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Tomato Thievery

Original post made by Alan, Midtown, on Oct 1, 2009

This past summer, we decided to try growing tomatoes for the first time. We found that the best place for sunlight was outside our fence. It was fun watering and caring for the plants, and watching the tomatoes grow and ripen. We learned a lot.

Then we started noticing that ripe tomatoes seemed to disappear. We were never sure as, for a time, there were so many ripe tomatoes. My spouse would guess that maybe she picked them the day before for a salad, etc.

Finally, a neighbor confirmed it. She said she saw a woman picking our tomatoes, get back on her bicycle, and ride away. She yelled at the woman, but she was too far away. The thought of it is quite frustrating.

I know that this issue isn't all that important. But I wonder how many people have this kind of experience, whether it is with vegetables, or roses, or other growing things in the front yard?
And do the people picking the tomatoes (or roses, etc.) without permission understand that they are thieves?

Comments (36)

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Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2009 at 11:08 am

I have had this happen more than once. When you confront the thief, they act perplexed as to why you think they are doing something wrong. I think this self denial is what allows them to do it in the first place.

Or they pretend not to speak English, which may actually be the case. I once came home to find a woman walking around in my front yard making cuttings of my plants. She just walked away when confronted, acting as if nothing happened.

Next time, get a description of the person, the direction of travel, and the take, and call the PAPD non-emergency number. Use your phone/iPod to take pics/video as well as it will be your word against theirs.

qq


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Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2009 at 11:48 am

I have tomatos in my back yard behind a locked gate and the ripen tomatos keep disappearing too. So, in addition to human beings, there might be other animals sharing your tomatos.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I do have sympathy for your loss, but I have a question too. When you say outside your fence, does this mean that your tomatoes are growing outside your property line? If this is the case, there may be a perception at least that these are not your property. It does not excuse the thief, but it may not occur to them that they are doing something as wrong as if they were entering your yard.

I have some wonderful fruit that overhangs my fence from my neighbor's yard which I consider as mine. Some may consider fruit outside the property line in the same light.

Just a thought.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Tomatos do not grow on their own around here that I have ever seen, so any "person" taking tomatoes should know better and is acting anti-socially or committing a crime if you care push the point. People used to behave better when a farmer could load their backsides with a round of rocksalt - what is it with people these days?

But, there are a lot of critters that roam Palo Alto day and night. Squirrels run around in my yard grabbing fruit when it is green, taking one bite and dropping it on the ground - quite infuriating. Raccoons used to tear up my lawn and get into things at night and they are quite unconcerned about humans doing them any damage too, they just wait for you to go away and come right back.

But, before you post you should be sure what your problem is.


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Posted by I've seen it
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Alan,

I've seen people in Midtown, some with very large bags, harvesting fruit from trees that were not theirs. Sometimes they were in teams of two. They did look like they were totally unconcerned with the fact that what they were doing may be wrong.


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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 1, 2009 at 12:46 pm

The kids say the local squirrels are the culprits who have been stealing my neighbor's tomatoes and dropping them in our backyard.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I have a fence and people used to walk up the driveway and cut my flowers. After I installed a security camera, the intrusions stopped.


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Posted by Alan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Resident: There are four or five feet of lawn and sprinklers between my fence and the sidewalk, so I assume that the tomatoes are on my property and it should look that way to others. The tomatoes were right up against the fence in plastic planters that have a water reservoir.

Anon: I had not thought of critters. I am sure, however, that at least part of the problem was the woman on her bicycle who was seen stealing tomatoes. I have not seen any sign of animal takings (like half eaten fruit on or off the vine, etc). But I accept that there is that possibility.




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Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Put up a sign saying "Do not take"

There are some houses who encourage people to take fruit from the front yard (since the trees bear fruit by the buckets ! ) .. it may be a perception issue: You can take the produce by house A but not house B.

Its your garden and hence you should decide what you want to do with the produce .. just make is very clear to the other people.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2009 at 4:28 pm

That would really burn me up if someone did that to me. I would chase them down and have them arrested for tresspass and burglary or petty theft or whatever it is. Obvious to anyone they were not naturally growing tomatoes, if there is such a thing. You can buy relatively cheap cameras that will take time lapse of motion detected picture and put up a sign.


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Posted by Fruit Lover
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2009 at 5:20 pm

"I have some wonderful fruit that overhangs my fence from my neighbor's yard which I consider as mine."

