June 30, 2012
My name is Frank, and I'm a staff writer at Gwinnett Daily Post. My wife and I recently bought our first home, a 1,400 square-foot, four-sided brick house with a half-acre backyard. This blog is about our new place.
Something's been eating the green tomatoes.
Not just eating them, mind you, but playing with them, gnawing on them and discarding them like they were garbage.
Just the other morning, I stepped out on the porch, sipping coffee, and spotted three shiny green tomatoes sitting on the ground, decimated.
Something had chewed into the hard, green tomato flesh, just enough damage to render it inedible.
Now, we've got a ton of chipmunks all up and down the property. They scurry and stop, watching me as I walk through the yard, toting garden tools or pushing the lawnmower.
At first it was assumed they might be the problem, so I walked the perimeter of my little garden, checking the surrounding wildlife netting for holes, tears, etc.
I found a couple tears, but nothing some twine couldn't mend. I closed gaps in the netting and made sure it was still buried deep enough in the ground to keep the ground-runners at bay.
Later that day on my lunch break at work, I went to the store and bought a plastic Great-Horned Owl, determined to be rid of the garden vermin.
I christened the plastic decoy "Owlbert," picturing a horde of chipmunks, birds and garden enemies cowering at the sight of the Great-Horned predator.
When I got home, I stuck him up on one of the trellises above a cucumber plant and figured my troubles were over. After all, Owlbert was life-like. I'd find myself walking past the garden and doing a double-take, fooled by my own device.
About 12 hours later as I stepped out on the porch sipping coffee the next morning, I was greeted with a troubling sight: not three, but five green tomatoes in the dirt, gaping holes gnawed into their flesh, slimy innards exposed.
Livid, I picked up the wounded soldiers, one by one, hurling them into the English Ivy across the yard. Glancing up at Owlbert, I gritted my teeth.
Walking back to the porch, I sat down to finish my coffee, fuming. I heard something and looked back toward my garden. The branches of a tree above it began to shake, and I watched as an acrobatic squirrel descended from the tree to a tomato plant and yanked a piece of fruit right off.
Jumping up, my coffee cup clattering to the porch, I charged the gray squirrel, stumbling toward him like a madman. Deftly, he hopped over the four-foot wildlife netting and scurried away. Breathing heavily, I glanced up at Owlbert. The great-horned owl stared back stupidly.
I went online and did some research. According to the angry rantings of squirrel victims on web forums, it's not the fruit that the gray squirrels are after, but the water inside. With weather conditions the way they've been this week, it's no wonder the critters were thirsty.
So, being the rodent philanthropist that I am, I set a couple bowls of water outside my garden, and I put a birdbath up on a wooden post about 60 feet away from the tomatoes. Diversions, I hoped, would do the trick. If it was water the squirrels were after, I'd give them enough water to withstand a drought.
The next morning, I walked out on the porch with my coffee and...well, you can probably guess. The water bowls were still full, and another ruined green tomato sat in the dirt. When I leaned down to pick it up, I noticed another green tomato.
The little menace had left it up on the chain-length fence, flaunting the shiny fruit like a trophy. This was war. I really didn't want to hurt the critters, but they'd taken it to the next level. Part of me wondered if this wasn't some revenge plot that predated me.
My grandfather, a Blairsville woodsmen, was known to hunt squirrels daily. He ate them too, including the brains. "He figured it made him think like the squirrels," my mother used to tell me.
Maybe the rodents knew my family's history and were just after some cold-hearted revenge. I could be wrong about that, but just to be sure I went back to the web forums to see how others battled the gray squirrel.
Ground cayenne pepper sprinkled around the plants seemed to be one of the more effective yet humane choices. According to the bloggers, it basically irritated the skittish rodents enough to keep them away.
So I scrounged through my wife's herbs and spices in a kitchen cabinet until I finally found some ground red pepper. I sprinkled the stuff around my three tomato plants, tracing a crimson perimeter between my hard work and the whims of thirsty rodents.
The next morning I awoke to find that not only had the squirrel continued its ravaging, but it had broken one of the plants in half, the cherry tomato plant. It was devastating. Countless hours of work and care went into that plant, and now it was gone. All gone.
I showed the mangled, green branch to my wife, who stood at the porch. She shrugged. "It's just a plant," she said. "It will be OK."
Staring at the few green, untouched orbs still left on the plants, I had an idea. I plucked four or five of them off the branches, and brought them inside, setting them next to the few I'd managed to harvest before they were violated.
If the squirrel wouldn't let nature finish the ripening process, I'd take another route. My wife, the seasoned southern chef, took over.
When life gives you rogue, gray squirrels, make fried green tomatoes.
And as for Owlbert, an abject failure as a scarecrow, I decided to let him stick around in case he decides to be useful one day.