The last tomato … maybe

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Many people grow tomatoes in the summertime in Ohio. You might even do that, too. Actually, it’s an easy thing. Just buy the plants and find a good, sunny place to grow them. We use an extended area of a flower garden. After you put them in the ground, add some fertilizer and water, and soon you have tomato buds. Anybody can do it.
But we have a problem. In our yard we seem to have a perfect location except for an unauthorized invasion. Critters in our backyard think the tomatoes are a treat. I think they come out at night since I’ve never seen it happen right in front of me. The animals, whether a raccoon, skunk, opossum or squirrel, all of which we have seen in our yard at times, think our tomatoes are for them. The varmints don’t realize that the tomatoes are for us. Since they appear when I’m not around, I haven’t been able to explain that to them.
This year the annual routine began. I planted the tomatoes and was afraid, as in years past, it would be one for them and one for me all summer long. The animals would come up and grab them off the plant and take a bite, whether the tomato is green or red. Apparently one big bite is it. They drop the rest of it. It must not taste as good as it looks.
I was determined this year was not going to be like all the others. I took action as I purchased what you would probably call chicken wire. It has openings of about one-inch. I was hoping those would not be too big and the thieves couldn’t reach through the holes to get the tomatoes. This little, sort of flimsy, fence is about three feet tall. Then I realized that the plants get to be more than 4 feet tall, so was this going to work?
The make-shift fence came on a roll with about eight to 10 feet on it, which was way too much, so I asked my husband, Dan, if he could cut that off and place the fence around the tomatoes. After he started the task, it became clear we did not have the same idea about what was going to happen here.
His installation consisted of wrapping it around the tomatoes plants. He wrapped the excess around a tomato steak and he was done. OK, it’s not how I would’ve done it, but I could see it could work. Then we waited for the little plants to grow. They went from 18 inches to three feet tall in no time. Now for the test when the tomatoes came on the plants.
I must explain that I was told several years ago the reason critters go after the tomatoes is they are looking for water. That’s probably not the problem this year, but to keep the varmints away in the past, I would place pie plates filled with water near the plants. This might deter the eating of the tomatoes. Wrong!
The ultimate insult was they ignored the water except to drop the half-eaten tomato in it! Seriously, it appears water wasn’t the answer. I was sure the fence solution was going to do it, unless they could climb up the fence and reach inside.
Eventually, the tomatoes ripened. We enjoyed two of them and I was proud as I thought I had solved the problem. But the following morning when I went out to admire my solution, there was the telltale evidence – An animal had grabbed a tomato.
The residue of the half-eaten green tomato was on the ground. How did they get in? Did they climb up the flimsy fence? But the fence guy, Dan, believed they crawled underneath. He spotted a small space between the wire and the ground. That must’ve been a rough trip and I’m sure some animal got scratched badly on that wire fence. No matter, he took one tomato from us and that was to be the end of it.
Dan adjusted his installation so there was no way to get under and as of this writing we have been able to enjoy all of our tomatoes, except that one.
Clearly in the past, my farming/critter skills have been limited, but maybe we have really solved this problem. Maybe you’ve had the theft situation, too, and maybe this will help you. It has plagued us ever since we planted tomatoes and lived in this house, with the woods behind us. That must be where the theft plotting takes place.
It’s been 19 years, and I wonder why we didn’t have better problem solving skills, earlier. Oh well, it looks good for now. I’ll keep you informed.
BULLETIN – this just in. After I finished this column I went to the tomato plants to see if any were ripe. Oh no … another big beautiful tomato had a large bite out of it and yes, it was at the top of the plant above the wire. How disappointing. OK, this is war!
(Melanie Behrens – melb@marysvillejt.com)



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