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Vegetable Gardening: troubles in the tomato patch

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Forum: Vegetable GardeningReplies: 43, Views: 321
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helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 1, 2012
5:59 AM

Post #9188493

Hi everyone,
I have a small veggie garden here in the city. Everything grows pretty well under my inexpert eye. But... I have a big problem with tomato thieves. Some are munched on on the vine but most are moved away from the plants. I know it must be a rodent and we have three to choose from, the chipmunk, squirrel and rat. There are rabbits here too but a small fence seems to keep the out, not to mention the coyote predation helps with the numbers. I am not sure which of the three is doing the damage and if there is anything I can do to stop the destruction short of camping in the garden.
I would greatly appreciate any input and suggestions.
Thanks,
Helen

NicoleC

NicoleC
Madison, AL
(Zone 7b)

July 1, 2012
6:55 AM

Post #9188532

Birds and other critters really go after tomatoes when it gets hot and dry -- they could be looking for water what with the weather right now. Since I put out a birdbath I haven't had a single tomato loss to birds.

You could try putting out a dish of water (an old ceramic pot bottom or similar will work) and keep it full.

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

July 1, 2012
7:07 AM

Post #9188544

helenchild - squirrels will steal tomatoes, and pretty much everything else growing in the vegetable garden! Last year I had two tortoises that ate tomatoes growing on the lowest branches.

Birds usually peck holes in the fruit, but as Nicole said, a birdbath should keep them away from your crop. Be sure the container is shallow or the birds could drown. Our bird bath is a shallow, plastic tray set on top of an old discarded beer barrel that my husband found.

NicoleC

NicoleC
Madison, AL
(Zone 7b)

July 1, 2012
11:52 AM

Post #9188791

I also have a dish down low in the front of the house. It gets lots of traffic from birds, too. And both get much traffic from beneficial insects like wasps.

I laugh because sometimes there's a line of birds waiting their turn!
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 1, 2012
12:27 PM

Post #9188842

I have a birdbath and a koi/water garden pond in my yard. So I don't think anyone is thirsty. But maybe putting a shallow dish of water actually in the vegie patch? Could it help?
So beyond the water issue any other thoughts on keep squirrels or rats from stealing? I might resort to some rat poison since I suspect they are the worst culprits.
Helen

drthor

drthor
Irving, TX
(Zone 8a)

July 1, 2012
1:35 PM

Post #9188890

helenchild
when do you harvest your tomatoes?
I have almost NO problem with "thieves".
I am harvesting my tomatoes as soon as they turn color on the bottom and I let them ripe in my kitchen.
The tomatoes don't lose their taste and you don't lose your tomatoes.
Good luck !

NicoleC

NicoleC
Madison, AL
(Zone 7b)

July 1, 2012
1:38 PM

Post #9188892

I think if you already have water adding another dish will have no effect. I think drthor's idea might work for you, too.
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 1, 2012
3:13 PM

Post #9188989

I do know to pick the tomatoes when they get their first blush of color. But they are taking green tomatoes!! Geez... grrrr.
I need to get rid of the rodents!!!!! But I bet I am not the first to say that about vermin. I fear there isn't a good way and I will just have to get the few I can.
If anyone is squeamish turn away now, but I am thinking of scooping my little dogie's poops and placing them strategically around the tomato plants. The concept worked well when I rolled the doggie cigars down a chipmunk's burrow to get them to up and move.
Maybe there is something nicer I could put up in the plants as another repellent.
Thanks for the input.
Helen

riceke

riceke
Snellville, GA
(Zone 7b)

July 2, 2012
5:07 AM

Post #9189552

Helen...it's the squirrels. I sat and watched almost all morning a couple days ago to see who the culprit was. Here he comes down the trees, across the garden path and sneakily going underneath the tomato patch where he began his selection. I have also seen chipmunks doing the same. We need to rename the State mammal here in GA to the squirrel because Lord knows there are many of them. If you ever find a remedy for them let me know. I too have a bird bath but they prefer the fruit and it doesn't have to be fully ripe either. My dogs (2 cocker spaniels) used to chase them but gave it up in this heat.

