The garden is a dangerous place for a tomato. Back when we lived in Utah, I wrote that gardening is primarily a form of backyard warfare waged against insects with just two goals in life: eat your food and hatch babies that will do the same. Therefore if you’re going to garden you have to be on high alert for intruders. And take no mercy.
Every day you have to inspect your crops for change. Don’t be distracted by the adorable baby okra that appeared overnight. Note its location on the plant. Because it’s now a target and you aren’t the only one waiting to take it out. No. No. This is the time to stay focused. Look for tiny patches of eggs dropped by some sneaky moth on the underside of a leaf. They are ticking time bombs with stomachs waiting to gorge themselves on your squash.
Monitor the patches of shade near your peas and lettuce for snails. They will munch on your kale, shit on it, and keep going. Take them out with poison pellets or ground bone meal. They want nothing to do with your little pools of beer to drown in. Spy a grasshopper on the fringe? Step on it. Don’t be a sissy.
Four years ago when I started gardening I did so because I valued life. I wanted to watch something grow and thrive. That is a romantic idea held by people who know nothing about gardening. The hobby will harden you. I write this post with a BB gun propped against the front door. And the only thing I have planned for today is killing the damn squirrel that keeps stealing my heirloom tomatoes. I don’t care that it’s Sunday. He will not feast again on my behalf.
It all started two weeks ago when I caught the furry offender with his paws wrapped around a butternut squash I envisioned roasting and stuffing into ravioli with cheese. I rapped on the kitchen window and yelled. He looked at me and continued stuffing his fat face, prompting me to run out the house and chase him up a tree. He climbed to the first bow all the while maintaining eye contact.
“You stay out of there squirrel,” I said. “This is a warning. I catch you again and I will take you out like the rodent you are.”
He just stared at me with his black eyes and I knew he’d won this round. I couldn’t stand under that tree forever. And the garden would never be safe. He would be back. A week later the first ripe tomato disappeared off the vine.
To be fair, I had no proof it was him. Earlier this spring I lost every infant mustard green I planted to the grackles. I didn’t even know they ate salad. Suddenly everyone was suspect. The neighbors who let the last tenant’s garden go to seed because they don’t like tomatoes? A likely story. I went to bed feeling watched.
We were robbed again last night. But this time I knew exactly whodunit. Underneath the tree was a plump green tomato with sizable teeth marks. I scanned the branches, but he was nowhere in sight. I asked D to get the gun. I never felt more like the Texan I am not.
“I warned you squirrel,” I said aloud in case he was in earshot. (I suspect he was.) “I told you what would happen. I am going to shoot you dead.”
That brings us to this afternoon where I sit writing in the kitchen with one eye on the garden. Waiting. Because the garden is a dangerous place for a rodent.