Garden foes, garden woes, and a broken toe

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.

I made Amanda Hesser’s fabulous Gingered Beet Pickles but used my own Elderflower Vinegar instead of white vinegar. Any other fruity vinegar will do as a substitute.

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7 thoughts on “Garden foes, garden woes, and a broken toe

  1. I know these critters. And I didn’t think of a bike light. As my tomatoes get heavy but not yet ripe, I think I know what my next purchase will be. I’m so tired of losing my food to those little buggers – and the waste…. I’d LOVE to see a picture of your gardening fortress.

    1. I wish I could say for sure that bike light did the trick, it could also be that the groundhogs (that’s what I think it was) could have lost interest in the tomatoes back then. The only thing that really works is that massive fence. It was a big undertaking and for a long time I thought we could get away without it but I just put in too much effort every year for nothing. Ever since we built that “Berlin Wall” it’s been OK. I do not have a photo of it but it is described somewhat here https://mygardenerstable.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/victory-for-now/ If you would like more technical info let me know.

      1. Thanks. Squirrels are my biggest non-winged problem. I’ve gotten around the rabbits and the groundhog got scared off somehow. I think I’m going to have to build a fenced roof to keep the squirrels out. If I were a hunter, I’d have a solution, but for now I just keep trying new things to distract or dissuade them. The light sounds like a good next step. I’ve tried noise makers , all manner of scent based stuff. Sneaky little turkeys.

      2. Squirrels, oh my, luckily our dog keeps them away. Fenced roof sounds like a good idea. Have you tried a Skandinavian deterrent called Plantskydd, that worked well on my strawberry patch, in combination with Epsom salt.

      3. I had good luck with Plantskydd on my outside the iron curtain patch. It’s the tomatoes that I struggle with – and I am reluctant to spray it on them – know what I mean? We’ll see. Maybe this year will be better. We’re not quite as dry here this year, and I hear that is part of what they’re after – that and just being sneaky, clever little buggers. 😉

      4. Sounds like you have explored all the options. Re tomatoes, I got an alert through the Master Gardener program (I am in Pennsylvania) recently that late blight was found in 7+ counties including Lancaster. Maryland is not so far away unfortunately… Oh it can be so discouraging to battle all of these things yet we keep gardening! Good luck with your tomatoes.

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