My backyard is in an older suburb of Katy, TX with mature trees and must be paradise for birds. I hear and see birds every day, all year long. There are Blue Jays, Cardinals, Finches, migratory Hummingbirds Chickadees (my personal favorite), Doves, Mockingbirds, Woodpeckers and an occasional Hawk to name a few. I enjoy watching them at the bird feeders during the winter, yet one of these birds has proven to be my nemesis during the months of May and June when my tomatoes are ripening.
I have never actually seen the culprit and even accused the squirrels, but one of these birds loves to peck at my ripening tomatoes. I guess it could be worse if they peck at all of the tomatoes, but no, they only peck at the tomatoes that are one or two days away from being perfectly vine ripened. Needless to say, what was fun to watch at the bird feeders in the winter becomes my mortal enemy during the tomato season.
The first year I grew tomatoes I had no idea who or what I was up against. I dangled shiny CD’s and aluminum foil to scare off the thieves but these modern day scarecrows did nothing to stop my soon to be perfectly ripe tomatoes from being partially eaten. I even draped a plastic netting over the tomato plants, but with no success. For a beginning gardener it was a very frustrating experience.
At the beginning of the second year I grew tomatoes I was none the wiser. I convinced myself that this thievery of my tomatoes was a one time occurrence. I was sadly mistaken. History was to repeat itself. I had never experienced this as a child with the garden my father grew every summer in Delaware.
Based upon my initial observations, I thought it must have been the color of the tomatoes that attracted the birds. However, with a few rare exceptions, the red bell and hot peppers grown are not subjected to these attacks. I then thought it must be that these feathered winged dinosaurs are seeking water. So I kept the bird bath full of water. The birds were grateful, but still pecked at the near ripe tomatoes. You know you are desperate, when you begin to devise a plan that will take money, time and effort to ensure that the tomatoes will ripen and be enjoyed by. My solution was to build a cage. Yes, that is right, I built a cage to be assembled around my tomato plants to keep the birds away from the tomatoes.
The cage is built using 1″ x 2″ treated lumber built as rectangular frames (connected with “L” brackets) with plastic netting stretched over the frames and secured with staples. There are five frames, with the two larger side frames having swinging doors attached. Initially I would assemble this cage using screws and metal plates to attach the frames together. I now find it easier to secure the frames together with plastic cable ties. I do however still attach the frames to the raised bed with brackets and screws.
Eight years later and with the exception of the first few tomatoes each season (purely because I procrastinate), I have been able to protect the ripening tomatoes from these feathered menaces of tomatoes. Despite the initial outlay for the cost of materials and a few minor repairs, these frames have lasted eight years and I expect to utilize them for many years to come. Is the effort worth the time to assemble, disassemble and store each year? Absolutely, for without this cage to keep out the birds, I would not be able to enjoy home grown tomatoes in Katy, TX. For those that have eaten a home grown tomato, there are few joys greater then a fresh picked tomato.