The Advanced Tree Rat Defense System

the-advanced-tree-rat-defense-systemTree rats. Otherwise known as squirrels. When I began gardening ten years ago, those little monsters, while cute, became the bane of my existence. Let me explain why. I was attempting to grow some corn for my family because we all love corn on the cob. I don’t have a lot of space, so every ear of corn was precious. Each year, just as the corn was just about ready for harvest, the squirrel mafia would not only eat my corn, but leave the desiccated corn corpses on my garden floor. After the second time, I just stood there with tears in my eyes. I was heartbroken. My husband came out into the backyard to see what I was staring at, and when he saw that single tear of frustration roll down my cheek, he said, “Those tree rats have had their last meal from this garden!” And the Advanced Tree Rat Defense System was born. That was 8 years ago.

I have a small backyard, so I really need the food that I grow for my family to be eaten by my family, and not become a garden cafe for the rabbits and squirrels. Keeping all of this in mind, my husband used his creative mind to come up with a design for a garden cage. It is 30 feet long, 10 feet deep, and 7 feet tall, with a door wide enough to get wheel barrows and a tiller into the cage with ease. This gives me a total of 300 squirrel-and-rabbit-free square feet in which to grow my food. The entire cage is enclosed in chicken wire that is large enough for bees to get in and pollinate my crops, but small enough to keep the critters out. We also buried the chicken wire about two inches below the soil to keep critters from burrowing into the garden. But I am getting ahead of myself, so let me back track.

frame-for-cageAfter my husband came up with the design, he wrote out a list of everything we would need to build the cage: 10 foot long 4×4 pressure treated posts for cage frame and roof; pressure treated 2×4 planks for door and midsections; concrete paver stones to go on the ground under the door; heavy duty gauge hinges and gate handles for the door; gate hooks for the door; a lot of steel angle brackets to make the frame secure; several boxes of outdoor, coated, #8 wood screws; 4×4 post ground EZ spikes to drive into the ground and hold the 4×4 stakes (this is an easier option than digging holes and pouring cement); several rolls of poultry fencing; a large pack of nylon cable ties (to close chicken wire on the cage); and a package of garden U stakes to secure the netting into ground.

The tools we used were: a pneumatic stapler (to secure chicken wire to wood); air compressor for stapler; chop/miter saw; maul hammer; rubber mallet; ratchet set for ground spike hardware; snips (to cut zip ties); power drill; pick ax; shovels; angle grinder; measuring tape; pencils; work gloves and safety goggles; measuring tape; and extension cords.

We began by marking out the space around the garden where the stakes would go into the ground. We measured out even spaces and then carefully placed and level the stakes. The 4×4 posts were then put into the stakes and it was already beginning to look like a cage. Then the 2x4s were secured to the 4x4s to complete the walls. The 4×4 posts were then attached to the top to make a roof. We originally had 2x4s for the roof of the cage, but Snowmageddon collapsed the roof, so we took those out and attached 4×4 posts in their place.

assembling-the-cageNext, the steel angle brackets were attached at all corners where wood came together to make the cage and roof extremely secure. Then we built and hung the door. The next step was to wrap the entire cage in chicken wire (just like you would wrap a box in wrapping paper), secure the chicken wire to the wood with staples, secure all the openings with zip-ties, and bury the chicken wire 2 inches in the ground at the base. This was the most time consuming part. Chicken wire is a bit difficult to work with.

That was basically it. It sounds fairly simple, right? Don’t get me wrong, it is a lot of work. We did not have much help, and it took us 3 weekends to build. But if you have enough people to help you it could really be a one or two weekend project. In fact, we built a smaller version of this cage for my mother-in-law this past Memorial Day in 2015 and we did it in two days.

My garden cage and I have been happily gardening together for 8 years now and I love it! Whenever I post pictures of it, people always give me such wonderful compliments about it. I call it my office, because during the spring and summer months that is pretty much where you can find me most of the time.

Oh… and I haven’t had a problem with those darn tree rats since! I love to watch them crawl up the chicken wire to the top of the cage just looking for a way in, but there is no way in (insert evil laugh here). My family has enjoyed many, many harvests of tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupes, peppers, beans, potatoes, strawberries, onions, lettuce, blackberries, and sugar snap peas!

So here’s to growing a lot in tiny spaces, garden gals and guys!


Thanks to Audra T. Russell for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest. We have over $1,500 in prizes lined up for the current writing contest, with more to come. Here is a list of the current pot of prizes:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $380 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $279 value
– 1 year of free membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $240 value
– A copy of The Summer of Survival Complete Collection from Life Changes Be Ready, a $127 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $60 each
– The complete 2014 Grow Your Own Food Summit interview series, a $47 value
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $42 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $40 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $32 each

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  • Bob D

    Hmm great idea, but I would use hog rings in place of the zip ties, due to the fact the zip ties won’t last but a couple years. J-clips or hog rings will last many years. My cages are 13 years old now – any ideas on keeping rabbits out of a 50×50 area? Little too big for the cage idea. I’ve lost two hundred sweet potato plants this week already.