NicoleC

NicoleC
Madison, AL
(Zone 7b)

July 2, 2012
5:20 AM

Post #9189570

The solution when I was a kid was children on patrol with slingshots (and later pellet guns) and a large dog who absolutely hated squirrels. This is probably not practical for some. :)
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 2, 2012
5:20 AM

Post #9189572

Thanks riceke. Do you think anything would act as a repellent and maybe at least slow down the assault? I suppose the ultimate solution would be to fence the area in, top and sides, the way people do to keep the birds off their blueberries. The fencing material would have to have a fine mesh, maybe around 1/2inch or else they could squeeze through it.
Helen
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 2, 2012
5:35 AM

Post #9189587

Thanks for the suggestion NicoleC but I don't know how to use a sling shot very well I suspect. ^_^
I do have a very dedicated Rat Terrier who relentlessly stalks and chases all rodents but the tomatoes are on the other side of the fence. :-( He hates it too. He does keep them running though.
I think at this point I am going to be more diligent in picking my tomatoes regularly. This should be easier now since I just retired! YEAH.
Helen

Thumbnail by helenchild
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NicoleC

NicoleC
Madison, AL
(Zone 7b)

July 2, 2012
7:16 AM

Post #9189734

Congrats on the retirement, Helen!

I have seen the garden fortresses of chicken wire you are talking about, but I know when I was in CA and used bird netting to keep the cats out of my patio (and mine in), the bees wouldn't fly between the holes in the mesh so I had to hand pollinate. I thought it strange since they certainly could fit. I don't know if southern bees are that particular.

So if you do build something, maybe just large cages with doors for the tomatoes, since they don't need pollination? Or are they raiding the rest of the garden, too?
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 2, 2012
8:02 AM

Post #9189797

Thanks NicoleC.
I think at this time a garden in a cage is a dream. The idea just came into my head at the moment and I haven't give any details a thought.
Do you think chicken wire would keep out squirrels? Or rats? Maybe they make chicken wire with smaller holes than I am thinking. To build a large cage over the garden would be quite an undertaking, not to mention probably expensive.
Helen

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

July 2, 2012
8:10 AM

Post #9189810

I think chicken wire (they call it poultry wire now) would keep out squirrels. Rats can squeeze through very small spaces, so don't know if it would keep them out.

I was surprised by what Nicole said about bees not wanting to fly through the bird netting. Perhaps they couldn't "see" it? If the mesh size is small, I can see why they would not fly through it.

I seem to remember seeing a photo from a DG member where she had covered her entire garden with chain link to keep out squirrels.

NicoleC

NicoleC
Madison, AL
(Zone 7b)

July 2, 2012
8:31 AM

Post #9189829

I think 1" chicken wire would probably keep out adult rats but not definitely mice and babies. They do make 1/2" chicken wire but I suspect mice can get through that, too, and I was unable to actually find any when I was making the "L" for the bottom of my garden fence to keep out diggers.

Using hardware cloth is another option -- more expensive but much more durable. It is much more visible to humans, though. I made my potato cages out of it since I had most of a roll left over. You definitely see the wire very clearly whereas chicken wire kind of vanishes at a distance.

Since the squirrels constantly hop back and forth through my chain link, I don't think that would help at all. It might just turn your garden into a eat-in restaurant instead of take-out.

newyorkrita

newyorkrita
North Shore of L. I., NY
(Zone 6b)

July 2, 2012
9:40 AM

Post #9189927

Helen, love the picture of your dog, too cute!
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 3, 2012
3:48 AM

Post #9190869

Thanks newyorkrita. Buddy, my Rat Terrier, is very intense when it comes to rodent surveillance. When he isn't outside chasing them, he keeps track of as many as he can from the windows as shown in the picture.

Since I last entered in this thread Buddy actually caught a squirrel in the backyard. AMazing. I think it is his second in 8 years.
Several hours later another I saw a squirrel and young rabbit with munching away on the lawn. As I was watching this scene and hawk swooped down out of the trees through the yard very close to the ground. I didn't see if he got either critter.
And then very soon after that scene I saw a squirrel hopping across the yard with a green tomato in his mouth. Sigh... I am thinking next year I may just build a cage of some sort to try and keep them away from my tomatoes.

