To Catch A Tomato Thief

It would seem that I need to apologize to my tomato plants for insulting their sexuality. It has come to my attention that my lack of red tomatoes is not due to their lack of reproductive vigor, but rather a thief.

There is a tomato thief in my garden bed. I know what you are thinking. Here Hanna goes on a deer rant but, unfortunately, this time I cannot blame the long legged rats for this catastrophe. To be very frank, if it were deer, I would be missing tomato plants rather than just tomato fruit.

Nope, this thief is smaller, craftier and has thumbs. How do I know this? Because the tomatoes had been picked off the plant and the vines were undamaged. A feat that would require the perp to be able to grasp and pull the fruit. Anything remotely ripe was eaten. Anything green had a little bite taken out of it and was then thrown to the ground in apparent disgust. Oh, and the theft only occurs to a height of 3 feet.

Since we lack any monkeys, apes or gorillas roaming wild in this part of Cleveland (though often my children are mistaken for ones), I must turn my attention to the more native species of the area.

My first thought was raccoon. These shrewd critters long ago had their agents make a sweet deal with Disney that helped portray them as cute, cuddly and adorable. Fact of the matter is, the things would as soon eat Pocahontas’ face off as dance around the forest. They are not cute, they are not nice. They can be lethal on many levels.   They are wild animals, not stuffed animals.  

I promptly called animal control and was told I could have a cage to catch it with… in about 3 weeks… if I was lucky. And by lucky, they meant that it did not enter my house and make its home in the walls. For understandable reasons, people with raccoons in their home get precedent over people with them in their garden.

Understandable or no, 3 weeks is too long to wait. I have tomatoes on the line, people!!! I headed over to see my good friend Craig and in less than an hour, I had procured a live animal trap.

Then I went home to do my research. What is the best way to lure a raccoon. My first thought was to bait the trap with a tomato. After all, that is why the bugger was in my garden in the first place. And that is when I discovered a really important fact. Apparently raccoons are not so fond of tomatoes AND that damage like this is normally done by another vile critter. Opossums.

Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck. Nasty beasties they is. I am fairly certain that ROUS’s were modeled not after actual rats but rather opossums. These freakish marsupials are immune to most snake venom and resistant to rabies. And, they have more teeth than any other land mammal. They are just scary.

So, it’s off to catch a tomato thief.

Night #1 – I baited the trap with… what else… a tomato. Yes, a store bought tomato, but I was kind of hoping that tomatoes were to opossums what chocolate is to me. “Ok, so it’s crappy chocolate, but it’s still chocolate.”

Results — Nada. Well, except for more tomatoes pulled off the plants.

Night #2 — I moved onto peanut butter. There is no force in the ‘verse greater than peanut butter.

Results – The wily, wily critter went into the cage, scooped out a handful of peanut butter and did not trigger the trap. *grrr*

And, on top of that a rather cuddly squirrel tripped the trap after I checked in the morning. It must have been in there for an hour. By the time I found it, it had bashed its nose good while trying to escape. I go out to find a bloody nosed squirrel glaring at me. I let it go. Let me tell you, I can now recite a few choice not nice words in squirrelese.

Night #3 – More peanut butter. Obviously it worked, just have to make it work better.

Results – Well, we will see. Tonight is night 3. With any luck (and not the kind that keeps raccoons out of your house), in the morning, I will have caught myself a tomato thief.

UPDATE – No kidding, just as I hit publish on this post, I heard a snap and a high shrill chripping.   I caught my tomato thief!  And it was… drumroll… a raccoon!  Apparently they are not as nearly opposed to tomatoes as the internet would lead you to believe.   In the AM,I will have my little thief relocated (not killed,even I have a heart) to a new, not tomato growing area.   I promise to post photos before he goes.

22 thoughts on “To Catch A Tomato Thief
  1. Hanna
    I feel your pain. We had a tomato thieves a couple weeks ago. Turned out it was “the girls” (chickens). They poked their heads through the fence and were helping themselves to the Mortgage Lifters.


  2. Ruthmarie on

    What the same hill do you do when the tomato thief is your dog? Last year we planted tomatoes for the first time in years … thank you, recession … and our fully grown Chessie-mix “monster puppy” was the mischevious culprit plucking the tomatoes as they brightened to orange. Never harvested a single ripe large tomato as it took us a couple of weeks to catch the wretch in the act, thinking it was a very sneaky possum. Even then it was hard to believe until you witnessed the tongue-lip-pluck action of our tomato-addicted mutt.

