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In the heat of day, a squirrel relaxes and cools itself on Jane’s wooden railing.

In the spirit of the Olympics, here is the medal count of my own summer games: Squirrels — 3 gold, Jane — 1 bronze.

Trees surround the little house on a big hill, so of course, I have squirrels. Just like watching the gymnastic routines on the uneven parallel bars, I have fun watching their daredevil leaps from limb to limb. The pup gets her exercise chasing after them when they treat my fence top as a balance beam scampering along until they hop to a tree.

This year is different. It’s as if they discovered a new country and want to establish part-time residence on my back porch.

When they play in groups and chase each other through the treetops, the leaves rustle, the slender branches bend, and then one by one, they emerge and lunge effortlessly to the neighboring tree. That is gold medal-worthy entertainment.

When they ransack my container garden, that is cause for a point deduction.

The common gray squirrel is actively foraging in the late summer and early fall. They are filling their cupboards and my garden for the winter months ahead. Squirrels don’t hibernate, but they do keep a low profile in cold temperatures.

Weighing just a pound or two, the squirrel’s fur color can vary from gray to light brown, even dark brown or black. The big bushy tail that makes them so cute helps them communicate, keep their balance, and stay warm.

My squirrels are not shy. During these ninety degree days, they come and lay on the back railing, putting their bellies on the cool wood with their legs dangling.

It was strange the first time; now, I have come to expect them when the days heat up. Oh, and they bring their own snacks. I find peanut shells or walnuts on the porch. They must raid a neighbor’s house, then bring the treats here to eat and relax.

I have learned to be sneaky when planting spring bulbs. I place them deep and often lay chicken wire over the freshly planted bulbs. As the ground thaws in the spring, the bulbs will grow through the one-inch holes, but the wire is enough to discourage squirrels from digging and eating them during the winter.

I knew this about the ground planting but didn’t think about my back porch container garden. I planted tulip bulbs on my high porch, knowing they were out of the reach of deer, but I forgot about the squirrels. That’s when the war, or should I say Olympic-sized games, began.

The first sign was potting soil on the porch, not enough to matter, but the evidence mounted. More potting mix, and then a trail of bulbs they had dug but not yet moved to a new hiding spot. Ohhh, I was aggravated.

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Next came the begonias, planted in the same container to provide color after what remained of the bulbs finished blooming. I guess Mr. Squirrel was not finished with this spot, so he has slowly wallowed the begonias on one side of the pot. It makes me crazy!

Chili powder or peppermint oil are suggested as deterrents, but these have not worked for me. I have also heard that placing pebble or gravel on top of the container soil will annoy them enough to stop digging. It’s worth a try.

As if eating my bulbs and begonias — then napping on my porch railing — is not enough, they have discovered my strawberry plants. You may remember how excited I was to plant them and how I looked forward to my first handful of freshly picked, sweet red berries.

I took precautions. I placed them in a high traffic area covered with netting, and I visit often, like a new mom hovering over a newborn.

The vines are gorgeous. Shiny green leaves, big beautiful white blooms, then nothing. I was puzzled. I researched, talked with professional growers, and it was a mystery. Until I began to notice the netting misplaced and soil on the ground below.

Dag nabit, those squirrels were crawling in underneath my protective barrier and eating my precious crop before I ever knew it was there.

Not to be outdone by a 24-ounce furry tail, I fastened the netting tight and waited. Of course, by now, you realize they found a way in. I was growing the most beautiful strawberry vines and never picking a berry. Until today.

Today I picked my very first strawberry. It was delicious, and I savored every tiny bite.

But now I’m concerned. Where are my squirrels? Are they okay? Or just off gathering the neighbor’s peanuts and storing them for winter?

These squirrels drive me nuts (get it?nuts?), yet I wish them no harm. I want them to live happily in the treetops and fill their little bellies with all they can find, except my bulbs and berries.

For now, my worthy opponents have won the medal count, but these games are just beginning.

Jane Powell is a long-time West Virginia Extension Service Master Gardener through the Kanawha County chapter and has a garden with sunny spots and shady beds where she grows perennials, vegetables and herbs. She is also the author of “Gardening in Pearls,” a blog that combines her love of gardens, fashion and design. By day, Jane is the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Find her blog at gardeninginpearls.com/. Reach Jane at janeellenpowell@aol.com.

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