So, we're growing pumpkins this year. Two varieties: the gorgeous "Cinderella" Rouge d'Etampes pumpkin and a jack o' lantern pumpkin from seeds I received in a seed exchange. And we have four nice little pumpkins growing. Except that one of the Cinderella pumpkins has a few bite marks in the rind which have since calloused over, and one of the jack o' lantern pumpkins was nibbled and eventually eaten right off of the vine by voracious squirrels. We decided to take action to protect the remaining pumpkins (as well as the other winter squashes that we're growing.) Here are a few ideas we've had success with. We looked for ideas in several places, including books, magazines, websites, and giant pumpkin grower discussion boards (yes, they exist. And they're actually a lot of fun, thank you very much!) and tried a bunch of them. These are the ones that actually worked.
Protection Method #1: Cover 'Em Up
It's kind of surprising that this method works at all, but it just proves what I already knew: squirrels are opportunistic. If they see something, they'll eat it. If you can hide it, even a little, you have a good chance of keeping the squirrels away. We put a very light layer of hay over a couple of the pumpkins, and the squirrels have left them alone. You don't want to put too much mulch on top, because lack of light can affect the color of your pumpkins. A thin layer of straw, leaves, or even a sheet of newspaper is all it takes to help your pumpkins escape the attention of squirrels and other rodents.
Protection Method #2: Lift 'Em Up
Another method we're using is to set the forming pumpkins on top of upturned flower or plastic nursery pots. This does a few things. The squirrels and mice don't seem to pay any attention to them when they're a few inches off the ground, and, as an added bonus, by lifting them off of the cool, damp ground, we're ensuring that the pumpkins don't rot.
Protection Method #3: Make a Pumpkin Hammock
If the pumpkins you're growing don't get too large (ten pounds or less is a good size for this method) consider making hammocks for them. Use an old t-shirt, cheesecloth, or an old kitchen towel and make a simple sling by tying each end of your fabric to a nearby fence or trellis and setting your pumpkin in the hammock. This accomplishes the same things as method #2, above, with the added advantage of saving a little space in your garden by getting the pumpkins up and out of the way.
So far, these methods have worked very well for us. Have you found ways to protect your pumpkins or squashes from backyard wildlife? Tell us about it!