The Tomato Bandit
When I lived in Idaho I relished the challenge of actually being able to raise tomatoes to full maturity. In the Southeast Idaho highlands at an altitude of nearly six thousand feet, this was a tenuous task, but not impossible.
It required water walls around the plants and a cover for a good part of the summer to protect the tender growing vines from the ravages of those frequent summer frosts that visited our mountain valley(tomato plants are regular tenderfoots) and when the thermometer threatens anything close to 32 degrees, they begin to whimper and wilt. I even had a neighbor who constructed a small 4 X 8 glass hot house just for growing tomatoes.
So…when I moved to Arizona, I thought raising tomatoes would be a piece of cake. I could plant them in March and possibly have tomatoes on the table by the middle of June. This would have been the case—except for two perils. My daughter warned me that I’d have birds and squirrels to contend with here in Arizona.
Not having had this problem in Idaho, I tended not to pay attention to her warnings and proceeded to the nursery to find my tomato plants. I bought a couple of nice healthy specimens, brought them home and planted them. They took off like gangbusters and soon were loaded with dozens of blossoms which soon became nice lush tomatoes. I patted myself on the back. This was the biggest crop of tomatoes from just two vines I had produced in my entire life. My daughter told me, “You’d better find some way to keep the birds and squirrels away from your plants, Dad.”
“Why?” I asked. They’re doing fine and the birds and squirrels aren’t bothering them at all.”
“Maybe not right now,” she said, “but they will.”
“Naw,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“Okay, have it your way,” she said, “but don’t crybaby when some morning you go out and find half your crop gone.”
Long story short, I went out two or three days later to check on them, and to my utter amazement, my crop was severely diminished from what it was the last time I checked it. When I mentioned this to youngest daughter, she looked at me with one of those I told you so grins that women are famous for. Then she said, “I told you I saw a squirrel munching on the tomatoes yesterday, but you didn’t believe me.”
So, this year, after having eaten a big dish of crow last year, and learning a hard lesson, I did things a little different. Immediately after planting the tomato plants, I covered the cages with, what I thought, was a very tough nylon netting. The plants did well, and again, were loaded with dozens of tomatoes (a few of the early bloomers even made it to maturity before the varmints discovered them). I thought aha, I’ve foiled that pesky squirrel and the birds. We’re going to have a bumper crop this year. This was two days ago. Yesterday, I go out to check the plants with the anticipation of picking enough tomatoes for the evening dinner salad. Damn!! All but about ten of my prize tomatoes are gone. Poof. Vanished. No longer there. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Close examination revealed that the tomato bandit had chewed an opening in my so-called tough netting and gained entrance into the treasure trove of lush tomatoes. THE TOMATO BANDIT STRIKES AGAIN. So I guess next year it’s steel chicken wire around the cages. I’m determined not to be foiled by these furry little critters.