Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tomato war

So far, the squirrels are up 7 to 2.

For the past seven years or so, my wife and I have planted each spring a cluster of Mortgage Lifter tomatoes in our modest garden. When left to their natural growth cycles, these heirloom beauties can get as big as softballs. And, oh my, they're so delicious when placed between two slices of Sunbeam bread (there is no much preferred Wonder Bread anymore, a victim, if I recall, of a doughy takeover by Flowers Foods. Sigh), slathered with Hellman's mayonnaise.

Our incredibly tempting Mortgage Lifter tomato garden.
 It wasn't until about three or four years ago that I found out that squirrels, of all animals, apparently like tomatoes as much as I do. I thought they were into peanuts and acorns.

Evidence of this tomato-mania are the residue of half-eaten little green tomatoes sprinkled around my back yard. Every once in a while I'll see a squirrel in the corner of my yard pointing at me, laughing his nervous little tail off. Proof positive.

Occasionally, a half-eaten tomato somehow makes its way into my front yard.

This squirrel-tomato phenomenon was originally held at bay, I think, by a feral neighborhood cat that spooked the squirrels into acceptable garden etiquette. But the cat either moved on or passed away a few years ago, giving the squirrels free rein in my tomato patch.

We've tried our own remedy or two. Whenever we get really frustrated, we circle our tomato plants with moth balls, which helps for about four hours. Unfinished tomato salads still show up in our yard the next day, so it's only a temporary solution that makes us feel like, hey, at least we tried to do something.

Look closely and you'll see a tomato on top of the trellis.
 Any other options — poison bait, pellet guns, birds of prey — seem unusually harsh with wildly unpredictable ramifications in their own right — so we just muddle on.

I've actually considered getting squirrel food and setting it in a tray next to the tomatoes, hoping that the squirrels will opt for the food meant for their specific tastes and leave the tomatoes alone. But I also have this nightmare that the food will do nothing more than attract a thousand squirrels to my tomatoes and not much else.

In the meantime, until I can come up with an acceptable solution, I'm reduced to keeping score. So far this summer, the squirrels have absconded with seven tomatoes — two of them about the size of baseballs and both on the verge of turning red — while I've managed to pick off two immature but potential sandwich gems.

There's about four or five others I could snip off right now, but they are very green; not even a hint of ripening at this point. And while I know they can ripen on my kitchen counter, I also know they won't get any larger. So I hope against hope that they will survive the squirrel massacre.

Yesterday, the squirrels reached the pinnacle. There, sitting on the top of my wisteria trellis, was another half-eaten tomato. Unbelievable.

You know, I don't think I'd feel so bad if they'd just go ahead and eat the whole tomato. At least that way, there'd be no incriminating evidence littering my yard. What I don't know won't hurt me.

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