Really? If it hung over my yard, I'd consider it mine. In fact, my neighbor does have a fruit tree overhanging my backyard, and she did me the courtesy of telling me to take whatever grew over my yard.

When fruit trees grow down to the street and drop their fruit on the sidewalk, I grab it every time. I think common law supports this.

From a legal standpoint


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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Oct 1, 2009 at 8:31 pm

I occasionally snip a few sprigs of rosemary from my neighbor's bush without asking. Mostly I do so with a secret hope that they'll confront me about it. In 4 years of living beside them, we've only had about 10 words between us. There is a big language and cultural barrier between us.

But I wouldn't think of taking someone's tomatoes like this. We have a lemon tree in the side yard that gets pilfered from time to time. I don't mind if there are many ripe lemons, but once I needed the last ripe one. When I went to get it, it was gone. That was pretty frustrating.

Like lemons, tomatoes are usually pretty abundant when they get ripe. Perhaps the perp didn't think you'd miss them. Mostly I think I agree with MidtownMom. A sign would help, but we should all learn to ask permission before taking anything. Including me and the rosemary.

Thanks for posting.


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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 2, 2009 at 1:04 am

A few months ago I glimpsed a woman pick lemons from our tree, dash to her car and drive off. While this is a petty crime, it is somehow troubling. I would much prefer if the pilferers were to just ring the bell and ask. Also, it's the idea that if everyone stopped to take tomatoes or lemons or flowers, our yards would be bare.


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Posted by Good Luck
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 2, 2009 at 8:11 am

There is very easy cure for this, post a sign:

IN-ORGANIC TOMATOES, MALATHION SPRAYED

From my experience even the critters don't bother to touch them anymore !!
:-)

On a serious note, it works. BTW "in-organic" is harsher sounding than "not-organic".





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Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2009 at 8:27 am

Well we have a prolific fig tree in the back yard. The figs are great for adding to home-made smoothies, but this tree produces more than we can consume.

If only there were some way to move this tree to the front of the house.



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Posted by Reluctant Gardener
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2009 at 11:07 am

We used to have this happen. My son suggested that I put any excess in a box outside the gate with the following sign: "We don't need these tomatoes today. We'd love to share them with our neighbors. Please take a couple and leave some for another neighbor." After I started doing this with tomatoes, apples, lemons, and persimmons the problem got much better. We left the box there when it was empty, still with the sign, and added fruits or veggies whenever we had too much. On one occasion, a woman came by and picked up box and all. A neighbor child confronted her and asked her why she was so greedy. The woman sputtered, dropped the box and left. We didn't seem to have a problem after that....thanks to a child who knew right from wrong and wasn't afraid to speak up!!!!!!!!!!!! We also had a lot of grateful neighbors, many of whom thanked us over and over for sharing. Some of them who had "produce" in their back yards asked us if we'd mind if they added their excess to our box. This got to be quite a fun thing. One of the neighbors even decided that we should have a neighborhood potluck bringing only dishes that were made with ingredients from "The Box". A delightful neighborhood ice-breaker!!! ;-)


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Posted by lh1
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2009 at 11:27 am

I live a little farther out than PA or Woodside and don't have the "human problem" in losing tomatoes/produce, but have been having the "critter" problem with our tomatoes. You might try sprinkling cayenne pepper around the plants. We've had to completely cage ours and use the pepper to keep the critters out. It's not a perfect solution, but helps. Good luck!


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Posted by CM
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 2, 2009 at 12:06 pm

My experience is that if you just ask, it can lead to a pleasant interaction. My daily bike ride takes me past a house with a fruit tree at the street-edge. The fruit seemed to be left to drop. I wrote a note one year asking if I might have the fruit if the house-owners weren't going to use it. I got a prompt response to help myself. Now, every year, I ask, and am granted permission to take what the owners can't use. In other circumstances - e.g. sharing a campsite in a park- people have been so pleasantly surprised to be asked instead of having someone just take, that I get much more from whatever I was requesting than I hoped for.


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Posted by John
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2009 at 12:35 pm

My understanding is that, legally, any part of a plant that overhangs over a fence into a neighbor's yard, whether fruit, flowers, or just leaves and seed pods, belongs to the latter. That neighbor has the right to pick from it, or trim it back within reason. Since that neighbor also has to deal with any mess it makes, it is only fair.


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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2009 at 12:39 pm

FYI, if you have fruit trees that produce more than you use, there is a fantastic organization called Village Harvest that will come to your house, harvest the fruit, and donate it to the hungry. We have a fig tree that is so tall I wouldn't be able to get the fruit even if I wanted, and the Village Harvest volunteers came with their ladders and harvested almost 50lbs of figs! Google it and you'll find them. A really great group.

