Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Drown Squirrels, But Its Okay Because I Use a Rain Barrel To Do It

This Highlighted Archive article from the New York Times Home & Garden Section, "Peter Rabbit Must Die," left me feeling shamed, ashamed of my people -the humans. The article seems to thrill in the confessional talk of killing yard animals -the squirrel, the raccoon, the woodchuck, even birds that chomp the carrots or mow down the tomatoes.

With rhythmic sensibility, the author mentions that killing wild animals may be illegal (as if that seems to matter) or that the reader should indulge in a book by John Hadidian on coexistence with wildlife. But in an article subtitled "Humane Ways to Deal with a Pest Problem", it was the description of the drowning of squirrels in a rain barrel that put me on edge:

"They did, however, as conscientious environmentalists, have a large rain barrel on the roof, which they used to water the garden. Who first came up with the idea of drowning, Ms. Lennig cannot recall, but it was her husband who handled the first executions. The trap, which was long and narrow, fit perfectly in the barrel.

Ms. Lennig has yet to be able to deal with the removal of the corpse, which is then thrown into the garbage. But she and her husband are now so comfortable with this form of pest control that when they visited Ms. Lennig’s in-laws at their lakefront property last year, where squirrels were climbing on the deck and ravaging the planters, they offered to drown them.

“My husband and I said, ‘We’ll take them to the lake,’ ” she says, “but our in-laws were having none of that. We had to get in the car and drive them five miles away. I spent the entire weekend like a soccer mom, driving squirrels around.

Isn’t drowning cruel?

No, Ms. Lennig says. She recalls reading that you lose consciousness and then your heart stops; it’s actually one of the nicer ways to go."

Drowning of squirrels? If a young man did this, people would call the police because it suggests his future as a serial killer -heartless, unable to empathize, no conscience. You know what I am saying here, but somehow in the name of the garden -that's fair, good reason, drown the squirrel. By the way, I once saw a squirrel swim across a lake -not kidding, they can swim.

I have experienced the ravages of squirrels on roses (eats every bud) and tomatoes (one bite, no thank you -next), I've seen the damage of deer and woodchucks. I don't belong to PETA or even the Humane Society, but as a gardener -the kind that I am, suggests that we are not using our brains or hearts if we submit ourselves to drowning of animals that are simply enjoying the things we set out for them. They do not distinguish between nature and culture -that's our pathology!

I live in the City of New York. I got feral cats, rats, birds, and squirrels. I am smarter than them -yes its true. But they have time on their paws. It is my job to outsmart their tenaciousness. Killing is not outsmarting them, its the tantrum of a child, undeveloped. Outsmarting them, that's fun, full of boastful pride.

I am growing vegetables. For the sake of aesthetics I should not build a cage around my vegetables? Build a cage around your vegetables! Put the wire mesh in the ground and all around so that the animals cannot reach your prized tomatoes.

In creating the garden we realize our connectedness to the animals of the world because we see how strongly attracted to that ideal environment we and many animals are. It is a garden for all of us, but only we have the intelligence to build it and protect it. I do not believe that aesthetics, irritations, or petty fears should trump life.


  1. Yeah, that's pretty weird. Least they could do is turn em into pie.

    Listening to my brother tell recently of how he and a friend picked off "40" squirrels in a walnut tree with a .22, bottom branches to top, was not an uplifting or bonding experince.

  2. Reminds me of when I lived in Brooklyn and my super thought the most humane way to kill mice was dropping a heavy can on them once they were stuck to a glue trap. That couple sounds so callous about the drownings. Bad karma, I think.

    I have a fence, but the deer jump over it. I'm determined to outsmart them somehow this year.

  3. Its crazy. Its not that I don't understand the anger. But the lady who shoots garter snakes just cause she's afraid of them.

    Farmers and ranchers methods for farmers & ranchers. Home gardeners shooting snakes, drowning squirrels?

    That dear fence has to be real tall! Its harder though when you are protecting a whole yard as opposed to a vegetable garden.

    I am not against a hunter in hunting season culling dear -especially in the tri-state area.

  4. Sorry, I said "dear" SO DEAR, aren't they.

  5. I read that article a while back and sent it to my friend in Jersey. Reading the article made me feel not alone in my current squirrel problems. The same squirrel has been harrassing my window box and fire escape garden for over two years now. I have tried everything: cayenne pepper, dried blood, garlic, throwing rotten vegetable at it, everything. One thing did sort of work for a while and that was feeding it so that it would leave everything else alone. But apart from that getting pricey (they are unusually picky), it eventually decided that I was not giving it enough to eat and started messing with my plants again. I would have poisoned it if not for the stray cats that live nearby.

    I know poisoning sounds harsh, but there are a glut of these squirrels here. I know in England they have started shooting the American squirrels because of how aggressive and invasive they are.

    Unfortunately for my husband and I the squirrel is now living in the ceiling of our apartment building. I have no idea how the damn critter got in there. One of my cats spends hours just staring at whatever part of apartment it is scratching at. And it is really kind of freaky to listen to on my part.

  6. I watched the amazingly acrobatic squirrel family get in and out of my neighbors roof. They found a way in through the rotted cornice. Squirrels have strong teeth and jaws, like other rodents (mice, rats) they can gnaw through wood. Our cats stare at the ceiling too, but it is the mice that seem to live there that they are crackling at.