    My revenge was to make green tomato chutney from last year’s short bounty. This year I planted nothing but cherry tomatoes as his big mouth can’t seem to pucker down to their miniature size. Hah! He’s plainly jealous of the attention given to the garden as he’s now focusing on the baseball-sized immature spaghetti squash growing rampant in the compost pile … to which he is actually welcome although I’m still mock-scolding as he plainly enjoys slinking past me, parading his prize in his jaws. Darn rotten adorable wretch.

    BTW, thank you for the best laugh in ages …hurrah for the battle won with the raccoon of un-average tastes. Who knew googling for cherry tomato recipes (I planted too many + bumper crop) would find your delightful humor.


  3. Last year it was the dreaded chipmunks. They loved taking bites of all the almost ripe tomatoes, eating part of them and tossing them away and going on to the next one. I did hate the little things. I wasn’t as merciful last year. I did find out they didn’t like to get their feet caught in bird netting, so this year I have all my in ground tomatoes surrounded by a foot of bird netting. So far, no tomatoes eaten. I hope it stays that way.


  4. Hanna on

    amazingly, I am fully aware of the law. And oddly, I don’t recall saying in my post that I relocated him myself. Thanks for assuming that though. it makes feel good to know you think I am such a rebel. 😉


  5. Well, in Atlanta it’s the squirrel that steals my tomatoes. I first put down a horizontal fence to hurt their little paws as they tried to leap onto my plants to no avail. I shook Tobasco sauce on the bitten into tomatoes that they left behind. I tried a trap like you used for the raccoon and the squirrel leaped over the trip and ate the Tobasco laced tomato. Then I even scattered moth balls around the tomato plants because I read that that would keep the squirrels away. Nothing worked. I had a friend build a four sided cage of chicken wire and the squirrels squirmed under the bottom of the frame. My neighbors didn’t believe me until one called, laughing to tell me a squirrel was outside her window on a tree branch happily chomping on one of my tomatoes.

    So I hope the raccoon really was your thief and not the squirrel you caught first!


  6. Paula Diehl on

    I have found that catfood works as a good bait for both racoons and opossums. Of course, it also catches the cats – but they’re pretty smart. We only catch each of them only once before they figure things out. Also, if the trap is out during the day, we also catch chickens. They are not so smart and are repeat offenders.


  7. Tom G on

    I thought you were going to post a pic or two of your bandit.
    I’m glad I found your Blog.


  8. I have raccoons, opposums, squirrels and chipmunks here. Luckily none of them have taken to trying out my tomatoes. Raccoons are crazy feisty. I would definitely not release them myself – even if it were legal!


  9. Olga on

    There are tons of those nasty opossoms here in Miami, and they do seem to roam free everywhere but my 2 Siberian Huskies have killed quite a few of them over the years, so I guess they know better than to come to this backyard. Cats seems to stay away as well… However, the dogs themselves are the worst offenders when it comes to raiding the vegetable garden. They don’t really eat the tomatoes, but as soon as I smell their coat I know the reason why the vines look so bent out of shape :-O


  10. Ryan on

    I’m glad to read your story. Not that I would wish a tomato bandit on anyone, but it’s good to know that you too suffer from tomato thievery. I’ve been trying to grow tomatoes for two years and have yet to get to eat a single large, ripe tomato from my garden. Our plant last year was nice and full of golf-baseball sized green tomatoes and I was looking forward to sharing the fruits with friends and family once they ripened. Unfortunately, before they even had a chance to ripen, they all disappeared. There was no trace of them left. We still have no idea what happened to them. We suspect aliens, but I suppose it could be a raccoon;). We had the same problem this year. Fortunately the cherry tomato plants produce fast enough that the thief can’t keep up, so I do get a few of those every now and then.


  11. What a humorous post about such a frustrating subject. I just started my first veggie garden and I know at some point the squirrels and oppossums are going to find my beds. I growled at a squirrel today, in fact, though he was on the other side of the yard. My favorite line “There is no force in the ‘verse greater than peanut butter.” Ha ha!


  12. I’m with Linda T on this one. I’ve seen many a squirrel sitting on our fence above the garden enjoying one of my tomatoes. We send the dogs out to get them…and they just amble into the garden and eat a few as well. Worthless.


