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A New Approach to Animal Thievery

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Instead of fighting Mother Nature, we should work with her -- or at least learn to get along with the critters that share our gardens.

A contented squirrel nibbles at the buffet .
A chattering squirrel stands his ground.

I hear Kevin Costner has a hit TV drama about the Hatfields and McCoys. If he needed any character inspiration, he could have hung out in my backyard watching me deal with squirrels and chipmunks. We've had quite the feud going on for 20 years now. It even crossed state lines!

The bad blood goes back to 1990s, when I was taking a plant propagation class at the State University of New York -- Finger Lakes. For two months, I nurtured hickory and oak seedlings in the college's greenhouse. At the end of the semester, I brought them home and left them on the deck for just one afternoon. That was all it took. When I got home, dozens of seedlings were strewn about the yard, all separated from their seeds and left to die with their roots exposed to the sun.

Here's one way to protect a chestnut.

Since then, I've worked on different ways of keeping seedlings safe, both in New York and Iowa. I tried animal repellents. Mixed results. Then I started wrapping nuts in chicken wire, before planting. This is effective but tedious - especially when dealing with hundreds of nuts.

Here's another way to protect germinating nuts.

 A cage wrapped in hardware cloth, was about the only viable solution.

This is a season's worth of nuts, kept safe in a covered can.

This year, I threw some olive branches in with the arrows in my quiver. I'm now making friends with the varmints by feeding them, hoping my friendly overtures will lead them to their better nature. (Or, that full bellies will make them just lazy enough to ignore the cages!)

The buffet is open.

I fill a small tray nailed to a silver maple tree with nuts every day. That's for the squirrels. Then I toss a handful of nuts into the woodpile, where the chipmunks hang out. They're so used to this regimen that they make repeated stops at the tray on weekends, when I'm often late setting out the feast.

This is the first year in memory that I haven't lost any seedlings to animal predation (a 10-cent phrase roughly translated as "Dagnabbit, they've been at my seedlings again!"). Sure, the cages help. But in the past, the varmints -- uh, I mean little darlings -- always found a way in through a seam. Now they have no reason to put their noses where they don't belong.

I'm happy. They're happy. And the burgeoning hardwood forest is happy, too.

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