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Squirrels attack, but there's still a few tomatoes in this garden

All grown up: An occasional series

POSTED: July 3, 2009 1:00 a.m.
KRISTEN MORALES/The Times

Squirrels attacked some of the yellow crookneck squash, leaving scratches and bites on the vegetables.

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The squirrels are haunting me.

They attacked my neighbor's strawberries. Their pilfering of my one heirloom tomato plant - although not confirmed, but I'm pointing the finger at them anyway - left a suspicious bite mark and forced me to wrap the plants in deer netting.

Thwarted by the netting, they moved to the squash, where the first yellow crookneck came off the plant marred by - you guessed it - scratches and bites.

Argh!

Thankfully, my little plot at my neighborhood community garden around the corner hasn't been discovered by squirrels or deer, and that means I've probably harvested about 10 pounds of zucchini and yellow squash in the past few weeks. But in my home garden, well, there's only so much deer netting you can use before it starts to look like a giant cobweb rather than a bountiful green space.

But then again, I have a few Lebanese squash - with creamy, light green skin - close to being ready. If the squirrels discover them, I just may adjust my allotment of deer netting to a whole lot more.

Tomatoes

But what about the tomatoes, you ask.

Yes, I kicked off this column talking about tomatoes and how they have eluded me all these years. All I really want from my garden is a basket of red, vine-ripened tomatoes for a few sandwiches and maybe a nice salad. And maybe to make that bulgur wheat-based lunch I tried a couple of years ago. And maybe to make some tomato sauce.

OK, I'm asking a lot of these seven plants I've put in the garden. I guard them closely and make myself feel guilty when I run out of fertilizer or haven't had a chance to tie up their creeping vines.

But, lo and behold, I have some tomatoes.

Strangely enough, one of the plants in the ground is called early girl and promised fruit by July 4. But because it didn't get big enough to plant until late May (I started it from seed), it's only now getting waist-high.

My brandywine, however, has luscious groupings of green tomatoes, happy and slowly reddening under its leathery green leaves. Next to it is a big boy - which also came from a home and garden store already started - and it's starting to load up with fruit, too.

On one occasion I simply couldn't wait anymore and picked a couple of green tomatoes that had a hint of red on them. I sat them on my kitchen window and, within a day, they turned a glorious red.

Finally, my first tomato sandwich of the summer. And it was awesome.

Let's just keep our fingers crossed for enough to make that bulgur wheat salad. And the tomato sauce.

I'm not alone

I spoke with Kristin Grilli, spokeswoman for Burpee Seed Co., on the trend for home gardens this year.

She said business is up 30 percent.

"Burpee sales of vegetable seeds and transplants ... are up exactly 30 percent over last year," she said. "One thing that's been really big this year is our new sweet seedless tomato."

The company tries to offer something new each year, she said, but it's more than just the new products that have added to the company's customer base.

"We definitely think that our longtime customers are growing bigger gardens, and we're getting a lot of new customers," she said. "And also, we sold a lot of seed starting kits this year, like way more than last year. That tells us, too, people didn't have the supplies they needed."



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