How to outsmart and keep rodents off your melons, fruits, and veggies
*Note: this post is NOT meant to help attractively curved women reduce unwanted affection from creepy men. However, if you’re looking for useful gardening DIYs, please continue reading.
We love melons, and there are tons of delicious varieties of heirloom melons that can be grown in our area of the country (southeast USA), many of which we’ve never see in a grocery store. Eating a vine-ripened melon on a hot summer day is as refreshing as jumping into a mountain lake, but you usually don’t have to towel off if you’re careful when eating your melon.
During the Summer of 2011, we encountered a serious problem with our melons: they’d pollinate, and we’d excitedly watch them grow day-by-day. However, before they’d fully mature, we’d come out to find them partially eaten with the tell-tale sign of rodent savagery: two small incisor teeth markings where the flesh had been carved out by the furry villains. After losing several melons this way, we became extremely agitated. We didn’t know what type of critter was eating our melons, since we never saw one in the act, but it could have been one—or any combination of—groundhogs, squirrels, chipmunks, or voles, all of which have made unwanted appearances on Tyrant Farms over the past few years… all we DID KNOW was that we needed to figure out how to keep rodents off of our stuff!
We began experimenting with various remedies to see if we could outsmart the beasts. We trellised some of our melons many feet off of the ground–that proved ineffective and we grew more agitated at the thought of the creatures eating our melons while enjoying a better view. We reluctantly tried bird netting (“reluctantly” due to a previous unpleasant encounter with a trapped king snake that we had to untie by hand) – WARNING: there’s a pic below. If you don’t like snakes, scroll quickly. Bird netting didn’t work either and we became even more agitated as we imagined our nemeses flossing their teeth with the nets after gorging on our melons. Before we had time to experiment with any other solutions, we ran out of summer.
Ugh. We’ve only seen a few small #snakes so far this year, until today when there were three large snakes within about 100 feet of each other (2 rat snakes and a huge king snake). The developer adjacent to our property cleared his land with a bulldozer this morning, sending all its inhabitants fleeing in search of new homes. Thankfully, we found this beautiful little rat #snake and were able to cut her out of the bird netting before she suffered too much. #frustrated #gardening #garden #reptiles #nature
This winter, inspiration struck and we devised a new rodent prevention plot: wired melon cages. These allow needed sunlight in, never wear off or wash away (like a garlic spray might), can’t be chewed through by teeth, and can be reused year after year. We are delighted to say that in the summer of 2012, we did not lose a single melon to rodent attacks.
Step by Step: How we’ve successfully kept rodents off our melons for several years now
So, here’s a simple, step-by-step method to ensure you never lose any of your melons to rodents again.
Update August 2015: We still haven’t lost a single melon to a rodent when we’ve used these cages. We absolutely swear by them.
1. Get Hardware Cloth
Get wire 1/4″ (or 1/2″ if that’s your only option) hardware cloth from your local home improvement store, hardware store, or nursery. Make sure you have wire snips/clippers that will easily cut through the wire, and we’d highly recommend using thick gloves when handling/cutting your hardware cloth.
2. Cut a Wire Square
Depending on the size of the melon you need to protect, cut out a square of wire that will be large enough to wrap around the fully mature melon and still fold up on either end. A moon & stars watermelon is going to take a lot more wire than a cantaloupe.
3. Secure a Cylindrical Shape With Metal String
Fold your wire square into a round cylinder shape by bringing both sides together. Using metal string for ties (our hardware cloth came with metal string wire inside it, but we’re using metal string we had left over from another project) tie together both sides of the wire square to lock the cylindrical shape in place.
4. Create Your Wire End Folds
Once you’ve cut the wire square in half and secured it in place, cut 3-4 straight lines on each end starting from the outer edge of each end. The goal with this step is to create folds/flaps that will fold up on each end of the wire cage to protect the melon on both sides.
5. Close One End of Your Melon Cage
Next, fold up all the flaps on ONE side of your melon cage and secure the flaps together with metal string wire. Make sure to leave the other side of your cage open so you can insert your melon into the cage.
6. Cage Your Melon
Insert your melon into the open end of its melon cage. Fold up the last set of end flaps and secure them with metal string wire while being careful not to damage the stem of the plant attached to the melon.
7. Watch, Harvest, Eat and Share!
Keep an eye on your melons as they grow inside their wire cages. If it looks like you’re going to grow a “supermelon” that might outgrow its cage before it ripens, just make and install a new, larger wire cage. Once your melons are ripe, untie one end of their cages, harvest them, and enjoy! You can compost your melon rinds, pickle them, or if you’re a kind-hearted soul, put the rinds out near your garden as a peace offering for your rodents. After all, they have families to feed too, and they each serve an essential role in our ecosystem.