Whenever I grab the sledgehammer to drive a bamboo stick into the ground in order to secure something in the garden, like I did this morning, I must think of the time when I paid my attempt to protect the tomatoes from predators with a broken toe.
It was a few years ago in August. The tomatoes were heavy with fruit and just starting to ripen. One morning, I found the first fully red tomato on the ground, a big bite taken out of it. The next morning, the same thing. And the day after that, two tomatoes.
As my husband and I were having coffee that morning, I must have given him the “if-you-want-tomato-sauce-this year-you-better-do-something” look before heading out the door. When I pulled up the driveway at midday, I found him in the garden, sweating in the hot sun, putting the finishing touches on a 2-foot wall he had built around the entire tomato patch, using every single piece of plywood and scrap wood he could find in the shed. I gave him a big hug and called him my tomato hero.
The next day I found… another chewed tomato. My husband had gone with our son to his baseball game so they could not hear me scream and curse. By afternoon, and after some frantic research, I finally had a plan. Since the damage most likely occurred at night, I was going to nail a blinking bike light to the inside of the wall, which would deter whatever munched on the tomatoes.
I hastily kicked off my garden shoes at the door and rushed into the garage in socks to fetch the bike light, a nail and a hammer. Not waiting for the light over the workbench to turn on completely, I reached into the shelf for the hammer… and pulled out the sledgehammer sitting on top, which crashed on my foot.
When my husband and son came back a couple of hours later, they found me in the kitchen, my foot in a bucket with ice, wailing. I prefer not to repeat their comments, and neither the comments and looks I got in the following weeks when all I could wear was sandals and someone saw my bruised foot and I had to tell my story.
After I was somewhat able to move around again, I hobbled down to the garden and angrily tossed the bike light into the tomato patch. I left it switched on even during the day and gave a damn about the battery.
The chewing stopped. We had a bountiful tomato harvest. A few more years of critter warfare followed before we turned the main garden into a real fortress that only humans with two free hands to lift the gate, winged insects, and an occasional chipmunk can access. Now I grow everything that has a remote chance of being eaten (including tomatoes) in that fenced-in area, and all the perennial plants that critters usually leave alone (raspberries, blackberries, red and black currants, gooseberries and rhubarb) are outside. This year I boldly snuck a watermelon into the outside garden too. So far so good but maybe it has just not been discovered yet.
After I drove the bamboo stick in the ground this morning, I pulled the last spring beets – beautiful striped Chioggia and Crosby’s Egyptian. It is amazing how happy an arm full of beets can make me. This would have been unthinkable in the days of bunny warfare – the tender beet leaves were one of the first things to be chewed down to the ground by rabbits.