Devilry among the tomatoes

The tomato plants have grown large, with fairly healthy leaves. They are loaded with fruit just beginning to turn different shades of reds, and purples, in various combinations. The tomato hornworms, a plague in some years, have been few. Most we have found (and fed to the chickens) before they’ve gotten too big or caused much damage. Others have been covered with parasites—wasp pupae—and these we leave alone because the parasites offer an effective control system.

However, a line from Lord of the Rings came to me last weekend: “what is this new devilry?” We began to discover half eaten, near ripe tomatoes, still hanging from the vine in mockery. Several beautiful Striped Germans, yellow with a red blush and weighing in at close to a pound each, look as if someone ripped chunks from them…and then, satiated, left the remainder dangling on the stem. One tomato we found with a single fang mark (top and bottom), so we suspected Oliver as the main culprit (Oliver has been known to harvest tomatoes). But we kept him under surveillance for all of Sunday, and could (almost) swear he was never near those plants. Yet by mid-afternoon we found another half eaten tomato. The marauder strikes day or night and the dogs have yet to raise an alarm that someone is in the garden.

So another growing season brings a new mystery, and it could result in a devastating tomato loss—worse than blight, hornworms, or the chickens we had been so concerned about. We won’t be celebrating a successful harvest quite yet.

Postscript: Cherisse spent three hours tonight putting fencing up around the tomatoes, having conclusively determined that some creature other than the dogs was getting them. Later tonight a friend told me he’d read on another blog that squirrels were getting a woman’s tomatoes. She watched a squirrel rake a tomato with its teeth to determine ripeness; those sufficiently ripe, it tucked into. According to her, this happens in times of drought and they go for the moisture. However, in all the years we’ve grown tomatoes, this is the first time squirrels have ever shown interest—and we have always had squirrels. Perhaps their food is in short supply and they are branching out. Whatever the reason, it spells disaster for us, since keeping squirrels out will be near impossible.

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