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Friday, May 30, 2008

Reader Question- A Thief In The Night

It has been so fun this year to watch my little tomato plant grow. We didn't have a garden growing up and I love homegrown tomatoes. So I have anxiously waited for my little tomato plant to produce for me. About six weeks ago my first little tomato appeared, followed by a couple others. My husband had planted pie pumpkins and a couple of weeks ago we were excited to see the beautiful orange blossoms open up. Imagine our sadness when one morning all of the orange blossoms were gone. We thought perhaps our daughter or one of her friends had picked the blossoms. Oh well, we still had the tomatoes. Imagine my surprise today when I went out and my biggest tomato was gone. It happened overnight while my daughter and my dogs were all tucked away in their beds. Was it birds? Bunnies? What can I do to prevent this from happening to my other little tomatoes? Thanks for your help!

Thanks again!
Kristi, Texas

P.S. I am also curious because the lower leaves on my tomato plants are all dry and kind of "hole-y" I know we are watering plenty (perhaps too much even?), do you think that is caused by some type of bug or is my plant diseased?

Dear Kristi,

Mere speculation on my part, but I assume the thief is a rodent. I would assume a squirrel or a bunny. Remember naughty Peter Rabbit? In this part of Texas we have squirrels that "forage" everything from almost ripe tomatoes to whole hibiscus buds. There are a few ways to handle your situation.

  • An organic fertilizer, Blood meal, (found at feed stores or nurseries) sprinkled around the base of your plants acts as a repellent for rodents. However, it must be reapplied after rain, or excessive watering.
  • Rodents can also be repelled by cayenne pepper. Or mixing a spray solution of 1oz Tabasco sauce to 1 gallon water. You can spray this on your plants, and it should effectively keep rodents away.
  • If all else fails and you can't beat them, you may just have to invite them over to dine. Offer a feeder, on the opposite side of your yard, filled with corn and sunflower seeds. In theory this keeps them content and out of your garden. It's only theory, but worth a try. Squirrels are loners and territorial so it should not attract more.

I harvest my larger garden variety tomatoes before they ripen on the vine. I have learned to pick them a little early (when the slightest shade of orange starts to appear) and let them finish ripening in the window sills. They are still tasty and I actually get to "taste" them. The birds are also very attracted to bright red tomatoes ripening on the vine. So I recommend an early harvest. I have also found that I am able to harvest so many more cherry tomatoes than I am larger variety tomatoes. I pluck the sweet 100s right when they turn orange. I bring them in and they turn deep red in my window sill. The little ones seem much easier to protect. I hope this is helpful. You've put so much work into your tomatoes I hope the next ripe ones are enjoyed by you and yours. If not... Annie get your gun. :)

P.S. The bottom leaves of your tomato plants will get yellow and holey. You should hopefully have fresh healthy growth at the top with lots of new blooms. If you haven't already put a tomato cage on your plant, do so. Because it should grow up and out!



d/b/c/m said...

thanks for the tobbasco idea! we have a squirrel thief that ate so many of our pea seeds, as we watched him on several different occasions through the window! he seemed to just laugh at us as we yelled. we named him punk, but i don't think of him as fondly as i would a pet... our garden is pathetic this year because of him.

m. & m. said...

I heard you can slip little sections of pantyhose over your tomatoes to keep bugs/birds away until they ripen. I tried it last year and it really did work! It's kind of a pain but it was completely effective.

m. & m. said...

I forgot to mention that it works for all fruits & veggies - not just tomatoes.