Pests


You've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Ah ha ha ha ha! Who’s laughing now, eh? Eat my bulbs, would you? Dig up my seedlings? Crap in my flowerbeds? I don’t think so. Not any more, pal.

Ha ha! Success! After several nights of frustration and empty traps, victory! In the fight between a small, hairy, ugly mammal and a larger, dashingly handsome mammal there was only ever going to be one winner. And it’s not the one with buck teeth and a mangy tail.

That’s right, folks. My state-of-the-art squirrel trap has proved stunningly effective. There, bouncing round inside its metal cage this morning was a large vicious-looking squirrel. Lured inside by the popcorn bait, his greed overcame his natural suspicion and BANG! the trap snapped shut. The squirrel is mine!

So far, so good: evil rat-like fiend trapped. Job done.  But to be honest, I hadn’t really given the next stage much though. Namely, what do you do with the squirrel once caught?

As several correspondents have kindly pointed out, it turns out it is illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild – they’re a non-native species, so doing so is apparently akin to releasing lions or tigers in your local park. Although quite frankly I’ve never heard of a lion digging up daffodil bulbs.

In fact now that I have caught my squirrel I am legally obliged to kill it.

As I say, I hadn’t thought through this stage in great detail.

How do you kill a squirrel? Several options spring to mind. As Amy helpfully mentioned last week, Hugh Fearnley W. releases them into a sack, bashes the sack with a big stick and swiftly dispatches the vermin. Now I reckon I could get the squirrel into the sack without too much trouble, but I’m not so sure I could locate the right bit of the squirrel to hit as it scrabbled around inside the bag. Not sure it would be a humane way to go – more akin to a gangland beating that leaves you fatally wounded.

I saw another TV programme in which the caged squirrel was finished off with a bullet between the eyes. Unfortunately Mrs Drooling has for some reason banned firearms from the Drooling residence so this option, manly and exciting as it would be, is a non-starter.

Anyway, as I say, it is illegal to release the squirrel into the wild, so obviously I didn’t do that. And as I am law-abiding and was required to kill it, I did. I won’t bore you with the details. Instead I will speculate as to how one might dispose of a squirrel should they be too squeamish to kill it.

You might decide to set it free in a park some way away from your house. First you’d have to get it into the car. Now, your neighbours might think you a bit odd if they saw you carrying a metal box with a squirrel in it, so you’d probably put the cage into a bin liner.

You’d have to walk briskly to your car otherwise you might bump into a neighbour who strikes up a conversation. They might wonder why the bin liner you are holding is rattling and making strange noises. You would have to feign ignorance and pretend nothing unusual is happening.

Once in the car you would need to find a discreet spot in which to free the squirrel – you would not want witnesses to your crime, after all. You might end up driving quite a distance – say, 10.4 miles – before finding a suitable field.

On taking the cage out of the boot you might make the discovery that squirrels look quite nasty and can also growl when angry. Taking care to open the cage, it is possible that the squirrel may decide not to leave. Should this happen you may consider banging the cage against a tree until the squirrel finally releases its grip and runs off.

The squirrel may or may not pause, look over its shoulder and shoot you a murderous look before disappearing into the bushes.

As I say, I killed it, But if I hadn’t then the above is my guess as to what might have happened.

 

On the ipod while not commiting a crime: Macy Gray / I’ve committed murder. I have officer, honest.

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Come on in, the view's lovely! That's it, just a little further....

The vegetable grower faces many challenges. The weather can be inclement – too much rain can rot your crops, too much sun can dry them out; seeds can fail to germinate, and unseen germs and diseases can destroy them even if they do.

But the biggest trouble comes from pests. Snails, slugs, birds, aphids have all wreaked brutal – and frankly grossly unfair – havoc on my precious vegetables over the years.

This year, however, I have a new worst enemy. A rapacious and cunning foe, one that has wrought terrible damage on my newly-planted bulbs and stolen the seeds from the bird feeder. An ugly enemy, grey like a rainy morning, face like a rat and tail like a toilet brush.

