Growing food in San Francisco is not without challenges. A lot of them: Hardpack Clay soil, snails (Some Frenchman, so goes the story, imported them with an eye to escargot, but he got the wrong kind..thanks a lot, Pierre.), fog (and the resulting early blight every year) long but cold growing seasons, which usually don’t produce enough heat, until there isn’t enough sunlight, fog, mildew, high water prices, Tomatoes are heartbreaking, reaching near perfection then turning brown and wrinkly overnight. This year there are no bees, which means no tomatoes.
I’ve had a garden on this continent or that for 30 odd years. I hated it when it was a necessity. My current plot and I are in love hate relationship. I probably keep doing it because I can’t afford to pave the damn thing over (2.5K ft 2), and it’s already extracted Lord knows how many thousands of dollars and uncountable hours from me, so why stop now?
There are benefits to digging around in mud for food. Shopping in the back yard, even if the back forty is 4 stories down, is pretty neat. Alpine strawberries grow phenomenally well here, as do raspberries. A twenty foot lemon tree and wild mandarin oranges have a certain enchantment. Italians I know say the lemons are Sorrento. The University of California citrus center says there is no such thing as Sorrento lemons. Perhaps the University of California should have a chat with the Italians. Thrilling humming birds now and then alight on my hand when I water or dash back and forth in the spray, nattering constantly, absolutely unimpressed by our size differential of a ratio between me to it of something like five zillion to one.
I have cherries, blueberries and apricots, or at least I would, if it weren’t for the benighted squirrel. I share a lot of my potential crop with the squirrel, who affords me even less respect than the humming birds. Actually, it’s not really sharing. He takes what he wants and occasionally misses something, which is then my share.
He doesn’t stop at the garden. I’ve learned to close the screen door between the deck and the dining room. Having once discovered and destroyed a fruit bowl on the table, he tries to get in again, so he can scatter pieces of skin and flesh all over, and I can spend an hour scraping the bits off the hardwood floor. My presence doesn’t seem to bother him a lot. I can stand at the other side of the door saying, “Go away. You will be stew,, and he still tries. It’s insulting.
The squirrel prefers fruit. So do I, which is why I (try to) grow a lot of it. The more I desire something, the better the squirrel likes it, but not all of it. My garden is his tasting menu. He plucks each strawberry from the hanging basket on the deck, takes a nibble, then drops it and tries the next, until the deck is littered with slightly gnawed berries. Like your horrible roommate in college, who took a bite out of every piece of See’s candy until she found the one she wanted.
Squirrel does fascinating things with lemons. He never touches the fruit, just the beautiful thick rind, which he delicately removes, leaving the fruit perfectly exposed without a speck of white and not a cut in the flesh. A naked lemon. The lemons have a reprieve in summer, when there’s more to be had, but on a bad productive (destructive?) winter day there may be five or six precisely skinned lemons on the ground. If he isn’t inclined to do the whole thing, he’ll just gnaw off a square inch or less of the peel and leave the rest to rot and drop off the tree.
When the cherries ripen he takes them, too, one by one, tastes then drops them. All of them. This year he left me one. It’s a fifteen foot tree. He has a little more trouble with the raspberries, and, praise be, he either doesn’t like or hasn’t found the alpine strawberries. Possibly he thinks they are too small, so I can have them. Alms.
If you are a PETA member or duped into saying “Awwww”, when you see one of the little Rodents in Disney cute disguise, stop reading now. This is an anti-non-human-animal post. Squirrel has made me the Elmer Fudd to his Bugs Bunny. “Get da squirrel, get da squirrel, get da squirrellllll!”
The Brits have pronounced grey squirrel the ultimate ethical food, since they are displacing the red squirrels over there. I can’t see it. Aside from the fact that they are louse ridden bleeping rodents, they were dropped from Marion Cunningham’s update of the Joy of cooking out of concern they might contain prions and thus cause mad cow disease, or mad squirrel disease.
I tried bait. I tried putting lit little gas bombs down something that looks like the beginning of a warren. Since two squirrels still run along the phone wires, it didn’t work.
Natural predators are useless. The hawk that settles on the neighbor’s towering Monterey pine, a potential solution, couldn’t care less. “Go, Hawk, get the bleeping critter.” Hawk yawns, takes a turn and resettles on his tree top. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Hawk catch anything.
On Saturday the critter committed strawberry mayhem, littering the deck with perhaps a dozen nibbled fruit. Too much being enough, I grabbed my keys and took off for Pappenhausen Hardware, where they have just about everything and people you can talk to.
“I’ve got a squirrel”, I said to the kid whose college fund I actively support. “What do you want?” he asked. “Got any bb guns or squirrel guns?” I asked. He missed a beat. “You’re kidding.” I wasn’t. Hardware stores used to carry air rifles.
“What about a trap,” he brightened. So did I. This is better. There are traps for squirrels. I put down my plastic for a Havahart (get it. “Have a Heart”?) trap which cost $32 including California’s recently imperceptibly reduced sales tax. If he’d told me they cost a couple of hundred, I probably would not have balked. For one thing, I’m squeamish, so not dealing with anything dead or killing it myself is a definite plus. For another, the Havahart squirrel trap is absolutely guaranteed to work.
The food goes on a platform attached to a spring door. When the rodent takes the food, the trip wire supposedly slips from it’s holding place, allowing the spring loaded door to snap shut, and the rodent is ready for transportation to a distant location (illegal, but who’s asking?) or skinning for Peking squirrel pancakes. I’d chose relocation to the Presidio. Or maybe Canada. Someplace far away.
The trap is a huge success. The squirrel loves it. He keeps coming back for more. The biggest hit was a Saturn peach. He ate all of the little trail of Cheerio’s I laid out to get him into the trap, except for two runts (discriminating), but he doesn’t like watermelon. Apricots seem to be OK, but not on the top of his list. I’m trying cherries tomorrow, and I understand they like almond butter. Rainbow grocery carries that.
Consumer support with a deep southern accent tells me to hide the food in a tube. If he works for it, he will put more weight on the trip door and set the trigger off. Shows what she knows, and she’s in squirrel country. Why should he work? He lives on the top of the Big Rock Candy Mountain. If I make it hard, he’s just go back to decimating my crop. Guaranteed, my eye. I bought a squirrel restaurant, and now I am feeding him just like the crazy little old lady who used to live next door, but a lot better.
For the moment there’s a truce. If he gets something he likes a lot, like $5/lb Saturn peaches, he ignores the strawberries. Where can I buy an air gun?