Desperate Times Call for Garden Socks
Over the years, I’ve grown some 30 or 40 varieties of tomatoes. It’s been an utter joy, and regardless of how I felt about the final product — some varieties are better than others — the effort was always worth it, no matter how hot or miserable the weather. To this day, online seed stores, like TomatoFest.com, are to me what shoe stores are to others: I could browse for hours and never tire of it.
For the last two or three years, I’ve grown almost exclusively black tomatoes. Their complex, smoky flavors and gorgeous burgundy/purple/green skins are jewels to my eyes and bliss to my taste buds. Brandywines are gorgeous, nearly perfect, red/pink tomatoes, but they can’t hold water to Black Krims, and their smaller cousins, the Black Cherry.
And apparently, I’m not alone in that belief.
Not so coincidentally — for the last two or three years [ahem] — critters have begun to invade my tomato gardens, setting their sights on my Black Krims and Purple Cherokees. I wasn’t certain what was happening at first: the tomatoes were simply disappearing off the vine. Poof! I’d spy a nearly perfectly ripe Black Krim hiding in the back, and, rubbing my hands together like a greedy, toothy cartoon character, I’d retreat for the evening, planning to pull the tomato the next day for dinner. By morning, it was gone. No footprints. No signs of forcible entry (no broken branches). Just gone.
Eventually, as the plants fell into heavier production, tomato carcasses could be found around the yard, sucked dry, but scalloped with tiny teeth marks on the edges of the rejected skins.
Ah ha! Chipmunks. I did some reading, and found I had kindred tomato-loving spirits in the form of chipmunks. They, however, lack my patience for the perfect picking moment, and more importantly, possess sleek bodies and nimble claws that can defeat just about any barrier placed between them and a black tomato.
Oh, I grow Brandywines, too. But these greedy little bastards will scootch right under a low-hanging, out-in-the-open, juicy ripe Brandywine, and climb to dizzying heights, through nets and row covers (did I mention they have sharp teeth?), to get to a Black Krim.
Last year, having reached September without enjoying a single ripe Black Krim — and having exhausted every organic, non-lethal weapon in my arsenal — I came across some photos I had taken of one my past butternut squash beds: every squash was wearing a pantyhose sock.
Ah, yes … the memories came flooding back. In addition to having to take some extra steps to get the squash to set fruit, I later had to protect them from heavy bird and squirrel attacks. The fruits were too heavy for the critters to make off with, but beak holes and CSI-perfect teeth marks adorned every, single squash.
That’s how the socks came to be. I purchased a box of cheapie knee highs — the kind that come in bulk in a shade of tan that’s flattering to no one — cut them in half, and slipped them over each and every fruit. It worked: the squirrels couldn’t pull off the socks nor claw through, and the birds were completely repulsed and wouldn’t go near.
So, here I am, it’s year three of Black Krims, it’s mid-August, and the first set of tomatoes have already disappeared into thin air. They weren’t even half-ripe.
This is war, people. War.
The next batch of Black Krims are still small and weeks away from a pickable state, but I’m taking no chances: when they reach golf ball size, they get a sock. The material will stretch as the tomatoes grow.
The Cherokee Purples are beginning to ripen, and I have my fingers crossed that this will work…
… because I really want some of these! (Purchased from a local farmer who appreciates the black heirloom tomato as much as I.)
Now, see this baby:
This is a beautiful charentais melon, the sweetest cantaloupe you’ll ever taste. It’s my first year growing it.
And I’m taking no chances.