I've had the same problem, but with my roses. Back in May, I had so many beautiful roses, and the day before Mother's Day, someone came and snipped them all. I was even able to see the clean scissor cuts. I sure hope that person gave their mom/wife/sister/someone a nice rose bouquet the next day!


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Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm

I have an orange tree in the front yard that is always plucked by passers by. Also an apricot tree growing over a fence that I have seen people pluck. A neighbor who passed away used to come by and ask for apricots to bake pies once a year which I was glad to do, and another crazy person in my neighborhood has tried to come into my yard without permission to pick the apricots.

Then there are the squirrells, who take anything and everything.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2009 at 1:09 pm

For the first time in over 20 years of growing tomatoes, squirrels are eating some of mine. They normally do not bother to take it very far and leave a partially eaten tomato in the vicinity as evidence. Bird netting from the hardware store wrapped loosely around the base of the plants is a pretty good cure. Seems to put them off if it is not readily accessible.

But that is not a sure sign that the thefts are by a squirrel and not a human. I have seen in a nearby yard a squirrel run up a tree with a pretty good sized tomato in its mouth!


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Posted by Gardener
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2009 at 1:18 pm

I like the "in-organic" sign idea. I would make more weird signs "warning experimental vegetables"..."swine flu variety tomatoes".... "mad cow lemons". Kind of stops temptation. Now how to stop people from cramming their garbage in my bins... Construct a giant jack in the box perhaps?


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Posted by I've seen it
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Although the signs suggested above sound like a good idea, I am not sure all (human) would be thieves know how to read. Some of the thieves I have seen in the neighborhood - harvesting fruit etc. - seem to be first generation immigrants who are not native English speaker and may or may not be able to speak and read English.


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Posted by I've seen it
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

By the way, legally, fruit overhanging over a fence actually belong to the owner of the tree, not the owner of the property the fruit is hanging over (i.e. the neighbor of the tree owner). It may not seem fair, but that's how it is.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2009 at 3:14 pm

We've had people come into our front yard and:
- take oranges
- take lemons
- cut roses
- cut hydrangeas
- dig up and steal gardenias - yes, the whole plant!

A few years ago I was in the back yard pruning a tree and a couple had the nads to walk down the driveway (easily 75 feet) to "check out" the house and property (we had just finished a remodel). From my ladder I asked, "Can I help you?"...they said, "Oh, we know the owner - we're just looking at the work." I then confronted them with, "I'm the owner and I don't know you." They left in a hurry with no apology.


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Posted by Andy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 2, 2009 at 4:08 pm

We have a lemon tree in our front yard that as stripped bare of lemons one day. It's a pity because we have so many and use so few that we would have gladly given some to anyone who asked.

On another note I witnessed a couple with a bag walking up to a neighbor and asking if they could take some fruit. The neighbor graciously invited to them to take whatever they liked.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2009 at 8:03 pm

This happened frequently to our front yard tomato plants growing up in MP & PA. I've had it happen w/blackberries in my yard here in EPA. I can't stand the awful blackberry vines, so I felt if people were going to take the fruit w/out asking, they needed to hack down a vine & take it home w/them. Seriously, the larger problem was the privacy invasion because these people were LOUD & even had their kids along to harvest as much of the plant as possible. So, I wrote a sign in English & had it translated into Spanish to read: "Please help yourself to blackberries w/the extra special taste of dog urine!" Since the bushes faced the sidewalk, the dog urine aspect was real. Suddenly, had a bumper crop! So the sly signs help because in addition to being bizarre, it lets people know you know they're stealing.

But the whole arrest them thing? Get over yourselves. That's a horrible thing to do to them. Plus, it's much more fun to put up creative signs.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2009 at 8:33 pm

To Crescent Park Dad: You live in a gorgeous area & I love walking there. It's often so quiet I can imagine people think they can get away w/a lot. But stealing a whole plant? That's awful! Also, in cutting flowers, does that mean they planned ahead & had a clipper w/them? I always feel an invisible barrier of sorts, like a privacy barrier, that indicates unless you have a legit reason to walk into someone's yard, you don't. Very simple.

