The Visitor

Over the past few days one of the pumpkins on our balcony has been nibbled more and more.

I got the pumpkins and winter squash partly because they’re pretty, but I also plan on eating most of them. I’d rather they weren’t pre-eaten. I’m glad the visitor is sticking with only one.

I’m pretty sure the little visitor is a squirrel, not a bird. Something also dug into one of the flower pots. Birds don’t dig.

Most squirrels can’t make it to our balcony anymore.

It used to be an easy climb. The exterior siding of our building was artificial stucco. It was rough and bumpy and the squirrels could scale it like furry little Spidermen. Ravenous Spidermen that would eat all my tomatoes and some of the plants including strawberry plants (not just the fruit). Sometimes there would be two or three critters on the balcony at one time. (Like they were having a party and laughing at us just a little.)

Now we have smoother siding, and the squirrels can’t scale the walls. So we’ve been mostly squirrel-free.

But there is a tree not far from the balcony. The branches have been growing a little closer each year.

Last year, I saw one squirrel on the balcony one time. We scared each other.

Our cat Fletcher had gone out on the balcony a little earlier. I went outside to let him in and check on plants. I was on the far side of the balcony when I heard a strange noise. I turned around and a squirrel was sitting in the middle of the balcony. He looked as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

I think the squirrel must have been hiding from the cat (maybe behind a plant), and when the cat went inside the squirrel thought the coast was clear. That’s when we spotted each other.

I thought I might be able to chase him off if I ran toward him. I took two quick steps forward.

The squirrel had the same idea at the exact same time. (That’s right, I must be squirrel-brained).

So the squirrel and I ran straight toward each other. Which scared us both, again. We each stopped dead in our tracks and looked at each other for a few long seconds. I thought, “oh, crap.” And I’m pretty sure the squirrel did too.

I stomped my foot a couple of times thinking that might get Mr. Squirrel to leave. He stood frozen.

I thought the squirrel would just run off the side of the building. But, it turned out, that wasn’t the way he got there, and he couldn’t just climb down. He was stuck.

The squirrel needed to get back to the tree which was on the other side of me. He pondered his options as I pondered mine (the door back inside was on the other side of the squirrel).

There are bricks around most of the edge of our balcony. After a few deep breaths, Mr. Squirrel jumped onto the bricks and ran, as fast as his little squirrel legs could carry him, past me and flung himself out into the tree from which he came.

The branch bounced so hard I thought he’d be launched back into the sky. But he held fast and then ran, jumping to another branch and then another. Each swinging in his wake as he chattered away.

That’s when my daughter walked outside. She was laughing. Apparently she could see my shadow from inside (like a giant shadow puppet) and saw the whole episode. “Was there a squirrel or something?” Yep.

Mr. Squirrel stayed away for a while after that. In fact, I didn’t see another on the balcony for the rest of that summer. (The branch he jumped too may have cracked a little.) I could see several squirrels in the tree nearby twittering away.

Well, at least one of the furry little critters has figured out how to get on the balcony again. I saw one squirrel earlier in the summer (he promptly ran back to the tree). Now it appears he’s back. What’s more, he found food, so he’s returned several times now. We appear to be his new favorite fast-food place.

I’m hoping the green tomatoes still on the vine will be left alone. Squirrels usually leave hot peppers alone after the first bite or two.

It’s just the one pumpkin that has been nibbled. But first it was a tiny nibble. Now it’s bigger (and bigger). I’m a little worried that Mr. Squirrel will be bringing friends along for a winter feast. Hopefully, they won’t all be such good jumpers.

But I am worried about next spring and summer. I may have to learn to prune trees (from ten feet away and four floors up).

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Nibble, nibble little, squirrel. Who’s been nibbling on my pumpkin?

 

Copyright 2016 Deb L Kapke

I Swore I Wouldn’t: A Balcony Garden Journey

I swore I wouldn’t try to grow tomato plants on our balcony again. That was about seven years ago. And I hadn’t grown ’em since. So imagine my surprise this year when all that changed.

When I started growing tomatoes the first summer we lived here I thought that no pesky insects could find their way to our plants way up here on the third floor. But find us they did. How’d those aphids get here? Are those other things mites?

Not only did insects find us but it wasn’t long before the squirrels did too. The outer shell of our building was coated in artificial stucco. The squirrels could grab the bumpy texture with their claws and scale up the side of the building like Spidermen in furry gray suits. Not only did the squirrels find us, I’m pretty sure they put posters up around the neighborhood advertising the free food to all their friends. Drove the cats bananas as the squirrels taunted them then escaped up a stuccoed pillar.

I tried sprays for the insects and mesh along with hot pepper sprinkles to discourage the squirrels. But they’d still find my tomatoes. 

There are challenges to growing tomato plants in containers and especially so when you have only a balcony and jugs to carry water instead of a backyard with a hose.  

The plants grew nicely. Tomatoes too. More than once I’d patiently wait one more day for a tomato to turn red only go out the next and find bites already taken out of it. How rude of them to take a few bites and leave the rest behind! Do they know how hard I worked to make those things grow? 

The last straw was the day I saw a squirrel perched on the bricks around the edge of our balcony. His fluffy tail twitched in excitement. I went out to shoo him away only to find a partially chewed green tomato sitting there. Cute but infuriating, those furry thieves weren’t even waiting for the tomatoes to ripen.  No tomato was safe. It was the last tomato. I was done. 

I moved on to growing only herbs, a few flowers (some of which the squirrels ate too) and hot peppers.  The squirrels bit a few hot peppers but soon left them alone. 

Eventually the outside of our building became less and less appealing as the improperly installed artificial stucco became discolored and cracked in places. Above the utility closet off our balcony there was a large gap left by our builder where several generations of pigeons made a charming home for themselves. But for us, the pigeons made a horrible mess. We tried mesh to keep them out, but they found another way in. Eventually we stopped trying to grow anything we might want to eat. Soon, we hardly went out there at all. Shame too, nice view.

Last summer, with building repairs in full swing (partially due to that artificial stucco), we couldn’t go out on our balcony at all. The winter before, the repair workers had wired our balcony door shut from the outside. We scrambled to save a few nice flower pots when they first did it. We had put our fresh cut Christmas tree on the balcony in a bucket of water, so we had to make special arrangements to retrieve that too. We didn’t even have windows for a while.

So early this Spring a visit to Home Depot resulted in the purchase of a few small plants. This started a slippery slope of greenery and a whole new battle. (Part 1 of a series.)