The Dreaded Rats…..

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.

Rat trap

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.

Black Krim tomato with mouse damage

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??????

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50 Responses to The Dreaded Rats…..

  1. Mark Willis says:

    Since you have introduced word-verification on comments I take it that you have also (like me) been the victim of a huge amount of Spam comments recently?
    Here in the UK if there were a rat problem in a domestic house/garden the local council would get involved. I believe they have a “duty of care” to assist with eradication of vermin. Is it worth contacting your local authority for assistance – or at least advice?

    • Liz says:

      Contacting the local authority isn’t a bad idea at all – they may just laugh and say so does everyone else but its definitely worth a go. Regarding the spam I was getting between 100 and 500 spam comments a day and since putting it on last night I haven’t had any, I went for the numbers because they seem pretty easy to read. Do you think anyone will have an issue? I am also having lots of issues with robots, spiders etc crawling the site and using up all my bandwidth is this an issue for you too.

  2. You deserve success after all that effort. Must admit I thought rats were good at climbing.

    • Liz says:

      They are but the theory is that they don’t like doing it up smooth surfaces. They race up the fences here but they are very rough giving good footholds I guess.

  3. Louise says:

    Bummer that nothing is really working! Perhaps what we need is drought again? I am afraid I can’t offer any advice as I have never had the problem, but I have lots and lots of free corrugated iron – you may have seen my post about Rabbiter’s Ruin? If some recycled iron is handy you can have some but I may be too far away for you ( about 4 hours drive from Melbourne), but you might have some free solutions elsewhere after all 4 hours ( 8 hours return) of fuel make it expensive. Unless you were coming up to the boarder anyway?

    My barrier methods are working on the earwigs (tip nippers) and the Wallaby, but different beasts call for different barrier methods. Good luck!

    • Liz says:

      I thought I read all your posts but I must have missed Rabbiters Ruin – i will have a look. My mum and dad are generally a good source of iron but if we exhaust it I may just take you up on it. I fancy a holiday around the Albury area at some point… I reckon physical barriers are often the most effective pest deterents, and the easiest to keep up so I do like this iron idea very much.

  4. Sarah says:

    I was told to use peanut butter to bait traps for mice (apparently they can’t resist it) – don’t know if this would work for rats too. Good luck though – hope you find a solution soon.

    • Jodie says:

      Yep – this is the best bait ever….. with rolled oats- Back in my uni days I studied zoology and we used the peanut butter/oat combo to humanely trap rodents (native) for survey purposes- back in suburbia we have had had some succes using that method… but thats the subject of my next post on my blog.

      • Liz says:

        When I was little we belonged to a mammal survey group which trapped native rodents too and I do recall the peanut butter and rolled oats. They haven’t gone for peanut butter on a biscuit but perhaps the oats are key – I’d forgotten them until now. Thankyou.

    • Liz says:

      They haven’t gone for the peanut butter outside although occasionally we’ve caught mice indoors using it as bait. Apparently salami also works well but I have yet to try it.

  5. Alexis says:

    So sorry to read about your tomato losses. For what it’s worth, chickens love eating mice. Or at least, my chickens do – as I discovered recently when I turned over the compost heap (for the first time in months) and disturbed a nest of about twelve mice. The chooks are super speedy when they see protein on legs, and they despatch the mice very quickly by whacking them on the ground, then they eat them whole (amazing to see). It’s probably not the number one way of avoiding trans-species parasites, but it pleasingly turns a pest into a resource. Unfortunately, chickens also love eating tomatoes …

    • Liz says:

      A friend of mine food a dead rat in their chook pen so its not just mice. Her chooks have also taken out pigeons. Very protective of their food supply i guess. We are getting chickens this weekend but as we will be getting them as day olds it might be a while before they start resoving the mice problems for us. I think one of the rats was nesting in our compost heap too but I haven’t seen it near there recently.

  6. How annoying. I don’t know what to suggest. I’m not surprised to hear about the rat problem in Melbourne. We’ve had rats too and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them. They’re not getting stuck into my veggies yet as far as I can see but they have been visiting my kitchen at night. And I can confirm they love chocolate. And fruit. But it doesn’t kill them. Traps haven’t worked for me. On the weekend we did a big inspection and filled the gaps where we think they’re getting in and I put some talon inside the walls. Like you I have been nervous about using poison – I’m scared for my dog. I know rats can climb cos I’ve seen then run along the top of the fences. But I think it would be trickier to run along the corrugated iron. I’ve heard of people nailing talon along the top of the fences.
    Good luck with it.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks. I have to say I’m a bit pleased that I haven’t seen any inside..yet… Good idea to put poison in the walls – I hope they take it. They run up the fences at our place too, and across the carport roof. I hadn’t thought of putting some up high but its not a bad idea. I just wish i knew where they lived then it would be a lot easier.