We had a guy walk all the way to the back of the property to steal lemons. When a neighbor confronted him, he proceeded to argue w/her. Given that this is EPA, for the most part, we're in a laid back area, but one never knows. This guy's demeanor was threatening & combative. He also clearly was lying w/the things he told her. We figured he was using the lemon tree as an excuse to scope the places out, incl that of a close neighbor who had lots of tools & the like. I just leashed up one of my big dogs & started to walk towards the guy saying that he better leave & not return & lickety split, he was gone.


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Posted by Teacher
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2009 at 8:43 am

Wow,you people in Palo Alto have a rough life


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Posted by Razzbo
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 3, 2009 at 9:57 am

Our dogs go after our green tomatoes.

They think it's the perfect mid-afternoon "pick-me-up" snack.


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Posted by Rob
a resident of Woodside
on Oct 4, 2009 at 7:59 am

People steal fruits, vegetables, recyclables, anything from open garages, KIDS TOYS, etc. This is 2009, not the leave it to beaver days anymore. Want to stop it? Try opening the doors wider to immigration from countries where the culture doesn't steal everything not nailed down and urinated on.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2009 at 10:55 am

legally, whatever falls or hangs over your property is yours. Likewise, if something is grown on public property it belongs to the jurisdiction where it's grown.
Two thoughts:
in many countries the taking of fruit under those circumstances is not theft and not considered as such morally, specially if it is by the road side (it's sharing very much like water).
and
middle class manners, indeed, dictate that one asks the neighbor about the hanging fruit and pleasantries exchanged- "no, please take it, don't even ask, consider it yours" and so on. By the same token, the owner of the hanging branches is supposed to offer clean up
of "his" leaves and trimming of hanging branches. Perhaps what was offensive to the posters wasn't so much the taking of tomatoes but the absence of ordinary manners.
After all, despite Alan's pleasure (and work) in his tomatoes, tomatoes aren't precious or difficult to find.
Until a few months ago, when I lived in Palo Alto the taking of lemons from the backyard tree was constant, but I always thought that those who took them obviously had very little
and so I saw it as my contribution to helping the less fortunate. Children were also throwing them around and the occasional mild scolding would work for a couple of weeks. Not all would want to do see it that way of course, and they are within their rights but police has more important tasks to perform than catching the occasional tomato thief
( specially if called by a homeowner with no standing in the matter). Move those tomatoes to you property Alan. I'm sympathetic but unfortunately this is life and it's irritating.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2009 at 11:02 am

Just a clarification:

To whom the hanging fruit belongs to, and whose responsibility it is to take care of the hanging branches depends on the jurisdiction. You should check with your city regarding to this. But, regardless if the tomatoes are planted outside your property it does not belong to you.


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Posted by I've seen it
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Narnia

I can tell you in no uncertain terms that you are wrong on overhanging fruit, at least in Palo Alto. It is a misconception that overhanging fruit belongs to the neighbor above whose property the fruit hangs.

How do i know? I had a dispute with my neighbor on exactly this issue and we both looked into it and found out that:

The fruit belongs to the tree owner.


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Posted by Alan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Thanks for all the comments.

I think that Narnia hit on something when Narnia wrote "in many countries the taking of fruit under those circumstances is not theft and not considered as such morally, specially if it is by the road side (it's sharing very much like water)"

This is consistent with qq's obseration: "I have had this happen more than once. When you confront the thief, they act perplexed as to why you think they are doing something wrong". Maybe they really didn't think they were doing anything wrong.

But Narnia missed the point when Narnia wrote " Move those tomatoes to you property Alan. I'm sympathetic but unfortunately this is life and it's irritating."

Narnia -- The plants were on my property. The fence is set back along with the tomatoes.

Anon was more on point when he wrote: "Tomatos do not grow on their own around here that I have ever seen, so any "person" taking tomatoes should know better and is acting anti-socially or committing a crime if you care push the point. "

Good Luck AND Gardner had great ideas about posting a sign:

IN-ORGANIC TOMATOES, MALATHION SPRAYED (Good Luck)
warning experimental vegetables"..."swine flu variety tomatoes".... (Gardner)

Reluctant Gardner had the idea I think I will try next year: "We don't need these tomatoes today. We'd love to share them with our neighbors. Please take a couple and leave some for another neighbor"

MidtownMom's advice suggests the posting of a sign: "Its your garden and hence you should decide what you want to do with the produce .. just make is very clear to the other people. "

But I will bear in mind that a friend of mine from Mountain View said that his neighbor did post a sign on a tree in his front yard demanding that people not take the tree's fruit. Subsequently, the tree was chainsawed down by someone, not the homeowner.


Again, thank you all for your comments.

Alan



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