In the past we haven’t had many problems with pests. We thought our garden was pretty much pest-proof. We were pretty sure no deer, bunnies or squirrels could get in. This year we have experienced two new nemeses that kept us busy trying to get rid of them. First, mice. Then their larger cousin, the pack rat. Yeesh! What a year. 

Early in May, we began to see evidence of chewing on some of the freshly transplanted seedlings, particularly things like the broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower planted in the beds around the perimeter. We’d always known mice would be able to fit in through the stucco netting which surrounds the garden perimeter beds, but we hadn’t experienced problems with them previously. This year they came with a vengeance. We put out bait stations as well as snap traps, and began catching 1-4 mice each night. Eventually there weren’t as many caught, and after the plants were larger, the mice didn’t seem to gnaw on them as much. But, almost nightly we reset the traps and each morning went out to check them, unsnap them, and retrieve any dead mice.

See the damage on this broccoli plant from May 5 after it was damaged, then as it grew back, then close to harvest, July 26.

We got the Tomcat mouse traps, which are a lot easier to set and also to release the dead mice than the traditional wood + spring type trap. You can also purchase some attractant, which makes baiting the traps a bit easier than peanut butter. In addition to the bait and traps, we cut out the bottoms out of several plastic bottles and placed them over the small seedlings to keep the mice out. That worked pretty well, but was an extra chore to place on the plants each night and remove in the morning. In addition to the traps & bottles, we began putting out mouse bait. We no longer cared about how the mice were removed, we just wanted them gone.

The first inkling that we may have pack rats was May 30th, when I discovered this neatly laid pile of onions next to the onion bed, and these potato stems and cabbage leaves dismembered from their plants. (Fortunately these plants all survived!) I didn’t think that the mice would be able to do this, and the only thing I could think of was that it may be pack rats, known to be in our area. Below are photos of some of the damage found that day.

Sometime in mid-August we realized that something had been on our deck several nights, and guessed that it was probably pack rats leaving behind bits of weeds and pack rat scat. We heard some noises at night like scratching under one of our windows. It turned out that it had squeezed into a spot between the deck and the greenhouse roof and was building a nest. Tim plugged the hole it had used to get in and we got a rat-sized trap. We caught one, but after that we would find the trap sprung with no critter in it. After the hole was plugged and traps were placed, I guess it needed a new place, and found our garden.

The morning of August 28 I was shocked to find damage all around the garden… As seen below, SEVERAL plants were damaged! 

In addition to the damaged plants, the four bait stations we’d left out for the mice were gone! Not just the bait, the whole plastic bait station. Gone! Clearly, this had to be a pack rat family.

We were quite disheartened by the damage, but as I keep reminding myself, “every year is different”. I’m also getting better at laughing at some of the things that happen, with an attitude of, “isn’t that interesting?” Everything is never perfect, and every year brings new learning experiences.

Eventually, Tim found a DIY rat bait station idea online. He made a couple of these, put them out, and the first night the PR’s got into them and ate all 5 blocks of the bait out of each one. It’s large enough for the pack rats to get in, but not the cat, dog, or ducks. The bait blocks are suspended from the top on a rod or wire, each one falling to the bottom as the bottom one is eaten. After the first two were successful, Tim made about four more, and they are scattered all around out property. At this point, we seem to have taken care of the problem.

What about the cat, you ask? She does catch mice, but is locked inside each night (either the RV or a shed) to keep her from becoming coyote bait. We had been keeping her in our RV at night to keep the mice away, and it worked great….until she got bored and started tearing up the edge of the sofa. Now she’s in the shed at night. After moving the cat out of the RV, the pack rats found a new cozy home inside. We discovered they’d gotten in to the kitchen cabinets under the sink. After cleaning it all up & removing all the kitchen wares, Tim put another big trap out by the side of the RV, and they haven’t been in there since. Or else, they’re really neat and don’t poop or leave weeds laying around.

So that’s our pests saga for 2020. This year we found that the deer ate the rhubarb, which they haven’t done before. Other than that, it’s just another garden year with more experience under our belts. Next year, we will be proactive early in the spring with our DIY bait stations to keep the mice from the garden, house, sheds, barn, you name it.

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