  7. Yvonne says:

    I never had a rat problem with our Cat but I did spot a lizard last week hiding under the heater box, not sure if it knows the rain would arrive the next day (after 2 months of drought), I am now worrying how can it avoids my Cat?

    • Liz says:

      I love lizards. Not being particularly knowledgable about cats I didn’t realise they would catch them. I hope it avoids yours.

  8. Patricia says:

    I have been told to feed the vermin plaster of paris and then when they have a drink ‘phwtt’ – it becomes a hard solid ball in their stomach. I tried this once mixing the PoP with flour but that obviously wasn’t palatable enough. I think if it was mixed with something sweet it could work.
    Give it go!!

    • Liz says:

      Thanks I will, although it is quite a icky thought (not that poisoning is any better of course). I have heard much the same thing about feeding pidgeons rice but don’t know if that is an urban myth or based in reality.

  9. Nina says:

    Wow! Up to 500 spam! That’s ridiculous. I can’t imagine that anyone who reads your blog will be deterred from commenting by having to type a few numbers. They are easy to decipher whereas some can be a little difficult to work out for old eyes like mine. Um, GardenGlut, we need to have a word. 🙂

    I’m not sure if you saw a post a little while back where I wondered if you have had some building or demolition going on around you? If the rats might be coming from somewhere like that, could you safely plant some rat poison there? Just a thought!

    Though I reckon your deterrents might be working. The rats are moving south. My very first rouge de marmandes that have ripened a little have been badly munched. Maybe by city-slicker rats? Or maybe chooks? Or maybe parrots? Certainly not me or the dog. 🙁

    • Liz says:

      I have had a scout around the block and cant find any demolition or building going on. There was quite a bit last year but less so now but it was a great thought. Oh no, not you as well! – what is it with Rouge de Marmande? It is clearly a very desirable food source.

  10. JohnMich says:

    Have you tried the electronic screamers which are claimed to drive rats and mice away but cannot be heard by humans. In desperation might be worth a try. See if you can get a test drive before parting with cash

  11. k holland says:

    try bowls of Pepsi or coke. they can’t burp and they blow up. or so I’ve heard. good luck.

    • Liz says:

      Really? Definitely worth a try although I’m not sure I want the detritis of blown up rats all over the place….he, he, he. Thanks for the tip – off to the little shop across the road…

  12. Dave's SFG says:

    Have you tried the electronic traps that electrocute the rats? Don’t know if you can find these in your neighborhood. Here’s a link to one US brand but there are others: They are a bit pricey but get good reviews everywhere. They come in mouse and rat sizes.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks for the link – they look well worth considering. For some reason your comment was put into my spam folder (not sure how many others I may have missed). I don’t know if this has happened on other blogs?

    • Jodie says:

      Further to Dave’s comment there are people raving about them on rat related posts on Backyard Poultry ( I have suggested if people have any recommendations of specific brands/ types (or vice versa purchased a lemon) they should include more helpful details. BTW- Liz with your new chicks – you might find it a handy website- any doubts or dramas – if you post a question on the forum – you will get a bunch of replies straight away.

      • Liz says:

        Fabulous recommendation – Thankyou! I hope you get rid of your rats soon. As for the chicks – we got them today, they are sooooo cute.

  13. kathleen quigley says:

    rats are some messy creature,,,, try encouraging owls…. nature will sort out
    the rat problem also keep using lime on the walls of buildings.

    rats hate open spaces and white lime, drop some soil on the composite
    and mix it up and turn it over daily for rats do not like humans

    • Liz says:

      Oh I love owls – I would love to have them around here – will have to do some research into whether or not they are likely to venture to these parts. The white lime tip is really useful – thankyou!

  14. Jan lumley says:

    Re a barrier to protect your tomatoes from rats. I don’t think they can jump vertically higher than about 3′ so I made a fence of laser light, with ridges going vertically, and it did work well.
    For my tamarillos which I have harvested NONE in the last three years despite lots on the trees, I wound a very brushy gutter guard round the trunks, and cleared off any other vegetation they could climb. I thought it was working till all the fruit disappeared in one night! On inspection I discovered they had chewed off the bristles in just one place per tree,,and had smooth access. But it is worth considering. Thank you for results of other trials.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Jan, I’m really glad you found something that worked for the tomatoes – I will definitely try it this year. They have eaten some but not all of my tamarillos – perhaps they found other more interesting things at the time.

