Yep. Squirrels eat apples. More specifically, they rip them off your tree, roll them around for a while, scratch them up a bit, take a half hearted bite and then scamper off to dig up your geraniums. Here's how to stop that.
Let's get the whole "but squirrels need to eat too" thing out of the way shall we? I know there are those of us in this society that view squirrels as cute, furry, leaping, running creatures of Mother Earth.
I'm even one of those people. But they still need to stay away from my apples.
Since I planted apple espaliers I've been searching for a way to save at least some of the apples for myself.
Because every year the squirrels get 90% of my apples.
Some years I think the only way I'm going to be able to eat one of my apples is to eat one of the squirrels.
In the past to keep squirrels from getting my apples I've tried:
- Placing the apples in plastic sandwich bags.
- Wrapping the entire trees in bird netting.
- Putting net apple bags over each apple.
- Buying my apples at the store.
Each of these techniques worked a little bit.
- The sandwich bag technique helped, but by the end of the season the squirrels still managed to get over half of my apples.
- Wrapping the entire tree in bird netting was a bit of a deterrent but the squirrels eventually found a way in and got the apples.
- Putting each apple in a net bag with a ribbon drawstring close? Well the squirrels just saw these as gift wrapped apples.
Then last year I had an epiphany. I covered the apples in some small plastic cloches that I use in my garden.
AND IT WORKED.
It looked ridiculous. But it worked. Like that time you had to wear a garbage bag as a raincoat.
THIS time around I got 90% of the apples, and the squirrels only got 10%.
How to protect apples from squirrels
This is what I did last year and it worked GREAT. I did lose a few apples but I saved the majority of them from being ripped off the tree by squirrels.
- Slice a plastic cloche up the side and wrap the entire thing around a single apple or a cluster of them.
- Staple the cloche closed again at the sides.
- Now just leave it there.
I didn't think to do this until the apples were already fairly large and it worked perfectly. The cloches are cheap cloches from Dollarama that I've used for years outside in my garden. They were starting to dry out and crack, nearing the end of their life, so this was a great way to get another year of use out of them.
There are a couple of reasons this hysterically simple solution works:
- It prevents the squirrels tiny little weird squirrel hands from being able to reach up to where the apple stem is. If they can't get at the stem, they can't pull the apple away from the tree.
- Because the cloches are clear the apples still get plenty of sun to turn colour in the fall.
This year I thought I'd improve my technique and ordered a case of deli containers to place over each apple.
Because it's my first year doing this I can't guarantee it'll work for you the way I can with the above method.
Now that I've done Method 2 (below) I've already found a lot of areas I could improve it. Any changes that should be made to this first attempt are in italics.
- Cut an "X" on the bottom of a deli container then clip off one of the corners as you can see in the above photo. This helps you push the apple through. I now know I should have cut all the sharp corners off because the sharp points of the other 3 scratched/cut into the apples a bit.
- Hold an apple firmly by the base and then push the deli container over it until the apple pops through the bottom.
And that's all there is to that. You're done. Now you just wait for the apples to grow.
DO NOT DO THIS ON A HOT SUNNY DAY.
Cause that's what I did. And this is what happened ...
The perfectly clear deli containers acted like a magnifying glass and burned the apples. I mean, it's exactly like when you were a kid and tried to kill ants with a magnifying glass. Just kidding. I obviously never did that. I was more of an ant farm kind of kid.
So. Through this experiment I have managed to kill more apples than the squirrels would have got. Yay me.
How to fix this problem?
- Do exactly like I did last year and use old dollar store cloches that are slightly tinted green and less likely to cause this burn.
- Only do this on a cloudy day - but they may just burn on later sunny days. I'd have to experiment with this to see if the apples will tolerate the clear cloches as long as their transition to sun is gradual.
- Try doing this later in the season when the skins have toughened up a bit.
The OTHER thing I can see maybe being a problem - but I won't know until the end of the season - is that these deli containers don't cover up the stem of the apple.
That means squirrels can still get to the stem and could still manage to rip the apples off of the tree.
Part of what makes Method 1 work so well was that the squirrels had no way to get to the stem of the apples, because the cloche was wrapped around the entire branch, not just the stems.
I could play around with this second method to improve it, but that seems dumb. Method #1 is just a better method.
They both look ridiculously hillbilly so it's not as though aesthetics are going to play a part in my decision.
In my head, and this is the funny part, I thought the deli containers would kind of disappear because they're clear. Like clear means invisible, right?
Judging by the amount of people walking past who stare at them for 3 to 4 hours at a time - I'm don't have a lot of confidence that these deli containers are as invisible as I thought.
But at least they don't look like gift wrapping.
One of my first apple harvests started with around 70 apples on the tree and ended with me getting 9 apples. You can see the apple harvest from that year here.
I mainly eat the apples fresh but some of them are so big, I eat half fresh and use the other half in any recipes I have that use a bit of apple like - and this is my favourite - Curry Chicken Salad.
Cores and icky bruised bits go to the chickens.
Never under any circumstances do any ever get tossed in the yard for the squirrels.