Tree 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.
After 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.
Next, 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