Squirrels wreak disaster on garden beds


Kavya Ramakrishnan

A fox squirrel finds a fallen nut around the trees surrounding the Quad. They will typically peel off the husk and eat it on the spot, or hop off to find a place to bury it, traveling as far as 100 meters to hide their catch.

Attempts by the Gardening Club to plant onions and arugula in garden beds next to Main have been hindered by campus squirrels distributing their nuts, an annual problem.

“There’s just so many of them,” said Ben Spencer-Cooke, English teacher and Gardening Club advisor, referring to the abundance of squirrels, a problem spurred by the plentiful oak trees and student food that abound on campus.

The garden, sheltered by the cover of trees in an area relatively distant from the commotion of students, serves as a prime location for squirrels to hide their nuts.

“Fox squirrels are fairly territorial, and look for an area to find shelter and food, placing their nuts there and working to establish this area from other squirrels,“ said Jen Constantin, Outreach and Education Director at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley.

“There are mostly eastern fox and eastern grey squirrels in the South Bay, but the eastern greys tend to stay around the outskirts of the city,” Constantin said.

Fox squirrels, most commonly found on campus, behave in a fairly territorial manner and tend to invest their nuts in several hiding spots in a close proximity, reducing the risks of losing all their savings at once.

According to a 2012 UC Berkeley study conducted by psychology undergraduate students, most fox squirrels will pick up a nut using their teeth and paws, and peel off the husk to eat it on the spot. Or they will find a nearby place to bury it, travelling as far as 100 meters to hide their catch, often having many hiding spots in a single area.

“There’s a huge oak tree right above the [garden] beds. It drops a lot of seeds right over them,” club member Lev Sepetov (10) said, citing one of the reasons for the activity.

The squirrels have especially become a problem as winter approaches, digging little holes to bury their nuts for winter storage.

Currently, only green tulle, a lightweight fabric, is used to cover the garden beds, but it doesn’t seem to be discouraging the squirrels from breaking through.

“They’re really smart about burying them [nuts]. I’ve never seen them but they’re always leaving holes in the tulle covering the beds,” co-President of Gardening Club Ashwini Iyer (11) said.

To protect the garden in the future, Constantin urges gardeners to create a hot pepper spray to mist around plants or wrap the bases of trees with sheet metal to keep squirrels away.

“There are winter covers that let light through for the plants and protect them from frost and squirrels, but are somewhat expensive,” Spencer-Cooke also added.

Squirrels have been a source of problems in other aspects of campus life, such as leading to tighter lids being kept on trash cans around the Upper School.

“A lot of people take pride in their gardens, but it’s important to focus on the issues of coexistence with these creatures,” Constantin said.

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