Monday, February 27, 2017

Whose been nibbling my tomatoes!

One of the first things I do when Ralph and I arrive at our beach house is check out the cherry tomato plants climbing up the stockade fence.

Volunteer cherry tomato plant climbing across the stockade fence

"There's so many ripe tomatoes," I announced after our recent arrival.  "It must have rained here like it did in Groveland."

Various stages of ripeness

Traveling back and forth between two places throughout the month can have its challenges, especially when it comes to gardening with vegetables.  The flowers I grow - mostly succulents and native plants - are fairly tolerant of neglect but vegetable plants tend to suffer when they don't get regular attention.

However, that's not the case with cherry tomatoes, at least not with the ones we grow.  Most of ours are volunteer plants that popped up on their own from last year's dropped fruit. These marble-sized morsels of sweetness behave more like wildflowers than their rather persnickety pedigreed cousins, which helps to explain why it only took me a few minutes after a 10-day absence to fill a large bowl with red orbs.

Life is a bowl of cherry tomatoes

"I'm surprised the birds haven't eaten them," I muttered to myself while Ralph was in the parking lot unloading more supplies from the car.

Cardinals in particular, seem to enjoy eating cherry tomatoes as much as I do.  On many occasions at the beach and at our Groveland home I've watched male and female cardinals pluck off and eat small round fruit one at a time.

Cardinals prefer to pilfer unripe tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are actually classified as fruit, not vegetables.  But cardinals aren't greedy. One or two tomatoes is all they seem to want before flying off elsewhere in search of seeds and other edibles.

Cardinals make sharing easy.  "There's plenty for all of us," their behavior seems to say, which is how it has always been.

Until this morning.

This morning, while standing at my computer checking Facebook (yes, I know I'm addicted 😏), I noticed a different critter munching away - a squirrel!

A gray squirrel enjoying a feast

More precisely, an Eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, which I call a bushy-tailed rat.  Gray squirrels are members of the rodent family and while these common seen backyard visitors are undeniably cute - all big-eyed and fluffy-tailed - gray squirrels are not known for their abstemious nature.  Once these robust-appetited rodents discover a food source, they feed until the crop is decimated.

With this in mind you might think I'd have rushed outside immediately to chase the varmint away, which is what Ralph started to do until I called him back.

"Wait!" I insisted.  "Let me take a few pictures first."

Looks like I've been noticed!

So that's what I did.  As the squirrel remained in place - no fear of humans emanating from this critter - I stepped closer and closer until there were only a few bushy-tail lengths between us and snapped off several shots. Eventually, the hungry nibbler had all he could take of me disrupting his dining experience, and mosied on down the fenceline as if to say, "Okay, I'm moving on for now, but make no mistake - I'll be coming back later for more."

Squirrel with 'take out' food

And I'm sure he will.  Squirrels are resourceful, clever and determined animals but I'd like to think there's a gracious side to their nature as well. There are plenty cherry tomatoes to go around.  For birds, gray squirrels and people to enjoy. All it takes is a little willingness to share. I know that.  The question is, "Does the squirrel?"

Hey, squirrel!
Save some for me!

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