Helen

riceke

riceke
Snellville, GA
(Zone 7b)

July 3, 2012
4:05 AM

Post #9190875

[quote="helenchild"]Thanks riceke. Do you think anything would act as a repellent and maybe at least slow down the assault? I suppose the ultimate solution would be to fence the area in, top and sides, the way people do to keep the birds off their blueberries. The fencing material would have to have a fine mesh, maybe around 1/2inch or else they could squeeze through it.
Helen[/quote]

Helen...problem with the mesh or fencing is that eventually the plants get tangled in the mesh and makes it difficult for you to get into it without breaking stems/leaves. Also some birds would get under it somehow and get trapped in the netting. I tried this with 1" netting for cuke trellis. As far as repellents there are a couple products I've seen in the box stores that claim to repel critters but I think it's just hot pepper extract in a spray bottle. What I did one yar was to buy a Red Rider BB gun and everytime I saw one getting close I would shoot near the squirrel to scare it. After a while all I had to do is pump the gun and the sound would scare them away. I finally gave up and considered them along with the heat and drought one of the hazards in gardening. As long as they are here, they will come! Just plant enough for both of you.
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 3, 2012
7:36 AM

Post #9191099

Thanks riceke, you made some very good points. I usually have a pretty laid back approach to gardening. It is just the last two years the squirrels have gotten most of my tomatoes. It has been frustrating.
I have found not too much bothers okra, eggplant or peppers and have been enjoying lots of them. Grilled eggplant is DEE licious. Green beans have been plentiful too.
So all is not lost and I am enjoying lots in the garden. But I haven't given up trying to find at least some kind of deterrent to save more tomatoes.
Helen

happytail

happytail
St. Simon's Island, GA
(Zone 9a)

July 3, 2012
6:44 PM

Post #9192001

I put in a poly fence that is really a deer fence, and it has kept out the multitude of squirrels, deer, and raccoons. It is almost invisible, and very strong. I have it around a 12X24 raised bed, and only the posts really show. I did make a wooden gate, with an arbor over it.
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 3, 2012
8:17 PM

Post #9192172

I am not familiar with a 'poly fence'. Is it rolled plastic mesh? Is it available at HD/Ace/Lowes? It sounds intriguing.
.

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

July 4, 2012
7:24 AM

Post #9192553

If you Google poly deer fence several sources come up.

happytail

happytail
St. Simon's Island, GA
(Zone 9a)

July 4, 2012
12:57 PM

Post #9192944

It is a rolled plastic mesh, but it is stronger than the stuff you get at home depot or lowes. Mine came from Gardener's Supply Company.
koshki
Grosse Pointe Shores, MI
(Zone 6a)

July 5, 2012
1:01 PM

Post #9194179

Try planting some garlic around your tomato plants. Through sheer luck I discovered that my squirrels would dig in every pot but the ones I had garlic in. This year I put cloves around my tomatoes, and no digging at all!

There's also a product called Rabbit Scram (or Deer Scram)...it has garlic and other stinky stuff in it that repels critters, and sadly, my DH too.

NicoleC

NicoleC
Madison, AL
(Zone 7b)

July 5, 2012
1:54 PM

Post #9194270

Garlic is a winter crop down south, koshki, but the plants do make a great gardening barrier. The rabbits in my yard won't cross a line of garlic plants even to nibble the peas behind them.

I wonder if there is an onion tolerant to hot weather that would work the same way?

happytail

happytail
St. Simon's Island, GA
(Zone 9a)

July 5, 2012
2:21 PM

Post #9194305

Society garlic is perennial here, and it does seem to keep the deer out of my day lilies. Might try that.
koshki
Grosse Pointe Shores, MI
(Zone 6a)

July 5, 2012
4:10 PM

Post #9194428

I wouldn't worry about planting "sacrificial" garlic if it would protect my tomatoes!

helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 5, 2012
7:57 PM

Post #9194768

I am going to try garlic for sure. Thanks.
Hastur
Houston, TX

July 6, 2012
7:58 AM

Post #9195164

Hi there. I know of a way to keep the squirrels away - well, at least it's working REALLY well for me. But you may not like it as much as the other ideas.

