The Tomato Cage Caper

The day my prized tomato plant—and more— got stolen.

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I have gardened organically on the same plot in West Lafayette, Indiana, for almost 60 years. After all that time, I fancy myself a pretty good grower of tomatoes. I grow all my plants from seed. I’ve even developed several varieties that I’ve shared with many folks who claim they’re the best they’ve ever tasted. (Of course they tell me this to get more tomatoes or free plants the next year.) So my garden always has at least eight tomato plants even though I’m the only one in the family who likes tomatoes. (I know. What’s wrong with them, right?) Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable right from the garden, and I’m very protective of those precious plants.

My garden is right next to my house and surrounded by a 4-foot-tall board fence. The fence has two strands of electric wire on top to dissuade various tomato-eating critters.

Not only was one tomato plant completely missing, so was its cage!

One morning when I was examining my garden patch, I saw something strange—an empty spot. I was certain a tomato plant should have been in that location. I looked closer and, sure enough, saw a few stray strands of tomato stem. My first thought was that neighborhood kids had pulled one of those get-the-old-guy pranks you see in the movies. But then I saw hoofprints in the moist soil. Deer! I looked around. Several other tomato plants had been nibbled—well, actually chomped back quite a bit. I live on the edge of a great woods, so tomato-eating creatures are all too common. But with the electric-wired fence and the garden so close to the house, I’d never had much trouble with deer. Still, it was mid-Summer, the tomato vines were about 6-feet tall and loaded with my super-tasty tomatoes.

But hold on a minute. Not only was one tomato plant completely missing, so was its cage! I use 4-foot-tall concrete-reinforcing wire to make circular cages 3 feet in diameter. They are heavy and hard to put on the plants. Well, that huge ring of iron was gone, along with the heavy fruit-laden tomato plant. The thief must have been a buck, and the cage must still be stuck in its antlers!

I followed the perpetrator’s tracks along my house, across my front yard, across the cul-de-sac, and into a neighbor’s yard and the woods behind their house. It was an easy trail to follow, since the four-legged thief left pieces of tomato plant and green tomatoes along with hoofprints.

I never found the deer. And I haven’t heard of anyone seeing a buck with a huge cage of tomato plants on its antlers. I can only surmise that it had a highly successful mating season that Fall. After all, what rival male is going to fight a buck with such intimidating armory?

And what female isn’t going to get all doe-eyed when she sees a male carrying my luscious tomatoes on his head? What a provider!

Still, I would like him to return my cage when he’s done using it. They’re expensive—and danged hard to make.

This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #134.

  • Donna G.

    Love it, We have five acres of woods around our house. So I can relate to trying to keep the wild life at bay.


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