Gardeners have to battle against more than just insects, weeds and weather. generally hungry critters like squirrels, birds, raccoons, deer, rabbits, possums and lots of others may be even bigger issues. In my own garden, I struggled with the unlikeliest of outlaws.
The blue jays and crows dug up the kernels of corn just after they germinated, however the squirrels were the cruelest of the crooks. The tree rats gnawed through the stalks of my pole beans just for sport and sometimes pilfered my tomatoes only to take one bite and leave them rotting in the hot summer sun.
I tried numerous countermeasures to no avail. The 2-foot fence erected around the garden kept out the rabbits and dogs, but it had no impact on the more nimble critters. The lotions and potions and fake owls and spinning pie plates elicited plenty of neighborhood giggles, mostly from the animals themselves. Motion-activated scare sprinklers and shock wires nailed me a lot of usually than their intended targets.
A friend who had issues with hungry deer instructed me to use “me pee” to stay the critters at bay. Yes, she actually traveled the perimeter of her garden squatting to mark her territory. As an avid hunter, I knew she had been wasting her fluids because human urine is truly a curiosity scent that can attract deer.
Finally, I decided to quit messing around and to build a totally enclosed and impenetrable fortress of wood and steel mesh. We dubbed it the Taj Mahal because it’s huge and gaudy and surely worthy of recognition as one of the wonders of the world.
Since nearly no two projects are precisely alike, I’ll share some general recommendations you can use to build your own garden enclosure. Obviously, if you just want to keep out deer or dogs, there’s no want for a roof. If it’s simply raccoons or possums inflicting you troubles, you can flee with fencing having much bigger openings than those needed to fend off the smaller critters. But the most notorious looters in urban areas are squirrels, so the Taj Mahal was erected primarily to outwit tree rats.
First of all, go the extra mile and weatherproof your project so it’ll last an extended time. opt for treated wood and hardware. With naturally decayed/bug-resistant woods like bald cypress, california redwood and white and red cedars being either rare or expensive, most outdoor projects these days area unit built with “PT” — common softwood lumber that’s been pressure treated with rot-proofing chemicals. If using non-treated lumber, you can still extend the life of your project by treating the wood with the newest exterior wood preservatives and waterproofing compounds. These days, the Pt wood and the products for treating wood are environmentally friendly.
Whether you choose screws or nails, use mechanically galvanized hardware. It’s extremely proof against rust and corrosion and won’t “weep,” or create those dark streaks you sometimes see streaming down the wood. I opted to use screws because I don’t have a nail gun however do own a cordless drill/screw gun.
The Frame Up
Framing is simpler if you already have a raised bed garden. If you have alittle garden (maybe four by four feet), you can even build your enclosure on top of the raised-bed and just raise the cage off of the garden when you need to enter. With no doors in the design, construction is much less complicated.
For a bigger and taller garden, construction is still easier in conjunction with a raised bed because you just affix (screw or nail) lumber onto the outside of your raised-bed frame, rather than having to set posts in the ground. I framed my project with pressure-treated 2x4s because they would support the load of the steel mesh used to enclose the structure. Cut or purchase your lumber six inches longer than the desired height. With the wood hanging six inches over the surface of the raised-bed frame, screw a 2×4 to the outside of every corner of your raised bed. To protect your wood from wetness, ensure the bottoms of the studs don’t touch the ground.
I used five 3-inch galvanized screws to attach the 2×4 studs at the base and spaced them forty inches apart. I chose this dimension because it looks to be a good width for doors. You can even match a good-sized tiller through such an opening. Because my project was particularly long (over twenty feet) and a bit wider than some raised-bed gardens (over five feet), I had three doors running the length of every side and no doors on the ends. The number of doors in your design will depend on how much access you need and how crowded your plants are. For instance, two doors may better fit the bill for an 8-by-4 foot garden. To frame the top around the entire perimeter, cut 1x4s to length and screw them to the tops of the 2x4s.
