The first year, rabbits ate my tomato vines to the ground. Putting up chicken wire kept out the rabbits but still allowed squirrels in. It turns out that squirrels will eat a couple bites out of a green tomato so they can suck the juice and get a drink. This usually happens in August when 1) rain is most scarce and the squirrels are the most thirsty and 2) when a summer of hard work is JUST about to pay off with ripe tomatoes. In a nutshell, August is the most frustrating time to have your crop eaten. And mind you, it is the crop that is eaten, the whole crop - not just a portion.
Last year, I built a light frame by lashing bamboo poles together and draped it with nylon garden netting, which hung past the chicken wire. I had hoped this would keep the squirrels out. Everything looked good until August hit and the squirrels got thirsty. The figured out that they could chew through the netting and again ate all my tomatoes.
In an attempt to harvest something, I resorted to live traps. In 2.5 weeks I trapped 24 squirrels and 2 chipmunks. Still, the whole crop was gone.
Now I understood that my first couple of years were an investment in education. Though I got a little annoyed, I figured that learning how to deal with wildlife was just a part of the deal. So in the end, I felt that I enjoyed the garden more than got annoyed by the experience.
All that brings me to this year. I conceived of and constructed an enormous cage of 2"x2" lumber and chicken wire. It is nearly 7' tall, 16' long, and 4' deep. It has 2 removable 4' panels that serve as doors. It even has a "roof" of chicken wire. It has so far remained impregnable to all except one lone chipmunk that tunnelled underneath. The nice thing about chipmunks is that the don't tend to eat much. This one seemed to favor the tiny and more easily carried grape tomatoes, which was fine by me, as there are more on the grape tomato vine than I'll ever be able to use. After about a week and a half, he was caught and relocated like all his friends from last year.
I'm getting fresh tomatoes now.
I've eaten maybe 50 or so grape tomatoes, and they're lovely. I'm eating them plain, and cooking them in sauces and omlettes. Saturday, I picked the first dinner plate tomato - an "Early Girl". It was round, ruby red, and perfectly unblemished. It sat on my counter until yesterday afternoon when I made it my lunch. I satueed a handful of diced onion in olive oil and pepper, and filled a piece of whole wheat pocket bread with cheddar cheese, the onions, and as much of the tomato as I could fit. Then I grilled the sandwich in the pan.
First of all, the raw tomato was magnificent. It was delicate, juicy, and the inner flesh was a deep uniform red. It possessed a sweetness I've not ever encountered in a tomato purchased at the super market. The sandwich was divine, as well.
Last night, I took 3 tomatoes from the garden and chunked them into a pan and made a sauce with fresh garlic and onion, dried mushrooms, and parsely and basil from the garden. I'm looking forward to eating it this evening for dinner.
After 37 years on this planet, I finally understand why some people are nearly obsessed with home grown tomatoes. I expect that I've become one of them; happily so.