Yes, We’ll Have Some Tomatoes… Someday

It’s an old tale, man vs. beast, survival of the fittest, natural selection. I just never thought I would witness it in my own backyard, not to mention between my husband and a squirrel. Well, to be more accurate, a gang of squirrels.

b17 summer 1
Published July 19, 2013 7:06 PM
5 min read

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b17 summer 1It’s an old tale, man vs. beast, survival of the fittest, natural selection. I just never thought I would witness it in my own backyard, not to mention between my husband and a squirrel. Well, to be more accurate, a gang of squirrels.

 

By Elizabeth Ellis

 

b17 summer 1It’s an old tale, man vs. beast, survival of the fittest, natural selection. I just never thought I would witness it in my own backyard, not to mention between my husband and a squirrel. Well, to be more accurate, a gang of squirrels.

 

It all began last summer.

 

My husband David is obsessed with growing vegetables. When we lived in a high-rise apartment in New York City, one summer he filled huge pots with dirt and tried to grow a variety of items in our living area. His pots took up 50 square feet of our 100-square-foot dining room. He reached a low point when he actually tried to grow corn. “Corn, really? They need rows and cross-pollination!” I yelled, using my limited knowledge on the sexual reproduction of plants. He, however, was not discouraged. When our cat ate the emerging shoots of the corn stalks, David surrounded the “garden” with chicken wire. Needless to say the corn never grew, and we never had a single harvest … of anything.  

 

When we moved to Rye, David anticipated a summer of freshly grown vegetables that he tended with his self-described “green thumb.” Over the years, he’s tried everything including carrots, onions, cucumbers, squash, and strawberries. One year, he attempted to grow them from seeds. That experiment was less than successful.

 

b17 summer 2The following summers David decided to focus on just a few plants, and off to Home Depot he would go to purchase tomato, pepper, and basil plants. He always began his enterprise with the hope of a delicious caprese salad, comprised of fresh mozzarella and homegrown basil and tomatoes. He was successful with the basil and somewhat successful with the peppers, but between the tomato blight, droughts, and insect infestations, the tomatoes were always a disappointment. 

 

Last summer the gardening gods were aligned, and there on our porch was the potential for a bountiful crop of tomatoes. Dozens of flowers festooned each stalk, and within a few weeks there were both small and large green tomatoes. There was one plant with a luscious beefsteak tomato that was ripe well before the rest, and David had timed the picking for the next night to coincide with a perfect ripeness. I bought fresh mozzarella, picked some of the basil, and waited for him to come home to harvest his prize. David went outside, immediately returned, and asked with an accusatory tone, “Did you pick my tomato?” Well, of course I hadn’t. He went back outside, and there, perched on the stone wall at the edge of our backyard, was a black squirrel with a thin scraggly tail, staring at him and eating his bounty! Furious, he stomped back into the kitchen, ranting about the “darn squirrel.” He immediately searched the Internet for strategies on keeping “that nasty rodent” off his tomatoes.

 

Among the recommended solutions were fox urine, dog hair, chicken wire, bottled squirrel repellent, mothballs, and providing an alternate water source (assuming thirst is their motivation). So, without easy access to fox urine, David spread our dog Ellie’s fur all around the plants, surrounded them with chicken wire, sprayed them with “Critter Ridder,” put mothballs in the dirt, and added water to the bird feeder in our backyard. When he came home from work the next evening, he immediately went to the back porch to assess the situation. The look on his face when he walked back in told a story of devastation. “That damn squirrel decimated my entire crop!” he exclaimed. Every green tomato was gone, every vine was trampled, and dirt was scattered all over the place. It was as if a Mongol horde had traversed the porch. These squirrels weren’t thirsty, proclaimed David, but were out for blood! And, this was not the work of a single perpetrator. That was the night my son named the culprits “Lord Blackfurred and His Evil Gang.” 

 

b17 summer 3After a brief argument — won by me thank goodness — about getting a BB gun to “shoot the damn beasts,” David agreed to order a “Havahart Trap” that would not harm the animals. He said he would trap and “relocate” them. Thus began “The Great Squirrel Involuntary Migration Operation.”

 

Initially, I wanted no part in this operation. Though the animals wouldn’t be killed, I had a problem with taking the squirrels away from their home. “You’re potentially separating a husband from his family, or a child from his parents,” I argued. To no avail, the trap was set in the morning, and the plan arranged. David went off to work, and he asked me to keep an eye on it. I wasn’t going to waste my time watching a trap all day, but as I sat in the kitchen eating my lunch, I found myself drawn to the scene unfolding on the porch. There, three feet from me, was a gray squirrel (not Lord Blackfurred), circling the trap. I called David at the office to give him the blow by blow.  After a few sniffs and intense inspection, the squirrel slowly entered the trap and with his dexterous paw, plucked the peanut from the trigger and casually waltzed out of the trap with his nutty lunch. While I found it quite humorous, David was incensed.

 

After another visit to the Internet, the peanuts were put under the trigger and that did the job. Within a week, five squirrels, including what looked like Lord Blackfurred (though to me his tail appeared markedly more bushy), were trapped and escorted to a lovely new home several miles away. The reign of terror was over.

 

By the end of the summer, David’s bumper crop turned into ten small tomatoes at an estimated cost (after taking into account the plants, trap, repellent, chicken wire, mothballs, and gas for the relocation operation) of about $20 per tomato. I’m not sure David really won that war, but he certainly felt “fitter” than the squirrels after the battle was over. An example of Darwin’s natural selection at its best.  

 

This summer, David swore he wasn’t going to do battle again. However, he couldn’t resist and downsized to five tomato plants, plus the basil. Just like the previous summer, we had one large green tomato that was beginning to ripen well before the rest. Last week, David went out to inspect his crop, and the beautiful Beefsteak tomato was gone. Later that evening, I joined David on the porch, we looked out at the sycamore in our yard, and there, scampering up the tree, was Lord Blackfurred with a green tomato in his clutches. He perched on an upper branch, seemed to look down at us, and proceeded to eat the entire tomato. I smiled and turned to David, “Who’s fitter now?”  

 

Last night, I caught David searching the Internet for instructions on how to electrify a fence. The game is afoot….

 

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