Grow tomatoes, they said

Back when we first moved into our house, and I was trying to build a garden that wouldn’t be raided by wildlife, people told me: “Plant tomatoes. The animals won’t touch them.” I didn’t plant tomatoes. I don’t like tomatoes. I like lots of things made from tomatoes: pizza sauce, tomato soup, marinara, but an actual tomato has just the right texture to make me flinch when I bite into it. I’m a freak, I know, but there’s just something about the feel of a tomato that makes my tongue want to retreat down my throat.

Instead, I spent lots of time fortifying my garden. The effort paid off. I made my garden impervious to rabbits and groundhogs, etc., just in time to abandon gardening in order to take up the hobby of raising children. Through all the years my garden lay fallow, I took pride in knowing herbivores could not get at the various weeds filling the space.

This year, my wife took an interest in gardening. Men familiar with wives will understand this means she did a lot of pointing while I did an equal amount of digging around in dirt. The pointing was crucial; without it, I may not have understood which dirt I was to play in.

In our refurbished garden, we kept it simple, planting only cucumbers and peas. The cucumbers went wild, overrunning the peas as well as the garden fence. It’s a good thing we didn’t plant tomatoes in there; they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the invading cucumber hordes.

Cucumber plants going over the wall to carry their conquest into the back yard proper.

My wife likes tomatoes. She likes them a lot. So, we planted some tomatoes in a pot on our deck. They prospered well, until the fruit started to turn red. Then we began to find bites taken out of them. The Internet cast the blame at squirrels. The Internet casts blame for a lot of things at squirrels. I’m sure some of it is justified, but I bet some of it is thrown at them based solely upon reputation. Squirrels have a PR problem.

I wrapped chicken wire (or as the chickens prefer: flightless bird wire) around the pot. The depredations continued unabated. A friend suggested it must be birds attacking our tomatoes, but I’ve seen the mouths on the birds around our place and I doubt they’d leave teeth marks.

One day I noticed movement inside the wire. As I came closer, the movement noticed me. Up the wire scampered a dirty little red-faced chip monk. He leapt from the wire to the deck railing and was gone before I could do more than stomp my foot and yell at him to get a job.

What a nice chap. He left half of the only ripe one for us.

We slid the pot away from the railing and removed the accommodating wire. The thievery continues unabated.

To date, the tomato arithmetic has worked itself to a ratio of one tomato for us, one tomato for Chip. I guess that makes us Nature’s perfect socialists.

Murdered in cold sap

I droned on and on this summer about how I took out a dead Maple tree from our back yard and replaced it with a younger version. Now that I’ve got you accustomed to my blather about trees, I might as well finish the saga.

I won’t hide the truth: our transplanted Maple sapling suffered from my mistakes.

My mistakes:

  1. Transplanting a Maple sapling in the middle of summer
  2. Transplanting a Maple sapling in the middle of a hot, dry summer
  3. Losing many of the sapling’s best roots to my battle with the chicken wire it had grown up around
  4. Only being partially certain it was actually a Maple sapling, based upon the shape of its leaves and my desire for a Maple sapling

Despite my dedication to giving it regular watering and pep talks, most of its leaves turned brown and dried up. Still, I clutched at straws of hope, in the form of the approximately three leaves that did not turn brown after several weeks.

With September, the rains returned. Our little tree held its few remaining leaves. After a nice, restful winter, maybe it would come back with a fresh start in the spring. Maybe it would be a dry twig by then, but I figured it was worth giving it a chance.

Not everyone agreed with me.

The last time I went to visit it, I found tragedy.  Somebody had stripped the bark all the way around the poor little thing. I may not be smart enough to know for sure if this little trooper were ever truly a Maple tree, but I do know trees can’t live without bark. There will be no fresh start in spring.

These crime scene photos can be difficult to stomach.

I went online to find out who might have done such a thing, because I feel better when I can cast blame elsewhere for my failures. The list of culprits who strip bark includes bears, porcupines, beavers, rabbits, squirrels, and deer. Not listed, but also probably capable of quickly striping bark, based on what I surmise from watching TV, would be cartoon Tasmanian Devils and Sharknados.

The most usual suspects seem to be squirrels. This makes sense, as I have never seen squirrels do anything to help anybody but themselves.

Can the CSI techs get a print off these claw marks?

Among the many reasons squirrels strip bark is because it’s fun and apparently squirrels get bored a lot. During the many extended coffee breaks from counting their nuts, they spread gossip and strip bark.

I once saw a hapless squirrel fall out of a tree. I felt bad for him, but now I know it was just the tree dispensing a little Karma.

I have one other thing that might be a Maple sapling growing in my Nursery of Random Flora. At the appropriate time of year I may try that one. Or maybe I’ll plant nothing. Nothing, after all, is easier to mow around than trees, and its leaves rake up in no time at all.