Step away from the tomatoes, squirrel!

August is when most tomatoes are ready for harvest in Boston.  I’ve been watching my Brandywine and Gypsy tomatoes slowly ripen over the months.  Here’s what some of the ripening Gypsy looked like.

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However, I’ve learned that I haven’t been the only one eying my tomatoes. A week later, those same tomatoes looked like this.

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Alas, some greedy animal had eaten them!  My first thought was that it was probably rats since Boston is known for rat problems and my community garden is surrounded by large apartment buildings with dumpsters that probably attract them.  However, as I was standing there feeling sad that I would not be able to enjoy the fruits of my hard work, I saw this rodent scurry over to a piece of a Gypsy tomato left in the pathway next to my plot, carry it to a picnic table, and eat it.

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My tomato thief had been a squirrel!  Although I was upset, I didn’t know what I should do about the squirrels.  I went home that day trying to convince myself that I had enough tomatoes to share a few with the squirrels and half-hoping that the squirrels would find other tomatoes to eat.  But two days later, more tomatoes had been eaten!

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At this point, I knew I had to fend off the squirrels or else we wouldn’t be eating any homegrown tomatoes this year.  Dave and I went into battle mode and decided try some remedies.

Vinegar

First, I used a mix of half water and half white vinegar in a spray bottle and sprayed all of my tomato plants.  I diligently sprayed the tomatoes daily for a few days and I didn’t notice any additional tomatoes eaten, but I only used this as a temporary solution until my wolf urine order arrived, thinking that would be a more potent solution.

Wolf Urine

We heard from a fellow gardener that fox urine had helped him keep rodents away from his produce. Then, we read that online that wolf urine would keep squirrels away. I wasn’t sure whether fox or wolf urine would work better. Should we believe word-of-mouth or the internet? We went with the Pete Rickard’s Wolf Urine Hunting Scent from Amazon.

Since the scent of the wolf urine quickly dissipates when left out in the open, Dave made the following contraption to prevent the scent from dissipating so quickly and to allow for easy refill of urine. The contraption consists of some old socks stuffed inside a plastic gallon jug. Small holes were punch around the perimeter of the jug about one-third of the way down from the top.

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In the garden, the jug was placed in the middle of all my tomato plants and buried halfway into the ground, so that the holes that were punched were above ground. The cap of the jug was unscrewed, urine was poured into the jug to soak the socks, and the cap was screwed back. The stench of the wolf urine was so strong that we could smell it from the edges of the plot even though it was only escaping through the small holes on the sides of the jug.

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Despite refilling the bottle of urine in a few days, I noticed that the squirrels had still been helping themselves to tomatoes. Maybe the wolf urine doesn’t work so well or perhaps, my contraption was not the best way to optimize the wolf urine.

Bird Netting

Another fellow gardener suggested using bird netting. Since the wolf urine hadn’t worked so well for me, I decided to give netting a try. I used a small piece of bird netting around one bunch of tomatoes and a piece of netting from a produce bag around another.

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After a few days, the cluster of tomatoes wrapped by the produce bag were devoured. The produce bag had been chewed through. The cluster surrounded by bird netting was still intact, but they were also higher up off the ground and the tomatoes weren’t ripe yet. The squirrels only seem interested in tomatoes that have ripened at least to the the stage where they are light orange colored, if not red. Another thing I observed was that although my Brandywine and Gypsy tomatoes kept getting eaten, my Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes ripened beautifully untouched. I decided not to continue with the bird netting this year since I felt that having to untie the netting everytime to pluck a ripe tomato would be a hassle. I think I will try to grow my tomato plants a little closer to each other next year, so I can just drape bird netting over the whole cluster of plants, if needed.

Ripening tomatoes indoors

I finally decided that the best way to protect my tomatoes was to ripen them indoors. As soon as the tomatoes show a tinge of pale orange, I bring them inside. So far, this has been the easiest and most hassle-free for us to get tomatoes without a bite taken out of them. Here are some of my Brandywine with varying shades of ripeness.

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Now, the next problem we have to tackle is how we’re going to eat all the tomatoes! Hopefully, that battle will be easier than the one against the squirrels.

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