Matters of Opinion

Do you have cats? Or tomatoes?


Listen now.

Do you have cats? Or do you grow tomatoes? Although this might seem like a ridiculous dichotomy, I can assure you that it not only makes sense to me but is a choice I’ve been grappling with for weeks.

For as long as I’ve lived on Cape Cod, I’ve been proud of both. I’ve not only nurtured successive prides of  Siamese, Burmese, Korats, Abyssinian, Maine Coon, and alley cats, I’ve grown Brandywines, Box Car Willies, Early Girls, Black Krims, Caspian Pinks, and an ever changing cast of heirloom tomatoes from around the world.

We freeze them, puree them, dry them, and bottle Bloody Mary mix. We can chutney, hot sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup, and soup. We eat tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and give bushels to our friends. For years the cats were an integral part of the tomato operation. For just as we grew them from seed and tended the garden, the cats patrolled it, catching rabbits and voles and mice, proudly laying out their corpses on the back porch.

Sometime years ago, however, we began to hear packs of hungry coyotes in the marsh behind our house. Growing ever bolder, and hungrier, they began to circle the house with those plaintive yapping cries, my intrepid wife, wading into the moonlight in her nightgown, clanging two garbage can lids to frighten them off. One night, however, we called and called, but our favorite cat Max never returned. Needless to say no cats have been allowed out since…which meant free reign for the rodents.

We managed to keep up our tomato production with a simple strategy: we grew double the amount of tomato plants in order to compensate for those plants we lost.

And we managed to grow enough tomatoes through the year of the tomato blight and the summer that it rained everyday. We beat gray mold, leaf mold, and powdery mildew; blossom end rot, horn worm, and Antrhacnose. But this year, we’re on our knees…and the problem is chipmunks.

I haven’t seen a squirrel or a skunk or a snake or a turtle all year, but the chipmunks sit on woodpiles and taunt me, rubbing their little paws together and twitching their noses.

They’ve turned our yard into a miniature golf course and dig up tulip bulbs an hour after we plant them. They empty the bird feeders and leave caches of seeds in the potted plants.

I can live with all that but not what they do to the tomatoes, nibbling on the just-ripened, lowest hanging fruit, and then, instead of just finishing one damned tomato, they move on to the next one, and the next, until there are five perfect tomatoes with a chipmunk bite taken out of each.

I have tried picking fruit before it’s ripe, but they beat me to it every time. I’ve scattered mothballs, pepper oil, human hair clippings, and ammonia. I’ve sprayed them with a garden hose. I’ve rigged up a five-gallon pail of water with a ramp laced with sunflower seeds and didn’t catch one. I’ve baited rap traps with peanut butter and caught nothing but ants.

Many people on the internet advise shooting them with a twenty-two caliber long rifle. Living as close as I do to my neighbors, this is an option that strikes me as an excellent way to end up doing hard time in Walpole.

Another popular remedy is coyote urine. There are certainly coyotes out there, but I have never figured out how to induce them to urinate in my garden.

Those who have figured out how to bottle it have also figured out how to sell it and are more per ounce than your favorite premium vodka.

The recommended methods of dispersal for coyote urine vary from spray applicators to perforated plastic containers to saturated panty hose, strung every two feet around the tomato plants. Since I have chosen the last method my once bucolic garden now resembles a hand laundry and smells like the Grandstand men’s room at Fenway Park.

I am certainly hoping this will rid us of chipmunks. The choice between the safety of cats and fresh garden tomatoes is unfair. I love my cats…unfortunately, you can’t put them on a hamburger with a thick slice of Vedalia onion.

I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.