    I put black plastic mesh over my planters so that the squirrels don't dig. I learned that early. I would drape finer mesh over my tomato plants if they ever became a problem. My point is that my aesthetical view of "nature" shouldn't trump actual nature doing its thing. Unfortunately, we've deminished the predators of squirrels to the point they have multiplied in some areas quite handily. Our homes have become quite a substitute for their lost forest, and they do rout the garbage too.

    Good luck with your garden and its beasts. Remember, if you take out one, you'll need to take them all out.

  7. It's funny, but there is a new red tailed hawk in the park near my apartment and I keep praying that it will come and take the squirrel away for me. The thing that amazes me most is that this squirrel has no fear at all. I usually end up in a stand off with this little rodent!

    I did forget to mention that we added steel wool to the top layer of soil for all plants that go outside, so digging is no longer a problem. The problem has really been things like the squirrel taking a bite off each tomato, picking habeneros and then dropping them to the lower fire escape (you would think she/he would realize they taste bad to squirrels by now) or best yet ripping off any new buds that start to grow on my dwarf fruiting trees (which has resulted in my fig tree having only three leaves the entire summer).

    I must say though that I was pretty horrified by the lady that was shooting the snakes. My mother in law grew up on a dairy farm on a little island between Sweden and Finland and she fears snakes. She fears them because all the ones where she is from seem to be poisonous. I am constantly told to watch out for them when I am there and generally just walk around in almost knee length wellies (there is also the desire to keep cow patties off my regular shoes). The funny thing is hat her family rarely ever feels the need to kill any of them. Her brother whose son now runs the farm loves to kill animals (he flew all the way to Alaska to shoot a bear) and he pretty much leaves the snakes alone. My mother also fears snakes (she is from Trinidad where a lot of snakes are poisonous). Unlike the woman with the gun, if she sees one in the garden she would generally just get one of the family members in the house to go and check if it is a posionous one and if it is not just have them move it for her. I constantly did that for her (she also fears frogs, rodents and lizards) and she has never asked any of us to kill anything.

  8. Good for her I say! I also feared for the woman's own safety as she is shooting a shotgun at close range toward the ground!

    Squirrels can be awfully territorial. I don't know if you are familiar with the red squirrel? Are you in NYC? Probably a gray squirrel. But anyway, the reds are the worst, but you can tell how territorial a squirrel is by the way they chase each other around (scientifically baseless, but seems that way to me).

    Doesn't your steel wool rust out? I know its ugly, but I would get a fine (1 cm square) netting and tie it over your plants to keep the buggers out of what attracts them.

    Fear is a scary animal all its own

  9. That is Good for your moms, I say!

  10. Interesting. In Chicago we have a tons of squirrels but I don't have a squirrel problem in my garden. One year one did decide to leave tooth marks on all my cacti& succulents though and I probably would have drowned it if I had caught it out of sheer anger.

  11. I don't have issues yet with squirrels in my small vegetable patch, despite the fact that they hang out in the two Yews that live there. But I know other friends have had much trouble -I wonder if it relates at all to their lack of fruiting trees (acorns, etc) in their neighborhood.

  12. I am in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which seems to be teeming with those little monsters. They are indeed extremely territorial. So on the upside, the likelihood of several squirrels ravaging my tiny garden is slim to none.

    I would use netting if not for the fact that I want everything to get pollinated and I am sure that the squirrel would just figure some way to rip through it (they are considered very smart also) and besides I think that would be pretty awkward on a fire escape.

    The really annoying thing for me though is the fact that there are three carriage houses behind me with these illustrious little gardens and I barely ever see the squirrel over there. The little imp totally shows no interests in any of their plants and pops over to mine three times a day and much more in the summer.

  13. Its safer up high, thats their habitat after all. You would need to get 1/2 or 3/4 inch netting that the bees will get through, and wrap the fruiting plant all around, and cinch tightly on the bottom pot or planter. That should keep them at bay. The plastic netting is pretty tough, like fishing line. I think Peaceful Valley sells some.

  14. Any knowledge about what pigeons don't like to eat? Window box pansies were eaten to the ground by pigeons. Thrae Harris (mid-town Manhatten)

  15. Sun or shade?

    Pansies are a delicacy, no doubt, but did the pigeons just trounce them for having been walking on your window box all day?

  16. I live and garden in Bklyn and fully intend to continue drowning all the squirrels that continue to dig up my plants, break into my attic, breed like fruit flies in an abandoned house up the street from me, and generally cause havoc like the aggressive pests that they are.
    I've been searching the web for an hour for a simple yes or no answer to my question IS THIS ILLEGAL OR NOT?
    And all I can find is this sentimental bullshit about how cute they are, how cruel we humans are, etc. etc. You people have obviously never had to fend for yourselves! This is SO ANNOYING!!!!!

    1. Oh my, the little boogers really got you, didn't they. FWIW, I had to trap cute chipmunks under my house, the hunter takes deer and turkeys, death is all around. You actually have an abandoned place in BKLYN? Sounds like a steal -rehab and lose the breeding squirrels. I recommend steel soffits and trim and by all means keep the woodwork solid. It's all money, and so continues the pathological situation we find ourselves in between life and our civilization.


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...