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Tomatoes and critters

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In almost 20 years of trying to grow backyard tomatoes we're had very limited success because the minute they start turning orange they are gobbled up by what I'm pretty sure are rats (though I don't want to unfairly demonize an animal without visual evidence). Suppose it could be rabbits too, but not as likely I don't think. This year we have three really good plants in pots on our back patio and I'm determined to enjoy them, in spite of losing the first ripening fruit the other night.

I though about building a wire mesh cage around the plants but that's not going to help the patio aesthetics at all.

A local Lowe's sold me something, called Shot-Gun RepelsAll, that is a granular material you spread in a six inch band around the pots. Supposedly won't harm animals and gives off a repellent that inflames the nostrils of the critters and drives them away. Any experience with this stuff or better ideas???

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  1. I'm having/had a problem with blue jays. See James Cristinian Jun 02, 2009 02:54PM response to me at General tomato plant "production" advice . Basically, he says pick them when they first begin to ripen. Let them ripen inside on a counter. I'm in the process of trying this now with 3 on the counter, but we're currently and 96 degrees and supposed to hit 100 degrees in the next couple of days, so my tomato "season" is basically over.

    2 Replies
    1. re: CocoaNut

      Ours is just starting, so I may try that technique with a few 'matoes and see how it goes. Can you pick when you just begin to see the color turn?

      1. re: Midlife

        The first one that I picked had a good amount of orange on it. Since then, while waiting for 4 more to reach that same maturity, I lost them to (I guess) birds. I've now picked 5 more when they just began to show some orange. They are sitting on a counter about 8 or 9 feet from a window and are ripening (by color) just fine. I have no doubt though, that they will be less flavorful than they would be had they fully ripened on the vine. They are also MUCH smaller than if they'd had another week or so to vine ripen. #$%@#$% birds! Good luck with yours.

    2. The post should read like an AA meeting introduction, "Hello, my name is Sherri and I have pack rats". Yes, I do and am grateful every day that my sainted mother is dead because no daughter of hers should ever admit to having rats.

      But since I do and like to have fresh-grown produce, I must deal with what I have. I use a combination of barriers (walls), liquid fence (which deters the bunnies pretty effectively) AND red pepper flakes mixed w/ cayenne pepper. The rats scale the walls with ease but this keeps the rabbits out.

      I was chided on an earlier post for using this environmentally-sound and very effective deterrent because it is harmful to the rats. So be it. Right now it is: Rats 0 VS Sherri 1. They're my damned tomatoes!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        Amen, Sister!!

        We live up against a canyon hillside and 1.5 miles from the ocean. There is a lot of open land around here and mice, rats, rabbits, frogs, snakes just come with the territory. My Mom was always creeped out by the rat thing too, but it has nothing to do with cleanliness....... it' s nature. We even see coyotes from time to time.

        1. re: Midlife

          Yep, Lordy do I hear you. I'm about 40 miles east of Phoenix in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. In addition to the critters you named, I also contend with javelina and deer. I swear both of these have asbestos gullets because NOTHING fazes them. They eat prickly pear cactus!

          I have gone from a suburban garden with raised beds and the occasional bird to living in the wild kingdom. To get a tomato here, I use mylar strips to disuade the flying predators and offensive substances to foil the wall & fence intruders. Most homes are not as well-protected as my bloomin' garden!

          We're on a hillside and the majority of my planting is done in large pots on a walled patio, high off the desert floor. I do have a small, walled & gated laundry yard that I also plant. Different deterrents for each place. With fingers crossed as I write, so far, no one has bothered the developing "Rounde de Nice" zucchini. The haricots verts also fared well but are now burned to a crisp; tomatoes are finished as well except for the small yellow pears which seem to survive almost anything.

        2. re: Sherri

          I second red pepper flakes and cayenne, works for most pests for me. Not an issue.

          I also make a small fence with fine chicken wire and then thin strings of fish line over the top. The side I made a little latch so I can easly open. I get lots of squirrels but my fence works great. May not look the best but for anyone who gardens we all undersrand. Between that and the cayenne which usually works, but my fence is last resort if I get the squirrels

        3. i've seen a squirrel actually plucking a young tomato and hauling off with it across the yard. i yelled, "STOP THIEF!" and he paused very briefly, shot a look at me, dropped it, and scooted off.

          2 Replies
          1. re: alkapal

            Squirrels are a major problem with tomatoes here in Chicago. They damage a lot more fruit than they eat, too. Some years squirrels also develop a taste for eggplant although they are more likely just to chew off some and then decide they do not like it. Given their little squirrel brains, they then try another one to see if they like it better. No.

