Dear Miss Floribunda,
This hot weather seems to agree with tomatoes because I have a bumper crop this year. However, the beneficiaries of the crop are the hordes of squirrels that get to them before I do! The best I can do is pick them when they first start to ripen and put them in the windows, but I do love a vine-ripened tomato. Now, I followed the advice you gave last spring to plant native berries that birds prefer to our cultivated ones and I have to admit that this did help some. Is there anything your average squirrel might prefer to a tomato?
Plundered on Powhatan Street
Until the acorns drop, garden tomatoes are the number-one treat on a squirrel’s menu. I have asked various successful vegetable gardeners for advice.
My brother-in-law Picante uses hot chili sauce to deter squirrels, but he has to apply it daily ─ a lot of trouble. Aunt Sioux assures me that black plastic netting works for her. She strings clothesline over her plants, making a tent of the netting and secures it at each end at ground level with rocks or heavy pots. I think chicken wire might do well too.
The tomato guru of the Hyattsville Community Garden, Dave Pomidoro, builds a U-shaped tomato-
training structure of bamboo and prunes his tomatoes so that only the top branches bear fruit. The Community Garden squirrels are evidently too lazy to climb this ─ perhaps they are overweight from gorging themselves on lower-lying fruit.
Ivan Grozni offered a recipe for squirrel pie, but when I rejected it he sent a picture of the cage he built around his plants. My neighbor Patapanelope plants tomatoes of different colors and has found that Cherokee Purple and some of the pink and yellow ones tend to lure squirrels away from the luscious red varieties she likes best. She also places sandwich bags over her tomatoes when still green.
Brother Ardilla at the Franciscan Monastery tells me he plants sunflowers with his tomatoes because the squirrels love the seeds. He also makes sure to keep some water nearby, believing that just as birds go for juicy cherries when they are thirsty, squirrels go for tomatoes for the moisture when they have no other source.
My favorite remedy, though I dare not recommend it, comes from my Cousin Tipsy Dipsman. Quite by accident she discovered one year, when she wasn’t well and failed to pick pears from her tree, that the squirrels went crazy over the fermented fruit that fell on the ground. Now she purposely puts out dishes of fermented mash of various kinds around her tomato patch. She claims she finds squirrels flat on their backs with their paws waving in the air, emitting little giggling sounds.
I have not witnessed this, but she does seem to have lots of tomatoes.
For more on vegetable-growing lore, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 18. It will be at the home of Jean and Millard Smith, famed for their vegetable garden, at 3600 Longfellow Street.