No, I’m not even smarter than the local squirrels.
Last year I wrote (and whined) a lot about the squirrels who were stealing my tomatoes. I had two little plants and was so proud when the little green fruit started to show up. But one by one, before any of them could get larger than a golf ball, they disappeared. After searching the internet and picking the brain of every experienced gardener I knew, I narrowed down the usual suspects to squirrels. I went to the local hardware/lumber/garden/everything store where the resident expert sold me some pellets that were supposed to repel all comers, but the tomatoes continued to disappear.
As the season drew to a close, I finally picked a 2” red tomato that was disappointingly tasteless and a handful of green tomatoes that I breaded in Louisiana Fish Fry and soaked in hot grease until they were a beautiful golden brown. They upset my stomach. A less than stellar season, but my cayenne and Anaheim peppers were successful enough to encourage me to try again this year.
I started well enough. I lost 2 of 12 plants within the first couple of days, but the remaining 10 thrived and bloomed. I staked and fed and watered, and the tomatoes came. And they stayed – for a while. I guess the squirrels were still working on their winter stash of acorns. Then the tomatoes started to disappear. One or two at first, so I wasn’t completely sure any were missing. Then the thief got bolder, taking more and leaving no doubt of his crime.
I didn’t waste any time. I went straight to Hooten’s, bought some netting, hammered “tent” stakes into the ground, and draped the endangered plants. It worked – for a while.
Sunday morning we came home from church and there was a squirrel – inside the tent – chomping on a big green tomato. Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased. I screamed and stomped and the squirrel went ballistic, dodging between rows of tomatoes, trying to find an exit. After he made his getaway, I found the weakness and fortified the perimeter.
After dinner, I went out to water. There, sitting on one of the boards that secured the netting to the ground, was my biggest tomato with four bit bites out of the top of it. That little furry-tailed rat was taunting me! I closed the gaps again the best I could and went in the house and cried on David’s shoulder.
Obviously we needed more netting. The plants and their supporting stakes were tall enough that there wasn’t enough material left to secure it to the ground properly. Monday morning we went out to rearrange what we had in a way that would protect the plants until we could get to the store.
All was well when we left for lunch, but we stayed at the Center longer than usual, and of course, we had to stop at Hooten’s on the way home. We got home around 4:00 pm, and the first thing I saw when we pulled into the driveway was a half-eaten tomato lying about 10 feet from the garden. Several smaller victims lay scattered inside the tent, and the center plant was lying on its side.
I sighed in resignation and went inside to fix dinner. David reassured me that the raids were probably over for the day and promised to help me construct a new shelter first thing Tuesday morning.
It wasn’t a graceful undertaking. The pieces of net are 14’x14’, and they kept snagging on the support poles which are mostly thin branches taken from the dead trees David has been cutting down. In addition, we had to be careful not to step on the row of peppers on one side and the row of okra on the other. We finally managed to remove the original netting, shore up the sagging stakes and plants, and reconstruct the tent. There was plenty of surplus material on the ground, and we secured the circumference with end-to-end rocks and boards, double stacking in areas that looked a little vulnerable. We poked and prodded to check for weaknesses and left for lunch feeling confident that our crop was safe.
What can I say. The squirrel is smarter than we are. When we got home, there was half of a larger green tomato sitting right in the middle of the tomato patch. It was the ultimate locked door mystery. We poked and prodded some more and couldn’t find anywhere he could have gotten in or out. David checked later and said there was a place where the two pieces of netting overlapped by several feet. He said it was possible the squirrel had made his way down the “corridor” between the two and come back out the same way. David closed the gap and, although he hasn’t carried through yet, threatened to pull up a chair and guard the garden with his pellet gun.
The good thing is that the tomatoes are prolific and, in spite of the pilferage, there are lots left. Maybe the squirrel will take pity and leave us a few. All I want is enough for a nice salad, maybe a sandwich or two, and a couple of jars of salsa. Is that too much to ask?