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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Questions for the Week

by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service in San Antonio

Squirrels are cute little varmints which are not too particular whether they eat apples and pecans which you have spent a fortune trying to produce or the "wild nuts and berries" squirrels are supposed to eat. They have gotten lazy; squirrels don't want to search for their food in the wilds. Why should they? We've grown it for them in convenient, easy-to-eat form. Squirrels typically feed on tree fruits and nuts in the fall and early winter. Acorns and pecans are favorite fall foods. Nuts are often cached for later use. This accounts for the fact that squirrels can be responsible for phenomenal losses (each squirrel can eat and hide over 50 pounds of nuts per year and there can be as many as ten squirrels per acre) to pecan orchards. In late winter and early spring they prefer tree buds. During population peaks when food is scarce, squirrels may chew bark from a variety of trees. Some people say that the squirrels are actually thirsty when bark chewing occurs and a pan of water under the tree will remedy the situation.

Squirrel damage can be prevented by eliminating the presence of the squirrels. Easy? Not really! Exclusion is one technique. Try to keep the little devils from getting to the edibles. Prevent squirrels from climbing isolated trees and power poles by encircling with a two-foot wide collar of metal six feet off the ground. Attach metal using encircling wires held together with springs to allow for tree growth. Trim trees appropriately to prevent squirrels from jumping onto roofs. Prevent squirrels from traveling on wires by installing two-foot sections of lightweight 2- to 3-inch diameter plastic pipe. Slit the pipe lengthwise, spread opening and place over wire. The pipe will rotate on the wire and cause the traveling squirrels to quickly become painfully familiar with the hard ground beneath.

If exclusion doesn't work, you may want to try repellents. Naphthalene(moth balls) may temporarily discourage squirrels from entering attics and other enclosed spaces. A cat in the attic or on the premises may discourage squirrels and/or provide supplemental feed for the cat. A variety of traps will catch squirrels. Good baits are slices of orange and apple, pecans removed from the shell and peanut butter. Crackers to go with the peanut butter is optional. Baiting can be used as a distraction rather than to catch the varmints. Some folks decide if you can't beat them, you may as well join them! People report that squirrel damage to desirable crops can be eliminated if the critters are fed. Putting out a bucket of dried dog food near the may solve the problem.

Of course the surest method and most fulfilling is stewing. Squirrel stew can't be beat! The good news in many areas of Texas is that there is no legal bag limit. Because of the good nut and acorn crop last year the squirrel population is unusually high and the legal bag limit has been increased to ten--we must be living right! For those who think squirrels resemble rats and shouldn't be eaten--forget such a ridiculous idea! Squirrels have furry tails; rats do not. Have you ever heard of rat stew? No! Yet everyone has heard of squirrel stew. In fact there wouldn't be a Texas if it weren't for squirrel stew. That's right! Davy Crockett and his Tennessee sharpshooters wouldn't have reached puberty if it were not for squirrel stew. Besides, what do you think they ate on the long trip from Tennessee to the Alamo? Enchiladas? Nope! You guessed it--squirrel stew. Now aren't you ashamed of comparing squirrel to rat? If you need recipes, check:


Raccoons can also be destructive to crops. Their physical presence must be eliminated. I do not recommend racoon stew. However baked or barbecued racoon has no culinary rival. Coons can be trapped if you know how to lure them into the trap. I have been told that the best racoon bait is tender sweet corn in the early spring and sardines later. If you want to erect a physical barrier, try putting up 36 inch chicken wire with the bottom and top 6 inches bent outward. These "fenders" will prevent digging under or hopping over.

Each person with the problem must make the decision as to the best remedy for the particular situation. This is a pro-choice situation! But something has to be done unless you want the furry critters to reap the fruits and/or nuts of your labor.========================

What's bugging your garden? Most people consider bugs the main garden problem but until you have had varmints of some type you really haven't had a garden problem. Varmints are any critters that are not in the insect family, are warm blooded (even though they may seem cold-blooded sometimes!) and damage or destroy produce.

Varmints are sneaky devils! Sometimes they disguise themselves as "cute" or precious. Some even get themselves designated as state mascots. Some folks even spend hard-earned money to buy feed to attract varmints--the varmints eat the free food then finish the garden off for dessert.

My first varmint encounter was with an armadillo, or should I say, a family of those armor-plated bulldozers. I always thought armadillos were cute little rascals on the beer ads and scampering across the highways and byways of Texas. Then the drought came. A local armadillo family decided that my watered lawn would be easier to dig in than the hard, dry soil of the wilds. They were right and soon my landscape began to resemble Swiss cheese. Those devils are either mighty hungry or love to dig! If landscape beauty is to be preserved something has to be done. Of course I am the sort of fellow that likes to discover the silver lining of any situation so I got out all of my possum recipes from Tennessee. After all, if armadillo cannot be considered as possum-on-the-half-shell I don't know why! Tennessee possum stew is a delicacy of the truly blessed and is thought to be responsible for the superior intelligence and warm personality of those folks who originate in Tennessee and other possum-loving states. I guess armadillo chili is good enough for Texans.

Anyway I thought that I had solved the "problem" until my neighbors and family logged formal protests. My neighbors didn't want to install bullet-proof glass to protect themselves during my armadillo safaris. The armadillo is active primarily from twilight hours through early morning hours in the summer. I found that 2 a.m. is the prime time. For some reason neighbors quickly lose their sense of humor when gun shots pierce the morning silence. The neighbors changed their minds the instant the "cute" armadillos began to lust after their lawn instead of mine. A few hundred holes in one's lawn can quickly transfer a flaming liberal conservationist into a blood-lust killer. My family on the other hand did not want to partake of the gourmet delight which I had planned and for which I risked life and limb going into the wilds of the backyard to procure. There is nothing more dangerous than a wounded armadillo! They related to me that armadillos can be infected by an organism that is thought to be the human leprosy bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae. I was not discouraged since poke salad greens are considered poisonous before cooked; I've eaten those for years! Yet even I lost a bit of appetite after field dressing my first prey; have you ever skinned a Volkswagon?

The armadillo has the ability to climb and burrow. However, a fence slanted outward at a 40-degree angle, with a portion buried, is a deterrent to their entrance. Unfortunately, there are no repellents known to be effective. Trapping may be the best solution. Armadillos can be captured in Havahart or Tomahawk traps. The best locations to set traps are along pathways to their burrows and along fences or other barriers where the animals may travel. If bait is to be used, use over-ripe or spoiled fruit. Other suggested baits are fetid meats or meal worms. Leftovers can be used but the danger exists of killing the trappee. However, some people report if you feed them leftovers long enough they may leave on their own accord! I can identify with that!

A word to the warning to those who think that an armadillo is easy to shoot or catch. The armadillo does have poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell. When those armored devils detect danger, they can shift their bodies from park to race before you can bat an eye or draw a bead! For this reason always cock your gun BEFORE closely approaching a docilely rooting prey. If he (or she) raises it's head and sniffs the air, you had better do what you're going to do or you will be glimpsing armadillo tail headed towards the brush before you can draw a breath! Also remember that when frightened an armadillo always runs straight for the hole. If you position yourself between the armadillo's present position and the home hole, it will quickly dash towards you when frightened --- allowing a better chance for a close encounter. You will have to decide the appropriate technique for this varmint's demise. Don't think that it will be easy. Even after you get rid of one there will be more on the way since female armadillos produce a litter of quadruplets each year. The litter is the same sex and appear identical since they are derived from a single ovum (egg). So if you have an armadillo invasion prepare yourself for a prolonged assault. You must choose the best technique for defense. Let your conscience be your guide.