I call this enemy “Squirrel”. Not your cute adorable little native red squirrel, but the muscle-bound bully from over the Atlantic that has so successfully colonised these shores. In retrospect it seemed like an unfair fight from the start. Imagine Arnold Schwartzenneger versus Ralph Fiennes.

Picture the scene: there’s handsome, waif-like Ralph sitting there under a tree, perhaps declaiming sonnets as he plucks his lute. The sunlight suddenly disappears. Ralph looks up, puzzled. Standing over him, blocking the early evening sunset, is a large and ufly Austrian-American.

“Hey, girly man. Vot are you doing? “

“Why fine sir, I am playing my lute. Would you care to join me?”

“Vot? Lutes are for pansies unt Englishmen. Now give me your food and leave zis land.”

“I say, that’s not fair! You can’t do that! Sir, I challenge you to a bout of fisticuffs!”

Even a Hollywood scriptwriter would struggle to find a happy ending from such a position. You can see how the red squirrel didn’t stand much of a chance.

Until now, that is. You see, I found a wonderful little contraption on the intranet. A humane squirrel trap. A small metal cage, it has a spring-loaded door that snaps shut when there is pressure on the panel at the other end of the cage.

No more will those evil hairballs dig up and munch their way through my herbaceous border! Today we begin the fightback!

I baited the trap – apparently popcorn and peanut butter are ideal – in the evening, left it on the patio and went to bed a happy man. I slept the sleep of the righteous and awoke refreshed.

Like a child at Christmas looking for snow, I flung back the curtains to gaze upon the patio!

Nothing. An empty cage. Hmm. That evening I set the trap again. The next day, nothing. And this time the bait had been eaten. Truly a worthy adversary.

I moved the trap further down the garden. Perhaps they were shy? Again, I went to sleep confident that the morning would reveal a prize catch. The next morning I jumped up and looked down the garden.

The trap was partly hidden behind the tree. It looked empty. I sighed. But wait! Did I see something move inside the cage?

On the ipod while waiting: Buffalo Springfield / For what it’s worth. Stop children, what’s that sound?

Snails: know your enemy

45, 46, 47…..48. Not bad for a night’s haul. Just returned from a moonlit sortie in the garden, protecting my poor helpless vegetables from the slimy bogeymen that would otherwise have them for dinner.

Slugs and snails are the biggest problem I have outdoors. Don’t be fooled by the pretty patterns on his shell or the twinkle in his eye, this little bugger and all his ilk are nothing but trouble.

Ever since I started veggie gardening slugs and snails have caused havoc, munching their way through tender seedlings and generally destroying everything. Not only that, but for the committed organic gardener the options for tackling them are pretty poor.

I’ve tried most things, all with minimal success. Beer traps? Messy and not too practical when you’ve got three small boys thundering round the garden. Eggshells? Pointless. Copper tape? Haven’t noticed any effect. Everyone seems to rave about nematodes, little microbes that attack slugs from the inside. Apparently they are staggeringly effective, but unfortunately I’m just too lazy and disorganised to apply them in just the right quantities at just the right times.

My raised beds have made a bit of a difference – perhaps the local slugs are just too lazy to crawl up and have a look at what’s growing. I surrounded them with woodchip, on the basis that it would be unpleasant to slither over. Thought it was working nicely until I found a whole family of slugs sleeping soundly just under the surface.

So that leaves the only thing that works: hunting them down with a torch at night. Catch them unawares, chase them down and…ahem…dispose of them. I won’t go into the details – hey, you might be eating – but trust me, it’s quick and painless.  It’s a bit gross sometimes, I admit, but it gets easier when you realise it’s them or you. Well, your salad leaves.

Damp nights are best, and if you pop out for a few nights in a row then you’ll soon notice the number of slugs and snails decreasing. Victory shall be ours!

Of course, it can get a bit messy, and it’s not for the squeamish. I was returning from a mission at the bottom of the garden last night when I heard a squishy crunch underfoot. Mixed feelings about that, I must confess: on the one hand I could consider another foe vanquished. On the other hand I was barefoot at the time.

On the ipod while cleaning between my toes: Squeeze / Pulling mussels from the shell. Sounds a bit hardcore but it might just work.