A couple of years ago, I lost several tomatoes to squirrels, but harvested enough that I was not particularly worried about it. Unfortunately, last year, I only got to harvest about six tomatoes off of that many bushes, because of the squirrels. So, I started researching ways to scare them away, rather than shooting them (I think the neighbors would complain if I started shooting them).

I found an article about how squirrels and other small critters will stay well away from the smells of predators, and, being the lover of nature that I am, I knew precisely how the predator would leave its scent - by spraying, like cats do.

Since having too many cats in the yard presents other problems, I did not want to do that. Also, at the time I was severely broke, so I could not afford the fox urea that was for sale. But I showed the article to my husband, and he pointed out that humans are considered predators because we eat meat.

At that point, we looked at each other and started snickering. But, he started going out at night, when there was no chance of the neighbors peeking over the fence, and "treating" the corners of the bed where the tomatoes are kept. He didn't hit the sides or into the bed where the tomatoes could get to the treatment. Just on the corners where we did not touch the beds.

This year, I have harvested a metric ton of tomatoes. I've lost one or two here and there - usually right after a rain. But I got the majority of the fruits, and this tells me that this really, really works.

So, for what it is worth, if you have a resource like I have my husband, and you have corners that you can treat periodically, that will drive most of the squirrels away so you can enjoy your tomatoes.

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

July 6, 2012
8:17 AM

Post #9195186

[quote](I think the neighbors would complain if I started shooting them).[/quote]

I would not complain! - Although I could not bring myself to kill one.

I like your approach, Hastur ^_^. Our little dog pees in the walkways between the raised beds, but it has not deterred the squirrels in any way - and she eats meat.
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 6, 2012
2:48 PM

Post #9195649

Hastur,
Human urine... hmmm interesting for sure. Seems I have heard of that before. I mentioned earlier in the post about carefully placing dog poo around tomato plants. I didn't get to doing it at the time but I may make a point of it now. Do you suppose it would have the same effect as urine?
Horseshoe
Efland, NC
(Zone 7a)

July 6, 2012
3:06 PM

Post #9195671

"Seems I have heard of that before. I mentioned earlier in the post about carefully placing dog poo around tomato plants"

I'd say that is a bad move, helenchild. It's well-known that domestic animals (dogs, cats) carry the same type of parasites in their bodies, and poop, that can be easily taken up by humans. This is the major reason why dog poop/cat poop is shunned for use in composting.

As for the urine, I'd recommend watering it down a bit then using it in your garden. The usual ratio is 10:1 for use as a fertilizer, maybe that would be a good guideline for use as a pest deterrent. (As for me, I often whiz in a bucket and throw it around the edges of the garden!) :>_)

Shoe

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

July 6, 2012
4:50 PM

Post #9195750

Does this work to keep stray cats out of your yard?
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 7, 2012
3:38 AM

Post #9196134

Good advise Horseshoe. I never thought of parasites, obviously.
I am having trouble with the idea of urinating in my yard, or even collecting urine to spread around the yard. Of course the dogs do it all the time. But if is will keep the squirrels/rodents off my tomatoes I might try and work up it the deed.
Hastur
Houston, TX

July 16, 2012
1:52 PM

Post #9207581

Gymgirl, I don't know about anyone else, but we don't have cats in the back yard too much. I do have a couple that will come round, see if there is a tasty rodent to eat, and then scram. I don't exactly discourage them, although I don't precisely encourage them, either.
Horseshoe
Efland, NC
(Zone 7a)

July 16, 2012
2:47 PM

Post #9207643

"Does this work to keep stray cats out of your yard?"

Whoops. Sorry, I skipped right over that. Thanks for bringing it back up Hastur.

