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Something has been eating my tomatoes just as they begin to ripen. Each day I've been finding one or more tomatoes half-eaten but still attached to the vine. On a couple of days I've also found bits of tomato skin scattered around a wooden chair a few feet away from the tomato plants.

I haven't seen the critter(s) in the act. I'm guessing it's a squirrel, as we have lots of them in the neighborhood, but it could be some other small mammal.

I've grown tomatoes in the Sacramento region for years and this is the first time I've had this problem. Does anyone have any ideas on whether it's likely to be a squirrel or some other animal? More importantly, is there anything I can do to keep the critters away?

Update: I've selected a "best" answer, but please feel free to add your suggestions if you have a better idea. I'd love to find a way to deter the tomato-eating critters without going to the trouble of enclosing my tomato garden in a net.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

This is a situation where a net might be the best option. Put it on stakes to hold it over the plants, and arrange it so it can be easily lifted or pulled aside for harvesting. make sure the net touches the ground so squirrels can't get underneath.

This spring I made little teepees of chicken wire to keep them off my yucca seedlings. You will want something lighter (and in larger sheets). For squirrels the netting has to go over the plants, they'll easily climb over or jump into a fenced off area.

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I've got firsthand experience that this doesn't work if your pests are mice. It works great for larger animals and birds though. –  Doresoom Aug 7 '12 at 15:09
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I think I would go with winwaed's answer, but if you find out the culprit is a slightly bigger creature, I might then be tempted to look into getting a "Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler" system (like this one) to humanely scare away the hungry creatures...

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that's really cool! –  lamwaiman1988 Sep 2 '11 at 3:15
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I sprinkle cayenne pepper on the fruits and around the base of the plant, and this seems to keep the squirrels away.

Cayenne is also available as a "hot pepper wax spray" which may also work.

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You could always remove the animal from the equation, as long as it isn't a protected species.

  • A large rat trap baited with peanut butter can permanently solve the solution for squirrels/mice/rats. I remember catching a squirrel that had taken up residence in my parent's attic using this method.
  • If you want to catch the animal alive and relocate it, you could always use a live trap.
  • If you like to hunt, I'd recommend a .17 HMR or .22 rifle if you're out in the country where it's legal to shoot it. Just be aware of your surroundings and what's behind your target. The best time for catching the critters in the act would be either in the early morning or in the evening. Also remember to check your state laws to determine if you need a hunting license and if so when the season is.
  • If you're in the suburbs, you should be able to use a quiet .177 pellet rifle. I would advise against using a BB gun unless the offending animal is a mouse, and you're sure that you can hit it in the head. I killed a mouse in my apartment a few years ago this way by using a BB gun from about 15'. But then again I've been plinking with it since I was 8 years old, so I've had lots of target practice.
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Rifle is a good option for larger animals (woodchucks, skunks, coons, etc). Squirrels are probably about the limit on the small side. The practical problem with squirrels, chipmunks, mice, etc is that they just keep coming. It's hard to kill them all, and it only takes a couple to wreck your crop. Also, catching them in the act sucks up a lot of time. If the culprit is smaller than a squirrel, rat traps are a better lethal option. If you're serious about protecting the crop, a cage is really your best bet. But don't use a BB gun, and be sure to practice -- you want a quick, clean kill. –  bstpierre Sep 1 '11 at 21:11
    
@bstpierre: True, waiting for them to come by can be time consuming, but I've been known to go out and sit in the woods for several hours waiting for game to do just that. :) –  Doresoom Sep 1 '11 at 22:13
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@Doresoom Thank you for the edit :) I've removed my downvote and upvoted you. –  Lorem Ipsum Sep 1 '11 at 22:15
    
@Doresoom +1 for coming back & improving your answer, even though I don't personally approve of killing... –  Mike Perry Sep 1 '11 at 22:31
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I solved my squirrel problem with a cheap BB gun. The gun is low on power so it stings like heck but bounces off the squirrel. We still have a lot of squirrels but they prefer to go around my yard. –  user1618 Sep 20 '12 at 10:07
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One option to consider, and I am trying this next year because we had the same issue as you, is I am moving the tomato plants to an upside down hanger. I have a metal hook hanger that should keep the tomato plants off the ground and out of reach. Since its smooth metal it should keep the critters from climbing, but if not I have a blocker I can attach to the pole to keep them from climbing.

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Try moth balls or rags soaked in vinegar. There are also herb type pellets that you can put around the plants that make the squirrels run the other direction. The squirrels I had would eat green, partially ripened or wonderfully ripe tomatoes. They are a nuisance.

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I'm a little late to the party but I'll throw in my two cents. I have had amazing luck with planting marigolds around the perimeter of my gardens. Squirrels, rabbits, and other rodents apparently hate the smell, so it has kept all the pests at bay, at least in my yard. Squirrels are hit or miss though, some have been known to actually eat the marigolds. But if that happens, they hopefully will leave the tomatoes alone!

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protected by Lorem Ipsum Sep 21 '12 at 16:06

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