Article for the Suncoast Tropical Fruit and Vegetable Club, Inc.
by Ed Lin

How to Protect Your Fruits and Nuts from Squirrels and Other Varmints

Recently, a fellow club member asked, “Is there any way to prevent squirrels from eating all the nuts on a macadamia tree before the nuts are mature?”
The answer is YES!  All you have to do is eat a few of the immature nuts yourself first. Or, get a recipe for honey-roasted squirrels stuffed with macadamia nuts.

Mango inside cage

Seriously, an excellent way to keep most, if not all, of the fruits and nuts you grow from animals is to use a heavy-grade, fine-mesh wire cage to "cage" the terminal branch along with the fruits/nuts.  See accompanying photos. This method is suitable for persimmons, mangos, lychees, longans, atemoyas, etc. Before I describe how to create such a system, I wish to acknowledge Ted Kapantais as the Ole Master for showing me this versatile method. Thanks again, Ted.

Materials: First, go to Home Depot and buy a sheet of stucco mesh ($ 7.99 for a sheet 8 feet x 27 inches in the lumber section). If you do not have tin snipes (sharp heavy grade “scissors” for cutting sheet metal) you will need to borrow or buy one for under $10 at Big Lots. Also get a spool of fine-gauge copper or steel wire which you will need to “tie” the parts together. The galvanized wire mesh is several mils thick with diamond shaped mesh that are about 1 cm X 1 cm – too small and too tough for squirrel or raccoons to chew through.  It has very sharp edges and you can cut yourself if you are not careful!

Method and Application: Cut one rectangular piece and roll the short edges together into an oval or round cylinder. Use wire to tie the short edges together. Next cut a smaller rectangular or square piece and use that to fashion an oval or round bottom. You will need a pair of pliers to bend the “surplus” portions of the bottom portion so they conform to the vertical wall of the cage. Tie the two parts together with wire and now you have what looks like an oval- or round-bottomed wire-mesh trashcan.

You will want to make a variety of sizes (refer to photo) depending on how many different types of crops you intend to use the cages on and the sizes of the fruits. For example, Keitt mango (huge size), NDM Mango (large cluster) and longans (long panicles) will call for large and deep cages, whereas persimmons and atemoyas will tend to need smaller cages. Visualize how big the cages need to be with the fruits inside, then make it a couple of inches deeper and longer. You can always use a cage that is bigger than needed, but too small a cage is worthless. After you have made your first cage, test it out on a tree by feeding a terminal branch with the fruit into the mesh can.

Chances are you will see how to modify your next cage for better fit. Then go on and make more. You need to secure the cage to the branch with wire or plastic strap. Copper wire is flexible and won't rust. Keep in mind the pressure that can be exerted on the branch from being suspended by thin wires. Try to diffuse the pressure wherever possible by using multiple anchor sites between the cage and the branch. I prefer white plastic shipping straps that I notch at the ends and they “catch” easily enough in the mesh to suspend the cage. I save these when I receive a large carton (TV, generator, carton of paper, etc.) but you can probably also get them at the trash dumpster of any department store.

Finished cages, assorted sizes

Be sure to “close” the mouth of the cage with wires or else the animal can still try to get in from the top.  The contraption works beautifully. I make about two dozen of them of varying sizes (the large ones for big bunches of fruits such as  two or three mangos on one panicle) and keep them on the ripest fruits. As I harvest the fruits, I shift the mesh cans to the fruits  next to ripen. The same cages can be used on different trees that have different fruit ripening times.

Other Details: If you make your cage by orienting the diamond mesh in the vertical direction, you will get a cage that is very pliable  and amenable to changes in shape that you want in order to get the fit and closure that you want for full protection. The slight disadvantage is that you get a row of spikes along the mouth of the basket that can poke you (poking the intruding animal in the face  is an advantage). If you orient the diamond mesh horizontally, you have a smooth-lipped basket but it'll be very difficult to modify its  shape. Overall, I prefer the vertical orientation.

The cages are extremely durable and can last long enough to become a family heirloom.

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Lin, Edward. "How to Make Wire Cages to Protect Your Fruits and Nuts From Squirrels and Other Varmints." c. 2011. Suncoast Tropical Fruit and Vegetable Club.

Published 19 Jan. 2015 LR. Last Update 13 Apr. 2016 LR
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