  15. Patricia Of Adelaide says:

    We lived in an area of Adelaide that had lots of rats and mice. They used to come inside. We tried all sorts of enticements on the traps (didn’t use ratsak in the garden as we had a dog and a cat)
    They always nicked the bait. I could almost hear them burping with contentment from the bedroom during the night.
    After some sleepless nights, I came up with a solution that worked.
    Cut off the rind of parmesan cheese and cut into small bits. Attach to the mouse/ rattrap with superglue. It made it so much harder to pull off and of course it could often be left to be used time and time again. Let me tell you that the success rate was amazing. Others have used this same system with success. Except that during the night we would hear the clack of the traps going off. Measure of success I suppose. Good luck. Hope it works for you.

    • Liz says:

      I will definitely be trying this. Fortunately our main problem areas are far enough away from the house to not hear the traps. As much as I want to get rid of them I would still find that pretty confronting.

    • angela says:

      Hi Patricia, i just read your message. I am in walkely heights and have a massive rat plague atm. I have tried everything known to man and they do take the bait from the snap trap. Im going to try your idea to see if this stops them stealing it. They are so dam clever! Thankyou.

  16. Lauren says:

    I’m currently trying out peppermint oil as a deterrent… I currently have mice in the house and the cheeky things push the bait block (no matter how many times I put it back) out from under the dishwasher and turn it from square to round but I’m not finding any dead mice… My dog catches mice but since I’ve baited I’m spreading the peppermint oil around the yard to stop them coming near him. I’m at a loss as the mice avoid the trap

  17. Norm says:

    Just reading stuff about tomatoes being eaten by rodents, I wonder if you have checked for snails also, you would be amazed at how much damage they can do in a night and then disappear. Check for the little beasties, they are voracious and breed like mice on steroids, cheers, Norm

  18. Steve says:

    Hi Liz, Not sure how this helps, but mint has been used in “companion gardening” for hundreds of years to deter unwanted animals and pests. We use mint and 3 other essential oils in our garbage bags which repels rats, mice, (and cockroaches hate mint) from eating into the garbage bags that have food in them. Not sure how you can apply this to your situation, but hopefully give you some new ideas to try. You can see the video if of interest on youtube under Mint-x rodent repellent garbage bags. Good luck with your challenge. Steve.

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  20. Alex says:

    Been a few years since you’ve updated this? Say luck with rat solutions? They’re taking my green tomatoes overnight… I’m about to try the parmesan glue….

  21. angela says:

    Hi. I live in Adelaide and i have about 15 rats in my gutters/shadehouse and backyard. Well all i can say is these things are impossible to get rid off! Im an animal lover so to start with i tried an expensive device that sends out radio waves as a deterant (what a joke that was). My thinking changed pretty quick as they became so bad. Ive tried snap traps (they wont even eat peanut butter or sneak out the bait), every kind of poison i can find! (Industrial/supermarket etc), a cat, squirting them with a hose every night, the council have come. These rats are super rats. I think they have developed super powers over the years. If i could buy a gun and shoot them i would. Good luck!

  22. robert says:

    I live in eastern melbourne, having moved from Hughesdale. I thought i escaped the rodent problem, but its here too. Possibly worse. And boy the rats love the rouge de marmande. I rarely get to harvest one of these after fantastic seasons of fruit the greedy pigs eat them all! they rarely wait till they’re ripe. Sometimes it would be just vindictive destruction. gnawing through stems, chewing up my tomatoes but not eating them, almost to spite me. This year was even worse. They’d get them before they even reached golf ball size. They then went on to pick clean my chilli bushes, and my strawberries… i just think i may as well forget about that. Its a very rare occasion to get more than 3 off 20 pots!!!
    I have resorted to poison with mixed results. The young ones (the most destructive) are killed, but the older ones i haven’t seen deceased yet. Perhaps too smart or (even worse) resistant to the bait. While there was a small reprieve from the onslaught, it seems they are back again and i fear all my hard work yet again will be for naught. its so depressing after fighting scorching sun, slugs and snails, birds scratching up the garden, i am very close to throwing in the towel and just stick with herbs that rats wont touch.

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  24. John says:

    I believe that anyone who is serious about growing fruit and vegetables will need to construct quite substantial barriers, such as timber framing clad with wire fabric covering both walls and “roof”. Just like keeping chickens. Haven’t costed this exercise, but do it once and its there for ever – out with the hammer and nails, away with rats, mice, foxes and possums!

  25. Robin says:

    In this day and age, I can’t believe people are still laying poison for rodents.
    Use effective traps. It’s not entirely humane, but it sure as hell beats using poison on those critters, that may get picked up by a predator, or when it breaks down, the poison leaches into the soil and the water table.

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