Our vegetable garden is way past being simply productive and the best stuff hasn’t even started seriously coming in yet. I say “our garden” rather loosely and mostly because I own the property on which it’s tended but there would be no garden if my younger brother, Andy, hadn’t done all the heavy lifting. I managed to start almost all the tomato, pumpkin, cucumber, cantaloupe and watermelon seeds on the front porch, in jiffy peat pots, and I either saved or mail ordered all the other seeds but Andy planted every hill of everything out there except some late cucumbers that I beat the rain to last week.
Loretta did pick our first ripe tomato last Sunday and, yes, a certain big mockingbird had already pecked a large hole and made meal off one side of it. I had seen it late on Saturday and come stomping into the house to tell her I was loading my bb gun and intended to stand guard until I caught her bird in the act of destruction.
On Sunday I was in nearly screaming pain in my lower back and the mockingbird was the farthest thing from my mind. I’m sure the bird didn’t cause the pain but garden work made it flare back up. Anyway, to placate me, Loretta went back to the garden, pulled the ripe tomato, cut out the big spot that had been direly wounded and sliced it up for supper.
During the nearly 40 years that we’ve been together, I had never seen my wife try to salvage a bird-damaged tomato. We usually have so many that the damaged ones simply get thrown to the edge of the garden. She might ignore a single peck or two, but this particular tomato had been seriously munched on and it was conspicuously obvious that said munching had been inflicted by a bird.
Doves will eat tomatoes if they are on the ground or no more than foot above it. Usually, doves will devour the entire fruit before they set upon a new one. They may make several meals off one tomato. Mockingbirds, on the other hand, will go from fruit to fruit and “sample” a dozen or more at one time and they have no compulsion to keep both feet on the ground the way that doves do. Nor will they come back to eat on one they have previously sampled.
The tomato in question here was nearly 3 feet off the ground. It was a Mortgage Lifter off one of the two plants of that variety and I had purchased the plants from a neighbor because they were already blooming and appeared to be at least two or three weeks ahead of the ones I had started. Had it ripened without damage, it would have tipped the scales at nearly 2 pounds. My wife still managed to get about a pound of bun covering slices out of it and it was, in fact, incredibly delicious.
I intend to cover the plants with some bird proof netting because they have several fruits that promise to be ripe at least a couple of weeks before the other 24 plants are producing. Several of the younger plants have fruits large enough for us to begin pigging out on fried green tomatoes and some of them will be on our menu before you read this column.
In the meantime we are covered up with far more cucumbers, zucchini and crook neck squash than we can handle. Loretta has been hauling the stuff for miles around and we haven’t made a dent in it. We had four different varieties of lettuce and four varieties of green onions that we’ve shared with about a dozen kin folk and neighbors and both bell and banana peppers are getting ready to come on strong. Our early beans are essentially a failure because of too much rain. Ironically, not enough rain pretty much did them in last year.
The sweet corn is tasseled and silked-out and Andy has planted a serious patch of late corn that’s nearly ready to hoe. However, we have a momma raccoon with two babies hanging out in the back yard and my wife is already fawning over them as much as she does this devil mockingbird.
If the bird would stay out on my maters and the coons would stay out of the sweet corn, they would be more than welcome to all the cucumbers and squash they could possibly eat.