Whether it works for stray cats I don't know, Linda. I wonder if a stray has staked out your yard as his (or hers) it may want to re-mark it if you do this. Like Hastur, I don't have stray cats. Have my share of coyotes though, and deer, and most recently several skunks that seem to like it here. (Pray for me!) :>)

Shoe
MaypopLaurel
Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA
(Zone 7b)

July 16, 2012
3:47 PM

Post #9207700

Don't know where you live in Decatur, helenchild. Years ago we lived in Winona Park where I yardened and had trouble with rats stealing tomatoes. As for dog feces... http://gardening.wsu.edu/stewardship/compost/petpoop.htm Aside from the problem of parasites...

1. Dog feces can contain fecal coliform bacteria as well as parasites.
2. Rats eat dog/cat dog feces. So do squirrels.
3. Carnivorous (meat eating) animals' feces contains high levels of protein waste compared to the low level proteins in herbivore fesces such as sheep, chicken or cows. High protein waste damages garden plants.
4. Even herbivore manure fertilizers should be composted at least six months, preferably longer, before spreading in the food garden. Carnivore manure; never.
5. Protein based feces is an environmental pollutant. If it was a good thing we would all be invited to walk our dogs at the botanical gardens. For that matter, we might be invited to contribute ourselves.

We have two dogs with a combined weight of one hundred and fifty pounds. They love to dig where ever I do and leave reminders where ever animal poachers are a problem. We have fenced all food growing areas 'cause I'd rather deal with squirrels and deer than dog poop in my vegetables.
helenchild
Decatur, GA

July 16, 2012
8:10 PM

Post #9208134

I have heard that a strong bath soap, like Irish spring will deter rodents, Anyone ever they that? Maybe mint would be unpleasant?
helenchild
Decatur, GA

August 22, 2012
4:20 PM

Post #9250470

Update with a local suggestion from a member on my neighborhood google-group email. Someone said she puts cheap hot sauce down the chipmunk holes and that makes them move! Anyone else hear of this solution?
I think the chipmunks are doing most of the damage to my tomatoes since for some reason (predation?coyotes?hawks?) there haven't been many squirrels in my yard in the past month. But there are some fat chipmunks skulking around and the tomatoes are continually being nibbled on and ruined one after another.
So I am off to get some big bottles of hot sauce and see how it works getting the chipmunks to vacate my yard! I'll keep you posted.
Helen
Gracye
Warrenton, VA

August 25, 2012
6:17 AM

Post #9253005

One thing I learned about hot sauce, and this is kind off-topic, but still applicable...if you are tempted to use any kind of pepper for bird feeders, well, even if you go for the powdered pepper, they get it in their wee eyesies...horrible thought. Really bad to think that you can be responsible for so much pain.

But, that being said, remember that hot sauce has SALT in it, and this is very desirable for critters...so I would suggest that powdered pepper (like the cayenne that you can buy in bulk at the International markets) is better for varmint control than hot sauce. Just a thought.

And one more related thought. The doggone bulb fertilizer, since it has bone meal in it, is VERY enticing to mammals, meaning, BAMBI. So, when you're out there, doing your fall thing in planting TULIPS (which Bambi just LOVES), and throwing in the BONE MEAL...well...need I say more?
Calalily
Deep South Coastal, TX
(Zone 10a)

August 26, 2012
9:56 AM

Post #9254335

I used hot sauce trying to keep mice out of my freshly planted squash seeds. It did not work, nor did cayenne pepper. I used neem cake (very strong odor) and that kept most of the seeds safe, probably because the mouse couldn't smell where the seeds were.
helenchild
Decatur, GA

August 26, 2012
12:27 PM

Post #9254447

How do you use neem cake?
Calalily
Deep South Coastal, TX
(Zone 10a)

August 27, 2012
7:33 AM

Post #9255300

Neem cake is the ground stuff left over from pressing out neem oil. It isn't really a "cake" but is like cottonseed meal in texture. I just sprinkle it down the row right on top of the seeds. It is supposed to supress RKN. I do know it kept the mice from eating my seeds and an added benefit was a reduction in the amount of snails in the beds. I don't know if it is helping with the RKN.

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