Squirrel-Proofing your Strawberry Bed

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We live in an urban setting.  It’s an older neighborhood with tree lined streets and mature landscaping.  If you walk in the backyard, you would swear that you are in the country instead of a city of 140,000.  We are surrounded by large, old  trees and thick hedges.   With all of the vegetation, our fence line neighbors are hidden from view.  It is a lovely setting, but within those trees reside our nemesis.  Squirrels!

It is safe to say that we have been at war with the squirrels since we unpacked our first box.   They eat our seedlings, dig in our garden beds, take bites out of maturing fruit, poop on our clothes line, and go after my dearest summer fruit; strawberries.

Oh sure, we thought that we had outsmarted them when we draped netting over the strawberries.  But those clever little rodents just reached through the netting (and in some cases, chewed through) in order to pluck ripe berries.  So much for Plan A.

Peg and cotter pin connections

Peg and cotter pin connections

My engineer husband was not willing to lose the war.  After much pondering, he decided the most effective way to keep the squirrels out of the strawberries was to build a cage that surrounded the bed.  The cage had to be covered so the squirrels couldn’t get in, but the covering had to allow light and rain to pass through.  It also had to be moveable and come apart in pieces so we could pull weeds, thin plants, and harvest berries.  (And the whole system had to be packable since we did not want to leave the cage up year round.)

What my husband came up with was a simple solution that is not only effective, but attractive, and is made from mostly recycled materials.  The frame itself is made up of a series of wooden frames.  Each frame is covered individually with chicken wire.  The perimeter wooden frames are connected together with wooden pegs and cotter pins so the whole cage can easily be taken apart after strawberry season.

Center supports

Center supports

As you can see in the adjacent photo, a central wooden support runs from one side of the cage to the other.  It is also made from reclaimed wood.  Each support has a series of short wooden arms engineered to hold lids placed on top of the perimeter cage.  In the photo you can see the chicken wire covered frames that make up the perimeter and a central support without the lids, but the arms extended.  NOTE: the frames along the perimeter are approximately 15″ high, making it easy to step into the strawberry bed after the lids have been removed.

The entire cage assembled is 8′ x 16′.  Each frame is 4′ long so they are light enough that even I can easily pick them up and set them into place.  But to keep assembly simple, each frame is marked with a pen by where it resides in the overall structure. Come May when the plants are setting flowers, we take the frames out of storage and line up the pieces marked by direction; north 1 and 2, east 1 – 4, south 1 and 2, and finally, west 1 – 4.  All perimeter pieces are pinned together in a matter of minutes.

Wooden frames covered with chicken wire lids

Wooden frames covered with chicken wire lids

The final part of construction are the lids that set on top of the supports.  Like the other pieces, they are wooden frames covered in chicken wire.   In this photo you can see lids in place on top of the supports.  From start to end, it takes approximately 15 minutes to put the whole cage together.  We both consider that time well spent to protect our strawberries.  To harvest, I simply remove one lid at a time and walk through that section picking ripe fruit.

This season has been our best harvest yet due to the fact we have not lost fruit to the little furry, rodents.   Knock on wood, but I believe that with our Plan B, we have finally outsmarted the squirrels!

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6 responses »

  1. This is my first attempt at urban gardening, or any self sustaining garden for that matter. My wife likes her bird feeders, which turn out to be squirrel feeders.. Even the hummingbirds must sacrifice! I hadn’t even considered the squirrels and you can imagine when my first 3 strawberry was obsconded by these lil thrives. Daddy was angry! I moved the flower boxes away from the railing so they will have to steal my fruit without cover (first rule of warfare… Secure a perimeter!). My boxes are only 12-15″ wide so my thoughts will be to create lobster trap style boxes and the hardware cloth should be strong enough in an arch to support any attack, while minimizing the wood necessary since a top frame won’t be necessary. The end caps will be made of 1/2″ plywood horseshoes attached to a series of 4′ square bases and the hardware cloth arched over the berry patch. I’ll tie the sections together with twist ties, and make a handle out of zip ties or old wire so they lift off like a souffle cover. Wallah, berries are served! The rounded roof may be more esthetic (less boxy), and if I’m smart I can make each successivly a little smaller so they stack for winter storage. I may even paint one of the end caps with a mock door and a sign that says “no squirrels allowed” or “Beware of catz!”. If these don’t work, I will flip them over and make huge hanging fern baskets and buy my food from the grocery.
    I have just tried pepper flakes and cayenne powder to stop their digging in my Peas. I have squash, mini pumpkins, lettii (Latin pleural for lettuces), the above mentioned Peas and various tomato plants. For now, my squirrels do not realize they like leese… Yet! I do not know what else I may have to protect, so…
    I’m looking for other electronic means of deterrence, such as $50 subsonic gizmos but my luck the supplied soundtrack will be rodent-grateful dead and all my squirrels will be hippies! I may even have to make my own gizmo that shoots a blast of air on a motion sensor. After all is said and done, I’ll have multi $100’s into my garden that would cost $40 at the store. But education is costly. And who knows, my air powered squirrel squirter will sell on amazon, I’ll make a million dollars on patent rights and I will retire to my own island where I can control the indigenous varment population. Of course the sign at the dock will say ” No Squirrels Allowed!”. Dr Bob in Reading PA

  2. I have strawberries in a window box sitting on my deck railing. I’ve been spending the last hour or more trying to figure out how to cover the box with some chickenwire-type stuff. YUCK. Any ideas as to how to cover my window box and keep out the varmints??

    • The most critter-proof stuff that I have found is hardware cloth. It has a much finer grid than chicken wire. Even the squirrels haven’t been able to make it past that. They can easily reach a paw through chicken wire. Good luck!

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