Rabbits & Squirrels & Gophers – Oh My! How We Protect our Seedlings From Being Eaten by Them – and You Can Too!

Aloha Farms food forest's Portable Garden Fence of PVC and Chicken Wire

We enjoy listening to the birds sing their joyful songs, watching the woodland creatures frolic in the garden, and seeing the darling faces of the moles when they pop their little heads up out of the soil and sniff around in the fresh air.  They enjoy frolicking in the food forest and eating many of the plants they find growing here.

We have enough abundance to share some of it with our furry friends, but when it comes to the newly sprouted seedlings that emerge from seeds we’ve recently planted, we have to set boundaries to prevent the hungry creatures from eating our new sprouts before they have a chance to mature into useful plants.

To create the necessary boundaries, we created a simple fencing system, constructed with 5-foot lengths of 3/4″ PVC pipe and PVC fittings (the kind you use to run irrigation lines), and some chicken wire.

Each section of the fencing is 5′ tall and 5′ wide, and we join them together with T’s and 3-way corner fittings.  With a small fence like the one pictured below, you don’t have to use PVC glue to hold it together – which leaves the material completely intact and re-usable if you decide to dismantle the fence.

Of the various configurations you could make from this material, we chose to make a 10-foot by 20-foot rectangle, but you could make it much smaller or larger.

After fitting together the pipe, we wrapped the entire structure with 4-foot tall chicken wire.  When the seedlings were very young, we draped deer netting over the top of the fence (as a ceiling) to prevent squirrels and birds from getting in.  Here’s a shot of our first enclosed garden from spring of 2014.  The fence successfully protected the sprouts 🙂


Our Portable Garden Fence
Our Portable Garden Fence

We  constructed a simple gate by adding one more 5-foot PVC post halfway between two of the existing posts and attaching it to the top and bottom of the fencing.  We cut the chicken wire here a couple of inches past where we installed the new post and wrapped the chicken wire around the post.  Then we wrapped the other side of the chicken wire that we had just cut onto a 4-foot piece of PVC  to give it a little stability while we opened and closed the gate.  Finally, we used a bendy foam-covered wire to tie the gate closed.  Here’s a shot of the gate:


The Door into the Portable Garden Fence





Here’s the Portable Fence, seen from the long side – it’s really great because you can move it easily from one spot to another and keep establishing new growth from seeds anywhere you put it!!!


We liked our prototype so much, we decided to create larger, semi-permanent fence, which we call “The Middle Garden”, because it’s a garden in the middle of the food forest!

This one is 30 feet x 30 feet and we used the same PVC framing method, but we had to use glue on the fittings to hold this one together.  We substituted deer netting for the chicken wire to save money (but ended up having to wrap a 2-foot tall section of chicken wire around the entire fence at ground level later because the rabbits chewed through the deer netting).  We also pounded stakes into the ground and tied them to the posts to help keep them upright.  Here’s a shot of our creation on March 10, 2014:

The Middle Garden – 900 sq. ft. fenced, covered in mulch, and ready to plant with seeds!  Hurray!!!

The Middle Garden - 900 sq. ft. covered in mulch, fenced, and ready to plant! Hurray!!!

We also created a similar, but new gateway, by pounding a piece of rebar into the ground and slipping a PVC pipe over it.  In the pictures below, you see how we lift the PVC pipe to reveal the rebar which holds it in place.

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In the middle garden, we’ve planted countless seeds and grown them into healthy mature plants, and have been able to save the next generation of seeds to use in future plantings. We saved seeds from onions, carrots, beets, lettuce, corn, pigeon peas, sunflowers, radishes, squashes, peanuts, peas, and whatever else went to seed in the garden.  Having removed the weeds, covered it in mulch, and fenced it off  has made possible a successful garden space that’s protected from hungry critters!


Here are a few pictures of what we’ve grown in “The Middle Garden”  🙂

June 2014 in The Middle Garden
This was June 2014 in The Middle Garden – our first planting from seeds – we were thrilled with the success!

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Here it is today, dominated by pigeon peas and kale (which we planted from seed last year) and strawberries (which we planted as small plants last year), and with newly planted seedlings of peas, beets, peanuts, onion and garlic popping up.

We were enjoying our autumn seedling success, until a family of gophers moved into the middle garden last month and are now busy eating the earthworms and the new seedlings and stirring up the soil.  As cute as they are, they still have to go!  A few days ago, we installed 2 Sweeney’s Sonic Spikes into the ground, which run on solar power and repeatedly emit an annoying beep sound once or twice a minute 24 hours a day!  That did not work at all for us. Maybe because we live in a noisy place.  We saw a little gopher snake the other day,  we are really hoping that nature will work this out.  If the problem gets too bad, we’ve considered installing owl boxes or getting a cat or a dog to drive them out.

Late 2016:

It turned out that hawks keep the gopher population in check, and we don’t have to do anything.

We still have gophers appearing in the garden, but we stopped fighting them because we began to appreciate the great job they do of bringing up unwanted debris from the soil so we can easily collect it and dispose of it, and of creating mounds of really nice soil that we can use for potting cuttings and seeds.  Here’s a short clip of one of these cuties at work:



So that’s the story of how we protected the seedlings in the food forest from being eaten by our furry friends – and you can too!

Thank you for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it.




Author: Tutu Sainz

We are a couple of urban food foresters on 1/2 acre in the San Diego County area. We love our food forest, it feels like a garden of eden and it's always fun to work here and eat the food we grow, and to walk around and look at the beautiful plants and trees that are growing here. We believe food forests are the key to abundance for everyone everywhere!

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