Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Squirrel Nation


We had a tough time last week getting the lids shut on our boxes, particularly the large shares. Despite the ongoing war with rabbits and squirrels, our gardens are offering bumper crops of lots of different items; with thousands of row feet of tomatoes coming soon! We really weren't expecting the baby kale-dominated braising mix to be still going strong in the middle of summer, but there it is; looking great. The basil looks succulent this week, and we're proud to offer large box subscribers our carefully tended Arugula.

We've discovered using winter row covers to guard against  this time of year's total flea beetle devastation and we've cut beautiful, small bunches for all large shares. (There's no way large bunches would have fit in the boxes!)  Little by little we're providing less outstanding organic greens for resident squirrels by shoring up the matrix of entrances to our gardens. We've fenced, dug down and buried chicken wiring barriers, we've wrapped the fencing in dust barriers so that squirrels can't see into the gardens. (This is a trick that Joe over at JR Organics offered us, and it seems to help).

Garden Two appears to be Squirrel Free, an absolute 10 year first here on Morning Song Farm. All of our row crops are completely fenced in, but that doesn't stop agile, fence climbing, tree climbing, organic arugula eating varmints. Ha! A mere fence? Surely we jest? Because our 700 macadamia tree grove is really just a Squirrel Magnet, and because when I first became the farmer here over a decade ago, I insisted that we could all live together so let's not hurt any cute squirrels, the Confiscatory Squirrel Invasion is only now, so many years later, finally getting beat back to a dull roar. And for transparency's sake, let me be clear that "beating back" is a loose term and in no way should be interpreted as our having won the Squirrel War. So lesson learned: when you buy a nut farm and your totally experienced grove manager insists you can't coexist peacefully with the cute fluffy tailed squirrels... consider the possibility he knows his stuff and don't intervene with his pest management program. Override the experienced guy in the cowboy boots and well worn sling shot hanging out his back pocket... at your peril! There have been years where we really lost 95% of the mac crop to squirrels, once their population took hold, it seemed like it was hopeless. Such that it was pointed out to me back then, never mind by whom, ....each quarter pound of macadamias "sold," represented a wealth transfer equivalent to a down payment on a small condo.

I had thought that we could just allocate a certain amount of our crops to the bugs, rabbits and squirrels, and then we could all live in peace.  That really is who I am, and I thought that losing some produce to squirrels was a good trade off.  I'm also really committed to being a successful, sustainable farmer.  At some point I had to decide to get out of farming completely or adjust my viewpoint. There, right there; is the overlapping intersection of ivory tower farming ideology and rural reality. I wasn't aware of the Varmint Population Explosion Theory of our former grove manager (who continues to be a dear friend and regularly offers his advice)  that reads something like this: the varmints will increase in population until there is nothing left to eat. With 700 macadamia trees, and hundreds of fruit trees, that's a whole lot of squirrel food before they run out of nuts, and when the nuts are all eaten...and the macadamia nut-fueled furry population explosion gets hungry...they aren't going to buy a plane ticket elsewhere...they will be forced enmasse to start devouring other things, like tree bark (killing the whole tree outright) or anything leafy green at all that you foolishly think you can grow. Chain link fences won't save you, electrical fences won't save you, digging down and putting underground barriers won't save you. Unless you plan on going Caddy Shack on your whole farm at some point, focused, unrelenting pest management is key.

Ouch. Yep, I do remember him saying all that, but I just really thought because he'd never tried coexisting, that we should try it. Unfortunately, it's taken almost a decade to get back under control. Wow. Hats off to you Gregorio. Wish I'd listened to you to begin with, it's only taken us 10 years to get back to where we were to begin with because we didn't.

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