  13. I must add my two cents here. Squirrels and deer are my oppressors, and I don’t appreciate having to grow a few more tomatoes in my limited space and go with the flow if I find a plant gone or a tomato I’ve been watching for weeks suddenly showing a big fat bite taken out of it. However, I must take issue with the general opprobrium expressed toward these critters whose forebears in the real estate known as Our Great Nation preceded ours.

    Does anyone know of an opossum who ever hurt anyone? Does anyone know of a homo sapiens who ever hurt anyone? … I rest my case.

    Regarding raccoons, they are hygienic little bears. End of story. We lazy, filthy human beings could learn much from them.

    Sorry to get so far off the tomato topic, and I hope Hannah doesn’t bust me for this, but it’s not the over-breeding of any of these innocent children of God who have been kicked out of their habitat and turned into homeless beggars that threatens the ecological balance of our planet. Wish I could say the same of us who are writing these wise words in this blog.


    James Reply:

    Bravo, Len. Agree 100%


  14. I have had this problem for years, and found out it is RATS!!!!!!!! I live in a heavily treed suburban area, and my veggie garden is fenced for deer. Yet I haven’t eaten my tomatoes in years, as they all vanish before ripening. Lots of nibbles out of squashes and beans as well. I began setting traps inside a large hav-a-heart trap so my cats wouldn’t get snapped. I caught several in large rat traps. Ick. I assumed the rats lived in the ivy and shrubs all over, but my friend who works for the city assured me they are sewer rats! She then had her workers bait them in my neighborhood (in the sewer!) and lo and behold no bites out of my baby squash or tomatoes, but the season is passing too fast for new tomatoes now.
    Yes I am disgusted! But relieved to know there is something I can do!


  15. Jane on

    I thought of Hanna and the original post a few weeks ago. Our grandchildren were visiting and we heard a question we hope to never hear again: “Grandpa, did you know there is a mouse crawling up your tomato plant?” After trapping two aggressive mice, the tomato stealing has finally stopped. Of course at this point in October, tomato production has naturally come to a halt. But what a victorious feeling! Sorry, Mickey and Minnie, wrong garden for you.
    (Hanna – missed hearing from you recently)


  16. Keith on

    Too bad you let it go. I have a really good recipe for raccoon stew.


  17. Mike on

    Great story and I am in the same ol’ familiar boat as well. This is to say that for the last 2 years all of my ripe tomatoes from 5 plants were snatched, half eaten or on the ground right before harvesting. I too thought maybe raccoons were the ones, but after a while some of the tomatoes plants that stood nearly 6 foot tall with tomatoes near the top were being nibble on or were gone! This is away from any fence or table or anything, so now I am really confused.

    Anybody want to guess on this one since I do not have a clue. Also, the teeth marks in the tomatoes seem like a larger animal like a raccoon.



  18. shannon on

    I am in southern California and I’m having the same problem with my first garden. I have orange and grapefruit trees and the squirrels love them, but they haven’t touched my garden. I did find bird feathers around the strawberries (and missing strawberries) when I first planted them, but once everything matured, no problems. I have 12 huge tomato plants, 6 different varieties, planted quite close to each other (note to self: less plants, farther away next year), and one end of the tomato patch is close to a giant hedge that surrounds my yard. The first tomatoes to start to ripen were the Romas, and they have grown quite large (the size of a medium beefsteak). I’ve harvested one Roma and several cherry tomatoes, and have been watching a couple near-ripe Romas every day. I looked at them this morning and they were fine. When I went out to water this evening, the two I’d been watching were both picked! I found them on the ground between my tomato patch and the big hedge, with teeth marks in the ends. Evidently someTHING picked the tomatoes (which were partially inside the cage and not easily accessible), carried them toward the hedge, and dropped them. The only damage to the tomatoes were bite marks on one end of each tomato.

    I’m thinking rats or oppussums — both live in the giant hedge.

    The only change in my garden is a new hawk family that has nested in the neighbor’s tree. The hawks sit on the electrical wires right above my garden.

    My question is, how do I protect my tomatoes from the thieves without hurting the hawks and other birds or my dogs?


  19. That’s too funny…a raccoon! All I can picture in my head is that raccoon from Furry Vengeance stealing your tomatoes, laughing the whole time. Have you figured out a solution?? There has to be some natural solution to keep raccoons and other animals away from your garden without hurting them.


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