I have been promising an update on the furry problem I am encountering this year and here it is. Firstly I would like to thank everyone for their advice on my last ratty post. I put into place a number of your suggestions with varying degrees of success so I thought it only appropriate to let you know how I got on with the various methods.
For those of you who have joined this discussion late – my problem is that rodents (both rats and mice) are eating my produce. They started with the golden nugget pumpkins, ate all the figs and Cape gooseberries and then progressed onto the tomatoes. Annoyingly they eat them green, so I don’t even have a chance to harvest before they descend. At the point that tomatoes started disappearing I declared war and have been trying to deal with the problem ever since.
After a couple of people suggested it I though it wise to check that I hadn’t declared war on any nice furry tomato eaters but no, I have your usual horrible vermin. I know this because I’ve seen them. I’ve seen rats in the garden and we’ve caught mice in traps. Whilst there are nice native mice in Australia (called Antechinus) these are not those, they are the annoying introduced kind, made even less attractive by their penchant for Tommy Toe tomatoes.
These are the methods I’ve tried to get rid of them:
Traps: We have tried two types of traps. The snappy kind which has managed to get the occasional blackbird (although they have always flown away post release) but no rats. We haven’t tried mouse size traps in the garden although perhaps we should. The other kind of traps we have used are the long metal ones which trap the animal alive (pictured below). In 6 weeks of using these we have caught precisely one mouse. More on what we used to bait the trap later. Aside from their inability to catch anything bigger than a mouse I wouldn’t necessarily recommend these traps to everyone as once caught you have the problem of having to dispatch the creature in as humane a way as possible. My mum & dad recommend gassing them with the car exhaust. Not sure what the RSPCA would say on that method but it strikes me as relatively effective.
Poison: After much reluctant internal debate, but what if Mr 3 eats it?, but what if a possum finds it? but what if an owl eats a sick mouse? I finally got so frustrated I put down some Ratsak. I bought a packet of bags that you can put in hard to reach spaces and the rodent is supposed to chew through the packet and then eat the poison. Except they don’t. Of the 4 bags I placed in various positions in the garden (under the cubby house, inside a box that nothing else could enter etc) none were touched. I eventually emptied a couple of the bags into plastic dishes which I put under the tomato plants every evening, removing them every morning. For the first week nothing much happened but they finally found the dishes and the equivalent of one bag was eaten. The rest remained untouched for the rest of the week. I stopped putting it out then as it wasn’t being eaten and the stress of waking at 4am worried that I would forget to pick up the poison and my 3 year old would find it was proving too much. In the end enough was eaten to kill a few rodents (I’m guessing here – one might have eaten the whole lot) and the amount of damage to the garden has definitely decreased since using it. Some destruction continues though – this was yesterday, although the size of the hole suggests a mouse rather than rat.
Poison is clearly a useful but imperfect solution and will soon be even less perfect when the chickens arrive and I have more things to worry about eating it.
Moth Balls: One of the links a reader (thanks Anna) sent was to a forum. One contributor swore by moth balls as a rat deterrent. I tried it. I hung moth balls on four different plants whilst we were on holiday. It didn’t work, lovely big green slicing tomatoes disappeared from the same plants the balls were hung in. Also you could smell moth balls throughout the garden which is clearly far from ideal. Why I tried moth balls over Bek’s more fragrant suggestion of patchouli I don’t know. Anyone tried patchouli?
Milky Way Bars: On the same forum as the moth balls idea was a suggestion that Milky Way Bars could be used as a poison of sorts. Apparently the person submitting the idea had found dead rats less than a metre away from where she’d placed Milky Way bars, her theory being devouring the Milky Way bars had killed the rats. Unfortunately the shop across the road was out of Milky Way but they did have a bag of fun size Mars bars so I tried with them. I placed 6 around the garden while we were away and they all disappeared by the time we got back. No sign of dead rodents though. I put out a few more on each of the subsequent nights and they all went. I decided to use them as bait in our trap (described above) and it caught a mouse. Clearly rodents like chocolate. But does it kill them? The mouse we caught was very much alive so the answer to that must be no – well at least not immediately, but who knows what havoc its causing to the digestive systems of those who ate the others. Perhaps if I continue supplying them high calorie snacks blocked arteries will spell their end…
Anyway those are the things I’ve tried so far. I heard an interesting discussion on rats on 774 ABC radio the other day. Apparently Melbourne is experiencing something of a rat plague and the gardening guru (maybe Carolyn Blackman?) they had on that day recommended placing a physical barrier around your crops. She indicated that rats didn’t like climbing up galvanised iron sheeting and advocated a wall of about 30cm high made from galvanised iron (with the ridges running vertically) sunk into the ground all around the bed. I am definitely going to try this around my tomatoes next year. In the meantime I will endeavour to cover the fruits as Michelle amongst others suggested ( a quick look at her blog will show that she has much experience in these matters) and continue keep feeding them chocolate in the hope it changes their palate to the point tomatoes are no longer attractive. Unless of course someone else has a new solution for me??????