    • Philippe

      I’m not sure about rabbits but blood meal works for deer and should work for rabbits. If not you can sometimes get large cat excrement from the zoo for nothing, especially if you volunteer to help collect it or bucket it off. Nasty stuff but cheap, and it works fantastic when spread around any area you do not want herbivores around your garden.

  • CaptTurbo

    Seems like it would have been cheaper to eat the squirrels.

  • Kevin

    Don’t know about cheaper, but my $230 Ruger 10/22 took care of all the tree rats in my yard, and gave my pigs a good protein snack.

  • Donna

    I have the exact same cage except, due to the fact I also have burrowing ground squirrels and gophers I have a concrete floor with 5 gal buckets planted…..if there is a will there is a way. My melons etc. don’t sit in dirt, I guess that is a good thing.

  • Jane S

    So glad to see someone outsmart the little devils! I had just about given up the idea of planting anything, since my neighbor feeds the squirrels and they think I do too! Now I have an option. Thanks.

  • Very nice job – the only thing I would do different is not bury the chicken wire. It rots too quick and when you try to re-dig it, it’s a zillion sharp little pieces of wire. Good job, though.

  • Tiffer

    Great job! I chuckled at the comments about eating the squirrels since we just purchased a hand held crossbow because of the rabbits that can climb into our 2ft high raised bed outside of the backyard fence. We will still do the cage, but also will enjoy some rabbit stew. 🙂

  • Karen

    Tree rats can be caught and eaten by securing a rat trap to every tree in your yard.

    • Mike

      Still does not eliminate them all. We are close to eliminating 60 of them in the last 2-3 hrs and still lose peaches from our tree. Fencing, though expensive seems to be the best alternative in a suburban smaller garden area. We even hung the hide on the fence and they just walked right over it. There is no known repellent I can find that will work. We use a BB gun and traps in addition to fencing.

  • Kit Watson

    This is a great article the time spent has obviously given you joy and that is what a garden should do, Give joy oh and food but mostly Joy. I hope you built the Mother in laws cage sturdier those Mother in law tongues can be pretty sharp and she might escape. lol

  • I managed to keep the squirrels out with another very cheap method. I lived in a house with 3 others, and we wanted to grow fresh corn. We got the go ahead from the landlord, but our corn kept getting raided by the squirrels. I figured out that since predators marked their territory, why not frighten the squirrels. It had to be something that persisted and would not just disappear. One of our house residents raised ferrets, a predator. We placed their droppings at every corner of our garden and about every 5 ft along the edges. No more squirrels. Since the deterrent would lose its smell value over time, I figured out that twice a week, Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening did the trick. Cats and dogs are predators, so raiding the litter box and using your pooper scooper works, too.

  • Leslie Parsons

    Treated lumber should not be used in or near a food plot.

  • Mom Davis

    I was hoping something simple see we have the tree rats eating all the wood around our brick house. This means they are screwing up all wood frames for windows and doors. And lets not forget the front porch wooden posts. Nothing has worked to keep them at bay not even wrapping it in steel sheeting – they tore it off to get to the wood we had replaced. I always thought they were cute but they are not and I am at wit’s end. Sorry my husband laughed and he won’t let me enclose our whole house in a cage.

  • Philippe

    Nice article. Very well written and very informative. It is great the authors took the time to list the materials and tools. Apart from squirrels, the chicken wire will prevent most bird predation. I would personally want hummingbirds around the garden but you cannot always get what you want.

  • d. henry Lee

    I grow enough tomatoes that the squirrels can have their share. I don’t bother the squirrels because I have three black walnut trees and each fall they drop tons of walnuts on the ground. I used to pick them up but nobody wants them so now by spring the squirrels have cleared them out. A little mutual cooperation. Raccoons are the biggest problem with my corn. Great looking cage but what a lot of work. Cudos to you for doing this.

  • Exile them there varmints!!! Possums, skunks, rats… Dogs and cats take care of these problems. Also, if you put up a fence, dig a hole outward of your fence a foot or so and lay down your chicken wire (which is attached to your fence) and cover it with dirt. That way if the varmints try to dig under your fence they will run into the chicken wire!

    Lewis Brackett

  • You said “”In fact, we built a smaller version of this cage for my mother-in-law “”
    Is that any way to treat your mother in law??? 🙂
    Anyway, very nice… I think that a small dog would have worked too…

  • Lynne

    I love this. Unfortunately I garden in various raised beds due to my back yard having a bit of a hill so this won’t work very easily for me. I did make chicken wire covers for my raised beds so that things get a chance to get established before the tree rats destroy them. Of course, I haven’t seen as many since the neighbor got a pit bull… haha.

  • Susan

    Hi there. I grew up in Southern California with orange trees in all the back yards. You should know that tree rats are exactly that: big rats that live in trees and eat oranges. They aren’t cute like squirrels. They walked along the telephone and electrical wires in our back yard to get from one tree to the next. I’d take your squirrels any day over real tree rats!

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