Squirrel damage to Brussels sprouts

by Pippa Greenwood

I've had a great few years growing an extraordinary range of vegetable crops for my series 'Veg With Pippa' in Gardeners' World Magazine.

SquirrelI've had a great few years growing an extraordinary range of vegetable crops for my series 'Veg With Pippa' in Gardeners' World Magazine.

The results of my vegetable trials have often been fascinating, and on more than one occasion I've been converted to liking vegetables I'd previously dismissed. For example, I now love beetroot and have discovered I like many oriental salad leaf varieties, few of which I had grown until trialling them.

But there are some crops I still struggle to enjoy. Top of my list is Brussels sprouts. I don't normally grow them because no-one really eats them in our house. But I grew a few varieties of them last year to test in the magazine.

I nearly didn't get a crop of them at all; the trial was almost annihilated by squirrels. I went to great lengths to build a butterfly-proof shelter around them to prevent attack from the caterpillars of cabbage white butterfly. Fortunately, this was a great success. But towards the end of the season the squirrels moved in. They munched their way through the green netting to get to the sprouts. Squirrel numbers seem to have risen greatly here in the last year, and I'm starting have rather un-vegetarian thoughts about them, despite their cute faces and fluffy tails.

Interestingly they ate every single one of the purple and red varieties I had grown, but were less keen on the more traditional, green varieties. Maybe I should have included their preferences in my analysis of the trial.

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Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2008 at 09:18

Good Morning All,having dug over the back garden to make three separate beds for the first time, I am now enjoying the first results.But I have noticed a lot of the small black ants climbing all over the broad beans, my question is will the ants damage the flowers ,or are the ants looking for insect type food.regards chris

Gardeners' World Web User 03/06/2008 at 11:03

Hi Chris, this is perfectly normal. On closer inspection, you'll find that the tips of your broad bean plants are covered with blackfly. Blackfly is a type of aphid, and sucks the sap from the plants, but is relatively harmless in small numbers. In fact, they are beneficial to the garden, as they attract ladybirds and lacewings, who feed off them and help maintain the delicate balance of pest and predator in the garden.

Anyway, back to the ants. Blackfly secrete a sugary substance, called honeydew, which the ants love. The ants 'farm' the blackfly, and push them to the tips of the plant (where growth is newest and lushest, which leads to the production of the sweetest honeydew). Then they drink it.

I wouldn't worry too much, unless you see loads of them on the tips of the plants. But, to reduce blackfly numbers you can pinch the tips out (just nip the tops off the plants), but it's important to leave a few blackfly there to attract ladybirds and lacewings.Good luck, Kate

Gardeners' World Web User 11/07/2008 at 16:57

I was surprised to find two squirrels under the strawberry netting last week. I thought I had to protect the fruit from birds not squirrels!

Gardeners' World Web User 31/07/2008 at 17:52

please can you help me save my sprouts they are being attacked from everything and the little sprout buds don't look the best, this is my first year growing veg and the courgettes,beetroot,celery and carrots all look and taste fantastic. now i am also worried about my spuds getting blight fingers crossed they will be ok, i cant remember what spud i planted the tubers are red, any ideas, thanks

Gardeners' World Web User 03/11/2008 at 17:55

We've lost the fruit from 17 of of the 18 trees in our orchard this year - all to squirrels. Apples, pears, cherries and plums were all taken well before they were ripe. I took a couple of pounds of unripe Victoria plums before going on holiday in mid August as a token harvest. We did try netting the cherries which were the first target. It was partially successful when we didn't pull the nets taught and confronted the squirrels with slack material which was more difficult to gnaw. But the trees were too big to net and easily damaged putting nets on and off. Elesewhere in the garden, the squirrels had half our strawberries (from 42 plants), tucked into the raspberries and have gnawed through branches more than and inch thick from which we'd hung nut cages for the birds. One managed to set up home in our loft for a fwe weeks before I forced it out. Eventually there was nothing for it but to take up arms. I dispatched around six squirrels through a combination of cage traps and air rifle last summer - though too late to save our fruit. The traps I baited with the fat balls that we'd hung out for the birds but which proved irresistible to squirrels. I did it first thing in the morning and retrieve your quarry in the evening (if you do it overnight your more likely to catch a hedgehog). We already have one or two of the pests back in the garden - with several large oaks and a couple of hundred yards of largely hazel hedge they're always going to be drawn here. But I've returned the gun to its owner while I await to get my own. I've reached the conclusion that the only way of keeping them at bay is going to be by shooting them throughout the year - especially in winter when it's harder for them to hide in leafless trees. It'll become a routine chore, like seizing the opportunity to cut the grass on a dry day. And I'm online at the moment researching materials for a fruit cage which I'll convert part of the veg plot too as an insurance policy if the orchard is undefendable. I'll keep you posted.

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