Question of the Week Number 1: June 8, 2017
“Neil, something is eating my tomatoes as they start to ripen. What would cause it? What can I do?”
Animals of several sorts will be attracted to ripening tomatoes.
• Mockingbirds are most common. Their damage will be easily identifiable by pecked holes in the fruit just as it turns from green to pink to pale hints of red. In some instances they won’t see the fruit as it first turns, so they’ll go after fruit just a day or two before you might have been harvesting it.
You can discourage birds by wrapping your tomato cages in lightweight bird netting from the hardware store or nursery. Lift it off as you work with your plants or harvest your fruit, then put it back in place right away. It doesn’t necessarily have to be pegged firmly in place, but you don’t want to leave conspicuous gaps. Birds are more devious than you might think.
You can also harvest fruit a few days early. (See below.)
• The damage in our photo, however, was done by some type of terrestrial animal. I’d like to hope it was a raccoon, squirrel or even a possum, but I fear it might have been a rat or field mouse.
Rattraps or mousetraps might work, but keep them out of pets’ ways. Humane traps might work for the larger animals. For the big animals you might figure a way to enclose the plants in a chicken wire cage. Or harvesting early might be successful.
Tomatoes can be harvested before they actually turn red. If you catch them just as they start to change from green toward light green/pale pink, you can bring them into the house and let them finish their ripening on a towel or sheet of newspaper on a cool, bright countertop. Surprisingly, they’ll lose no flavor or nutritional value when ripened that way.