Sunday, 10 February 2013

Regarding rats versus tomatoes

The great thing about blogs is that you soon realise that whatever is going on in your patch, you're very rarely alone. So it was with some trepidation that I read Liz's accounts of her rapidly disappearing pumpkins and tomatoes on her Suburban Tomato blog.

It goes without saying that if you have poultry you have mice and possibly rats ( just don't tell the neighbours that! let alone they are actually coming over from that side of the fence).  We are very careful and had mouse proofed the chook feeder (rats are probably a different story) but unfortunately chooks are messy eaters and fling their feed out all over the place. So even with Pixie the guard cat sitting sentry outside its pretty much a losing battle.

The first hint the rats were getting a little bit out of control was when I saw one pop over the fence in broad daylight and run down the PVC pipe running the length of the chook pen. As time went on 'ratty' became more and more brazen and you could stare down the pipe and see him looking back at you - quite happy, safe and content. Then there was the instance of my rapidly disappearing bumper  raspberry crop. Any one who knows me will know I hate killing things - bug spray is completely banned at my place- so I wasn't really keen in facing up to the inevitable rat killing.

Here's the proof - I grew tomatoes in 2012-13

With all the warm weather, the tomatoes were the best they had been in years- the hybrid cherries were draped in bunches of big fat cherry tomatoes just beginning to ripen and my standard tomatoes (I think they are 'Mortgage Lifter' ) had set fruit en-mass for the first time in years. I had a smug sense of achievement of abundance in my garden.....until seemingly over night about six giant tomatoes vanished off the vine. This was followed in quick succession by the complete and utter stripping on my potted cherry tomatoes at the other end of the yard. The war had now begun.

The damage done - cherry tomatoes picked off the stem

My partner G went down to Bunnings and spent his Saturday morning comparing rat traps with a bunch of other Bunnings tragics (apparently  the news was they are growing giant ones all over the suburb of Sunshine with testicles the size of walnuts... so big they take on fox terriers....).

We set snap traps using rolled oats and peanut butter and put them out at night in strategic places under broken pots (to keep birds away) and hidden in the worm farm (showing signs of rodents digging). The worm farm yielded success straight away- 2 kills in 3 or 4 nights... but there was less progress elsewhere.

Still the tomatoes disappeared- and coming home after a bad day and in a fit of pre-dinner hungry grumpiness I pulled out a box of talon pellets I had bought but not used. So as not to poison the chooks I put one out in the lane next to my fence and covered with another broken terracotta pot (so its like a little cave) and one more brazenly on the rail of the neighbours side of the back fence where the rats cross over. (I will add the yard is so overgrown the neighbours would have no idea). I returned first thing the next morning to find both boxes (yes the cardboard boxes) and their contents gone. Later after a scour of the back corner of the garden (to check no pellets had been dropped on this side of the fence) I found a rats nest under a bush-  an empty cardboard box was amongst the various husks of seed pods it had been eating. The fact it dragged a box a good 5 metres through various vegetation has made me paranoid to use that method again (how easy would it be for one pellet to drop out). So we have now invested in a closed bait station box using the waxy style blocks (which don't seem as popular with the rats). Touch wood none of the large tomatoes have been taken since. The last rat we caught was 'drain pipe rat' - I came home one day to find it flailing, head stuck in the snap trap.

All this battling with nature has got me thinking..... it reminded me of an article I read a while back. It's a somewhat uncomfortable discussion (a warning to vegans- your diet most likely  DOES  kill warm fluffy animals on an epic scale!). It also reminded me how easy it is to sit back and shield ourselves  from plague and pestilence in a little cocoon of fast food and supermarkets. Unlike many people in the world I am lucky enough to see the destruction of my produce as nothing but a little interruption to my hobby. If growing my little garden has taught me one thing.... survival (man versus nature) outside the modern suburban world is not an easy or pleaseant task. No doubt despite adversity my rodent adversaries will prevail.


  1. I think it might be time for me to revisit the snappy traps (but very carefully placed - I do like the terracotta pot idea. I too am of a no fly spray type disposition so all this killing is a little uncomfortable and if the truth be know I would prefer not to know. I kind of just want them to die but for someone else to have had the blood on their hands which clearly makes me no less culpable but there you go...

    1. Someone needs to invent birth control for rats and mice! that would solve everything.