I believe that the quintessential quest, the impassioned ideal—indeed, the Holy Grail of home gardening—is to enjoy the flavor and texture of a “vine-ripened tomato.”
And if you are able to do so, count yourself extremely blessed, because it is an impossible, unattainable goal for me. Not the tomato part—I can successfully grow them quite well; it’s the “vine-ripened” part that eludes me.
At the earliest hint of yellowing (or orange-ing)—at almost the absolute nanosecond the fruit transitions from growing to ripening, birds will attack it. Sometimes it’s just a single puncture wound; other times a substantial % of the fruit will be missing.
Garden tomatoes are too expensive and way too much work, worry and effort to wind up serving as wild bird food.
Anybody ever messed with bird netting? I find it both aggravating and surprisingly vulnerable. It damages the plants and is impossible to get totally rid of (I keep finding little pieces of it all over the place).
I’ve heard of people hanging red Christmas ornaments on their tomato plants to “disappoint and discourage” the birds. Perhaps the birds in my neighborhood are on Prozac, but discouragement doesn’t seem to be in their emotional range.
Last year I made a “scarecrow,” which was actually a wind-driven mobile with CDs (music, not monetary) hanging down and twirling in the wind, causing multiple reflections of the sun to dart about, which allegedly would frighten the birds. As former Navy SEALs, my birds may or may not be scared of the dark, but they’re dang sure not scared of light—although I confess I have not tried a spinning disco ball….
Rubber snakes, fake stationary owls—let’s just say I believe the term “bird-brained” is a compliment, not an insult, because they’re way smarter than you think.
So this year I’m enjoying the delicious taste and texture of home-grown, counter-ripened tomatoes.
I go out twice a day and search each plant for fruit that stopped growing and began to ripen in the last 12 hours. Even at this I still lose about three tomatoes every time I check, or about 6 a day, to bird damage.
It’s possible the chickens are in league with the cardinals, jays and mockingbirds; my hens love the damaged fruit that gets tossed to them. Initially I would bring in the damaged tomatoes to go ahead and ripen, but the oozing wounds attracted fruit flies and ants, and covering the wounds simply caused mold.
Here is a photo of my current tomato harvest, in various stages of ripening.
If anyone has found a truly good way to protect their tomatoes from fowl predators, please let me know below. Thanks!