            1. re: alkapal

              Tree rats! But they are sooooo cute! They eat my bird feeders, wiring and whatever's available, plus getting on the roof and jumping onto whatever they like. I have skirts around my peach tree and yet they find a way to jump on from something nearby! They are as prolific as the deer, here; and eat as much.
              Excuse me (squirrel huggers avert your eyes), but I shoot them. I have a few peaches and apples left and I am defending my crop! Everything else is surrounded by deer netting and rabbit wire. I have eaten two rabbits lately. Yum!

            2. Well............ for anyone interested........... this has taken on a life of its own. About ten days ago our son was over for a nice dinner in the back yard and during the meal we became aware of scurrying things in the planters which are only 8 or 10 feet from our patio table. Heavy-duty halogen flashlight caught at least 10 rats scurrying around. E-e-e-w!!! Our next-door neighbors have been killing rats by the half-dozen every few days and our home owners association is installing new bait stations in the common area behind us today.

              We've cleaned out any areas where the rats can find cozy comfort, including a nest they had made in a 10' shrub next to our side wall (inventive little critters had gathered leaves and twigs to form a platform in the upper branches) which I discovered when I interrupted their siesta over the weekend. I've even built a wire enclosure around the three potted tomato plants, with the top few inches bent back and covered with aluminum foil. So far the tomatoes have been spared further pilfering, though I did see a rather large rabbit in the bed right behind them yesterday. Jury's out on this as new tomatoes start to ripen (the critters only go for them when there are a few that have started to turn red).

              And the bird feeder that is likely the major attraction???? A visit to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store convinced my wife that changing the bird food to a type that would not leave uneaten millet all over the ground was a first step. This after six or seven garden shops told us to get rid of the feeder altogether. SO.......... we wait and see.

              I am, unfortunately, the type that silently calculates the cost of more expensive feed, wire enclosures and such against the price of several pounds of tomatoes at the farmers' market. It's not that I don't understand that our home-grown tomatoes will taste better, and that the birds are great to have in the yard.......... BUT........... well............

              Where's that Pied Piper when you need him???

              1 Reply
              1. re: Midlife

                Oh, wow. And I was ticked when deer started nibbling on the cherry tomato plant on my patio. I'll count my blessings!

              2. Try bird and deer netting. It's cheap and should last for several years. We found it at Home Depot when we were contemplating building a 7' fence around our large garden and suffering sticker shock at what it would cost. You name the critter and we probably have it trying to turn our garden into a buffet. Since we went with the netting we have had absolutely no critter damage. Drape it over your pots and fasten tightly with a rubber band or bungee cord. You can water and fertilize right through it and the pollinators can get in and out easily. Visually, it's nice too because it isn't the eyesore that a fence would be although I imagine it will be visible since your pots are right on your patio. But my vote goes for the pleasure of vine ripened fruit over pilfering critters and aesthetics every time. Not to mention the frustration and cost of powders, granules and liquids that have just never worked for me.

                4 Replies
                1. re: morwen

                  The netting might be a good solution in some situations but rats will eat through even lightweight metal screening. Rabbits........ not so sure, but they might make quick work of netting too.

                  My tomatoes seem to be safe now, with the 1/4" "galvanized hardware cloth" in place. No new nibblers in about a week, and 8 or 10 tomatoes almost ready to pick. Yum!!!

                  1. re: Midlife

                    Rabbits go right through plastic netting, like deer netting. I use "chicken wire".

                    1. re: Scargod

                      Chicken wire, no netting. That lasts a week here.

                    2. re: Midlife

                      There's dozens and dozens of rabbits running around here and none of them have gotten through the netting. In fact, they're so bold you can walk up to about two feet from them before they'll bolt. Also deer (huge problem in this area), coyote, fox, ground hogs, possums, moles/voles/mice and of course all kinds of birds. None of our baby fruit trees have been girdled or stripped and none of our beds have been raided since we netted everything. I haven't seen any rats though there must be some considering we're surrounded by three ponds and beef cattle are being raised across from us. I'm sure rats could get through the netting if they wanted to. I've seen the results of them chewing through plastic tight lidded feed tubs.

                      I've been watching the rabbits closely, finding their trails because I intend to set snares when the cooler weather comes. There's so many that the coyotes, fox, neighbors' cats, and two labs can't put a dent in the population.