirrels. Our Santa Clara Valley has an amazing climate for growing fruits and vegetables. “Until the 1960s it was the largest fruit production and packing region in the world with 39 canneries.”
Squirrels are pests, pure and simple, active and eating whatever they can. We try to protect our fruits and vegetables from them, but they usually win. Two sets of squirrels live in our yard: black squirrels in the coast live oak (quercus agrifolia) in the back yard, and grey squirrels in the front oak trees.
The past few days we noticed a tiny black squirrel eating on the ground, burying its head in the mulch and keeping it down. Most squirrels grab food and scamper to the safety of a rock or fence top to enjoy their booty. At least, that’s the behavior of squirrels that live to maturity.
Yesterday, we noticed two small squirrels on the ground at the same time. Here they’re huddled among giant chain ferns (woodwardia fimbriata) under an oak tree. To provide a sense of scale, the leaves of the coast live oak are 2-7 cm long. With the drought, leaf fall is heavier than normal, and most leaves are at the small end. The oaks and ferns are California native plants.
One of the squirrels scampered out. The babies are cute, even if they are pests.
I used a 100-400 mm lens at 400 mm on a crop-frame camera, in order to give them some space.
Today we made jam with blenheim apricots, our favorite variety of apricot. The blenheim apricot is juicy, has a full, fruity flavor, and splits easily. Other varieties ripen earlier, but they’re starchy, with less juice and flavor than the blenheim.
We haven’t made apricot jam in years because we didn’t have blenheim apricots. We found a local source of blenheim apricots this year. Our town’s orchard, a ten-minute walk from our home, grows apricots. The produce stand across the street from the orchard sells the apricots. We bought a case and made apricot jam. 🙂
Fifty years ago, our county, Santa Clara County, was California’s second-highest agricultural county, with orchards of blenheim apricots and other fruits. In the summer, people would cut ‘cots to dry in the sun. Today, the orchards are gone, bulldozed to make room for the houses, roads, and office buildings of Silicon Valley.
In our backyard we have fruit trees, including a blenheim apricot, of course. Five years old, this is the first year the tree has borne fruit. Our apple and pluot trees also took this long to bear fruit, so perhaps this is normal.
Below is a picture of our apricot tree with a PVC structure and net to keep squirrels and birds from the fruit. It worked well until today. The green leaves on the ground are from the squirrels. There’s not much fruit on the tree now — we picked most of it before the squirrels got the rest of the fruit.
This morning a squirrel ran on the fence with a fruit in its mouth. It stopped on the fence in the shade of an oak tree, to eat the fruit. Where did the fruit come from? We watched the squirrel finish the fruit and leave the pit on fence top. The squirrel slowly walked along the fence, climbed down to the net around the apricot tree, and then darted up the apricot tree!
We ran out and chased the squirrel away. The squirrel had chewed a hole in the net. The fruit the squirrel was eating was from our apricot tree! Earlier in the morning, a squirrel had found an opening under the net and eaten several apricots. We scared it away and sealed the hole. But we now learned that squirrels can chew a hole in the net. So we picked most of the apricots.
Here’s a similar structure and net around our pluot tree. (A pluot is a cross between a plum and an apricot.) The oak tree is in the background.
A net surrounds the pluot tree. The net is held up by a structure built with PVC pipe and plumbing fittings. Without the structure, the net would hang on the tree and damage new growth. This design worked well until today:
3/4″ schedule 40 PVC pipe (12 lengths). The schedule 40 pipe is built to withstand water pressure, so it’s stronger and thicker than other PVC pipe.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) fittings for the corners (8 corners). The PVC is commonly used for water pipes and garden sprinklers.
Twine trusses. The twine forms an X on each vertical face, to keep the structure rigid. If the twine stretches, tighten the twine.
Netting over the structure
Earlier designs were simpler, but the structure swayed and fell apart in the wind. We don’t glue the PVC, in order to reuse the pieces and store them for the winter.
This year we are again growing San Marzano plum tomatoes, which are excellent for pasta sauce and pizza. In past years the squirrels love San Marzano tomatoes — the plum tomato is just right size for a squirrel to pick, run up the fence with, and hold with the front paws while eating. So we will reuse the PVC and net to cage the tomatoes when the squirrels start eating the tomatoes.