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The internet contains answers to this question that don't take into account sustainability. This Mother Nature Network article probably comes the closest I've found. The last resort method they propose is shoot all the squirrels and notes that it's temporary at best and I presume is not the most ecologically/sustainable way to solve the problem. One method they mention is caging your tomatoes which seems sustainable but is not practical in our case. Their sixth method is just plant so many that all the critters can have their share and there are still tomatoes left for you. Besides being impractical in our case (as well as too late for this season), I'm not sure oversupply is the most sustainable answer.

Another method they mention is getting a cat. We have a cat but we have a really lot of squirrels and our cat does not live in our garden so that is not working. They also mention getting a border collie but is not practical since I am allergic to dogs.

I'd like to focus this question among their remaining choices, or any other solutions not mentioned.

  • Predator urine. Assuming this is bought (since I'm not going to run around after a wild fox with a dixie cup), what is the sustainability of this solution? Ie how do I know impact of the product in its upstream manufacture? What is the impact on my property? Will that scare away my own cat as well as the squirrels? This seems like the logical choice but I'm a neophyte so wanted input
  • Pepper cocktail. Mix a spicy pepper mix that squirrels won't like the taste of

In both the preferred (in my case) answers, besides not knowing their efficacy, I'm resorting to using outside agents (albeit I could grow my own peppers for next year's squirrel cocktail) and am not sure if the net effect is not negative instead of positive (ie would I have been more sustainable to just buy organic tomatoes at the market)?

What is the best sustainable way to keep squirrels from eating our tomatoes?

  • 1
    I like the pepper idea. You'd get spicy tomatoes! – Móż Jul 22 '13 at 2:22
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I know this isn't the answer you're hoping for, but since you do mention it toward the bottom of your question, I think it's still on-topic; yes, you would (probably) be more sustainable to just buy organic tomatoes at the market.

Inefficiency of Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

This is a recurring theme I see a lot: people mistaking sustainability for DIY. The two are not the same.

One reason is kind of a corollary to an argument that's common in economics. The argument is that an economy works better when each of us specialize in what we're good at, and leave the other work for people with different talents. If you're really great at growing tomatoes, I suggest you take up tomato farming. If you're better at something else, do that for a living. In economics, you do have different priorities (vs. sustainability). However, they're not completely unrelated. Economic efficiency focuses on costs. Sustainability focuses on energy, pollution and finite resources. But energy and resources cost money, too.

The organic tomato farmer is also trying to run a successful business. They don't want to use more energy, water, organic fertilizer, or land than they need to. They'll try to minimize those things, and given their experience, will likely do a better job than you do. Economies of scale matter. It's hard to have economies of scale in a backyard garden. Do it if you love to garden, or want the freshest possible food. But, don't assume it's most sustainable. You should plant the kind of plants in your yard that are native to your area, or provide habitat for birds, insects or animals we do need more of.

Here's also a link about the relative importance of "food miles" in the energy equation, which I think tends to be overrated. For example, if transportation to market represents only 4% of greenhouse gas emissions for a certain food, are you sure your home farming won't be more than 4% less efficient than the professional farmer?

Misconceptions

There also appear to be a few assumptions in the question that I'd challenge.

  • Using a cat or dog would be sustainable (if not for allergies, or lazy cat syndrome). If a dog or cat is active enough to be any good at chasing squirrels (and probably only when they're young), then they'll need a high-energy diet. Such a pet, pound-for-pound, is going to consume much more food energy than a human. Food takes energy, land, water, and soil to grow. Pets can have a large negative environmental impact, even though they're "natural". Keeping one just to protect your tomatoes would be like buying a schoolbus to drive to the grocery store, but claiming it's sustainable because it's a hybrid.

  • Shooting squirrels would not be sustainable. I vehemently defend species under threat from human activity, but not all animals fall into this category. Mankind has generally chased away the squirrel's natural predators, so in many areas people live, squirrel populations have increased. Thus, killing squirrels isn't necessarily unsustainable (especially if you, or local birds, eat them). Yes, squirrels do help propagate trees, but where you live, there's a good chance that humans decide which trees get planted, and which are removed. If humans perform this function, we can probably tolerate a reduction in the number of squirrels doing so as well. For balance, I'll link to PETA's defense of squirrels.

  • Growing your own peppers would be better. This is really just about the specialization argument again, and how doing everything yourself isn't the point of sustainability, and usually isn't efficient. The relative sustainability gains you might achieve in growing your own peppers are likely small compared to the losses of growing crops that are eaten by overpopulated rodents. Worry about the tomato problem first.

If you really need a narrow answer to this question ...

You might need to provide more information. Why are tomato cages not practical for you? We may need to understand this is in order to give you another recommendation. Cages would have been my suggestion, and in general, I think the MNN article covers most good alternatives.

  • Also, killing the squirrels only really makes sense if you then eat them. Or have chickens that you can feed them to. Otherwise you're left with a lot of meat that you have to compost. – Móż Jul 22 '13 at 2:21
  • @Ӎσᶎ, I agree, although I think I addressed that in the post. I suppose I did leave open the possibility of letting the birds eat the carcasses. Depending on where you live, and what kinds of wildlife you have, you might or might not be helping out a species that we want to help feed. I did post an answer elsewhere (that got heavily panned) where I did say that if you're composting meat, something's wrong ... find a way to use it first. – Nate Jul 22 '13 at 2:28
  • A very interesting well thought out answer! Do you follow your own advice? :-) – Highly Irregular Jul 23 '13 at 1:13
  • @HighlyIrregular, yes, indeed. Although I like to garden, I plant mostly non-edible plants in my yard and buy mostly organic fruit and veg at the store. We do have some fruit trees, but they were there when we bought the house, and are mostly low-maintenance now. – Nate Jul 23 '13 at 1:18
  • This illustrates "outside of the box" ideas which are impressive. Personally, I'm only interested in gardening because I can control the fertility of the ground and I can plant the more healthy varieties of food. If not for that, I would let those who can grow more efficiently supply my food while I do something to more efficiently earn the money needed for food purchase. Now, how do I keep coons from climbing my fence and reaching through my cages to eat my tomatoes? :) – Randy Aug 4 '13 at 3:57
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Try placing mint around your tomato plants. Most rodents are not fond of mint and will actively avoid it. The strong smell of mint can also distract/dissuade other garden pests of the insect variety (not pollinators thankfully).

Whether to keep the mint potted or to inter-plant directly in the bed is up to you. Mint doesn't grow taller than about a foot so it shouldn't interfere with most tomato varieties once they're established but it does spread rapidly through runners.

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As far as predator urine is concerned, you can order from trapping supply houses (www.fntpost.com) Some would argue this is not sustainable, many would argue that is. With humanity removing so much of nature from North America, there is a need for the harvesting of wild animals to help ensure the populations are kept within healthy bounds. Many of the products sold for fur trapping are simply fur trappers using every part of the animal that is possible.

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