Rabbits, raccoons, deer, skunks and even bears often do their shopping in your produce department. These bushy burglars eat an estimated 20 percent of home garden vegetables.
Over the years, people have used soap, dog hair, Winchester rifles and chain-link fences to stop these criminal critters.
Fencing them out works best. But it takes the right kind of fence. A deer, for instance, can jump as high as 10 feet. A raccoon may shinny up a nearby tree and sky dive into produce paradise.
Look for tracks or fecal droppings. Find out how and when the animals get into the garden, too. These "fingerprints" may help you identify the suspect.
Build barriers early in the season before the animals taste- test your garden. Then they'll be less likely to attempt a break-in.
Here's a "most wanted" list of major pests, clues to look for, favorite menu items and ways to protect your vegetables from particular plunderers.
Taking these steps won't protect against all pests, but it might keep these from stealing you blind.
Burglar Bunny. Generally grayish brown with large, pointed ears. Prowls in early morning and late afternoon. Devours plants right to the ground and may leave small round pellets as calling cards.
A fence of one-inch-mesh chicken wire is the best protection. Make it at least two feet high with another four to six inches turned outward at the top. Bury at least another six inches belowground.
Gardeners have used ground black pepper, chili powder, blood meal, rotten eggs, bone oil and hot pepper sauce around plants to keep rabbits away.
Train Rover to patrol the garden and Mr. Rabbit won't likely show his ears.
Two-Fingers Fawn. Swift runner with Bambi eyes and a white tail. Will eat anything edible within reach. Forages at night, dawn and dusk. Sometimes leaves two-toed tracks and medium-size dark pellets.
An electric fence is the best way to keep deer out. The "Minnesota Peanut Butter Fence" is good. It's a single strand of electrically charged wire 2.5 feet above the ground.
Power the fence with a six- or 12-volt car battery to prevent fatal injuries regular current could cause.
Place strips of masking tape and/or aluminum-foil flaps smeared with peanut butter at three-foot intervals.
Other deterrents soon wear off. Hanging up bars of soap or nylon stockings filled with hair can help. Spraying plants with a water-and-Tabasco-sauce mixture can, too.
Robber Raccoon. Suspect has dark eyes, a black nose and white markings on face. Has definite "sweet corn tooth" but will eat melons. Works night shift, bending corn stalks to the ground and stripping ears clean or stealing them. Often leaves melons with small holes in them, which he scooped clean with his paws. Will also leave characteristic footprints around the scene.
Electric fences are the best way to curtail a 'coon. It takes two strands. Place one six inches and the other 12 inches high.
Use fiberglass posts, since 'coons can climb wooden ones. Turn off the power in the daytime, since they feed only at night.
Nothing else works. 'Coons are hardened criminals with a thirst for sweet corn. Their well-honed criminal skills will likely overcome any obstacle but a charged fence.
Paw Barker (a.k.a. Mr. Bear). Last seen wearing a brown or black fur coat. Has large teeth and is heavyset. Gave up Jenny Craig diet for corn and melons. May be dangerous. Don't approach. Usually leaves Sasquatch-like footprints and large dung piles behind.
A four-strand electric fence baited with bacon is the best bear barrier. Place the top strand about three feet high. Flashing lights, loud music and dirty laundry may also keep Big Ben out of your patch.
(Terry Kelley is a former University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)