Protecting my Tomatoes from Squirrels

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Netting the Tomatoes

The squirrels discovered my beautiful Upstate Oxheart tomatoes on my deck last year and out of frustration, I decided to net them with plastic fruit type netting. You can see from this photo, the tomatoes are huge. The seed packet details these as “a stunner: huge, heart-shaped, and delicious fruit,” all of which is very accurate.

GROWING FROM SEED

I have grown these from seed the past couple years and I was super impressed with the yield, sizes of the fruit (2-3 lbs), and exceptional light but favorable sweet taste. Additionally, they really do look like the inside of a heart when you slice them open. Both my husband and I enjoyed eating these beauties, and it didn’t take long for a squirrel to spot them up on my high level deck along the railing last season last summer at the peak of their tomato’s ripening phases. They ripen to a rosy pink color.

FABRIC GROW BAGS

I grew them in my black fabric grow bags last year and the plants grew large and some of the branches hung over the railing of the deck. Each time I’d witness a fruit starting to turn slightly pink, I started to worry about a squirrel discovering them – which they did and that was starting to get really annoying. Nothing is more frustrating then seeing a big bite out of a huge tomato just about to ripen to maximum perfection! Ugh!

DID THE NETTING WORK?

Did the white plastic netting, surrounding the fruit only, work? Kind of. I didn’t see them munch on them in the nets, but I also got accustom to taking the fruits off the plant before they were fully ripened so the squirrel wouldn’t have a chance either. Then I would let the tomato fruit finish ripening on the counter. This worked just fine for this type of tomato – meaning it ripened with no big issues right on the counter.

WHEN TO START THE SEEDS

I didn’t order new seeds of this type this season because I still have some packets left from 2020 and they are still very much viable, but I probably will not sow all of them, or if I do, just a limited amount this year because I am excited to try new types of tomato and have new 2021 seed for the newbies on my seed sowing list.

But this type of tomato needs to be started early. The upstate oxhearts seeds should be started 6-10 weeks before our last spring frost date. Last year, I started them at the 10 week mark, but this season, I’m going to wait to start them a little later. I found they grew quite large in the greenhouse and some needed to be potted up into gallon pots, so I made a note to maybe start them more like at the 8 week mark and see how that goes.

HARD WIRED MESH IN A BIG POT WORKED

The squirrels seem to be more aware of my goodies the past two years. The year prior, I grew the upstate oxheart tomatoes in a giant black plastic pot, which is 3 feet tall, so kind of my waist height. I inserted 3 feet long bamboo poles into the pot along the top rim and then surround the whole thing with hard-wired mesh. That definitely kept out any critters, like squirrels or groundhogs, but it was difficult for me to “reach in” to get the tomatoes. However, it did prevent any unwelcomed diners from visiting the fruit. The pot also was located in a place that was a job to drag my garden hose to it to water, but it worked at keeping critters away! In fact, I found those really big pots to be useful that way – they can’t easily climb up the pot and into the big pots, but for those in grow bag last year, on my deck, squirrels would sometimes jump from a tree limb onto a deck railing to go investigate. We decided to trim back some trees near the end of the deck to make it more difficult for them.

SQUIRRELS WON’T STOP ME

The whole issue of squirrels visiting the tomato fruits is a big problem it seems for many, but for myself, I know it won’t stop me from growing tomatoes again this year. One neat thing that happened with the plastic mesh (shown in the photo above) is a cross-cross pattern appeared on the skin of the fruit. It developed a pattern! That was interesting.

I suppose I will keep testing more techniques to keep the squirrels away. I read that hot pepper spray may work, and there are probably some products on the market. But for now, my strategy is a) not to give up, b) pick the fruit before it is fully ripe, c) yell at the squirrels, and or d) grow them in that super-sized pot again that is so high up and wrap the whole thing in hard type of mesh wire. Gosh, the things we do for fresh juicy tomatoes.

WHEN THEY RIPEN

Upstate oxheart tomatoes ripen 84 days from transplanting the seedlings into your pots or gardens. They are indeterminate plants so they will keep growing taller and produce fruit continuously. Pruning or staking them is necessary or letting the branches (vines) topple over my deck railing worked well. The plant can reach up to 10 feet high. It sprawls out and around and when I grew them in that big black pot I mentioned above, the hard-wired mesh I put around it served to help support it as well. The fruits, which can grow to 3 lbs sizes, are heavy so that extra support is helpful.

Cathy Testa
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COMMENTS Please! If you enjoyed this post – please comment by clicking the red block on the top. I would love to hear what you have used to keep squirrels way from your tomatoes in the summer.