The height of the structure depends on the height of the plants growing in it. Of all the vegetables I grow, the tallest plants the squirrels eat are tomatoes, so my design was just tall enough to enclose them. Because I prune or “sucker” all but one branch of my tomato plants, they grow very tall and thin. Even though the Taj Mahal is nearly ten feet tall including the raised bed, I still have tomato plants poking through the top. Most people grow tomato plants that are shorter and bushier, so a 6- to 8-foot-tall structure can be more apropos and certainly much more manageable.
There are lots of quality wire products that may keep the critters at bay, however I chose galvanized and welded steel mesh for its durability and resistance to corrosion. i recommend against using chicken wire because squirrels and raccoons can chew through it.
One way to save time and energy is to decide on a roll of mesh that’s the same width as the width of your garden bed frame. If you have an 8-by-4-foot or 12-by-4-foot garden bed, you can use a 4-foot-wide roll of mesh to cover the entire length of the garden without ever having to trim the wire. Just begin at one end and roll the mesh from the ground to the top, then the length of the top frame and all the way back to the ground, stapling to your frame as you go.
The next step is to use wire cutters to chop the rest of the mesh to fit all sides panel or section between the 2×4 studs. Don’t worry about precision here. If the distance between the edges of your studs is thirty eight inches, you can cut the mesh an inch or more wider to give it ample room to overlap the 2×4. Hold the mesh down and staple the wire from top to bottom using a staple gun. If the mesh ends up too long or wide, you can always trim it with wire cutters after you have connected it. I used regular stainless steel staples and have had no issues, however I later found out about rustproof staples called Monels.
Another necessary consideration is that the size of the holes or openings in your wire mesh. I would choose one by one inches or wider, however wide you can get away with without letting animals in. choosing tiny openings like 1/4 by 1/4 inches has major drawbacks. Denser patterns are a lot of heavier, which makes the material harder to work with, harder to support and easier to blow over in the wind. A denser mesh also blocks sunlight and insects like bees that are essential pollinators.
The next step is making doors, and there’s no need to get fancy. Use a similar steel mesh cut to fit in between 2x4s about forty inches apart. Loosely hammer the length of the left edge of the mesh door to the inside of the left 2×4 door frame using galvanized fence staples. These U-nails placed each few inches from top to bottom become the hinges to your door. Nail these in loosely because wire expands and contracts with temperature changes and needs to be liberated to move under the staple for the hinge to work properly.
On the right side of your door, trim the wire so that it’s almost flush with the left edge of the right 2×4 door frame. Stabilize your mesh door by stapling a strip of thin, flat wood trim about a centimeter thick by an inch or two wide the length of the right side of the mesh. Ensure the strip of wood is absolutely flush with the inside of your right 2×4 door frame.
To make a door latch, cut a 6 inch piece of a similar flat trim material or scrap wood of similar dimensions. Loosely nail the wood strip onto the middle of your right door frame. The wood strip keeps the door closed behind it when horizontal however rotates to vertical to permit the door to be opened. You may need two or more latches spaced some feet apart on your stud if you have a tall door. Otherwise, a squirrel might be able to pry the door open and squeeze through.
You now have your own Taj Mahal, a weatherproof world wonder that will last for years. It’ll keep the squirrels out and may even prevent rabbits from wreaking havoc.
Setting Wood Posts
If you don’t build your structure on top of a raised garden bed, you’re going to need to frame your structure by putting posts in the ground. In most cases, 4×4 posts will do, however 6x6s will offer you even more support.
First of all, don’t set wooden posts in concrete. Inevitably, alittle space develops around the post because materials expand and contract. Wetness seeps in and gets trapped, which causes the wood to rot.
Here’s how to do it properly. Using a posthole digger or hand auger, dig a hole very close in diameter to the dimensions of your post. Place a rock in the hole to give the post something to stand on instead of damp soil. To protect the cut ends of your post from wetness, you can obtain wooden or metal post caps or create your own caps from shop scrap. Affix the caps to the ends and bury about a third of the post in the hole. This suggests your post needs to be a third longer than the height of your structure.
Shovel in equal parts crushed rock or gravel and soil, tamping between layers with a shovel or piece of wood until you have shaped alittle hill above ground level, which will facilitate rain flow away from the post.