26 July, 2013


OK... Get over it – everywhere there is civilization, there are rats. They live in our trash, on our refuse and they proliferate everywhere humans congregate.
Evidence of rodents feeding on corn 

They are pests of the garden and now they have come to feast on my corn – my very valuable Glass Gem Popcorn and they are going to take the whole crop unless I can find a way to stop them.

But before we get to that... It's my fault. There are two stands of corn in the garden. The other stand will come to fruition with very little predation while the valuable Glass Gem stands very little chance of producing anything at all for me. It's in the wrong place.

The Glass Gem was placed in an area of convenience for me – near the composting site of the garden. This is the wrong place to put anything that rodents may want to eat because compost piles are natural habitat for rodents plus they can venture out from the compost area under some good weed cover and get into my corn unobserved. This foils my number one anti-rodent defense: my local hawk.

Some areas of the garden are never predated upon by rodents because the rodents must cross ample open ground to feast on whatever is planted and in that crossing, they are easy prey for the hawk. I did not think of that when I selected this spot for the Glass Gem corn. The rats or mice have only a few feet to cross and those few feet have plants that can cover them – besides a hawk is not going to place himself in a human made culvert between compost bins and tall corn for any little morsel; there isn't enough take off/landing space to protect him.

Now I've got to play catch up – in desperation, I posted my dilemma on Facebook and I got all kinds of answers. I want to look at each one here and try to solve my problem in front of God and everyone.

Probably the most recommended in the answers. Traps do a fair job of targeting the pest species, which is vitally important to me. While I have no problem killing insects, for example, I will not spray because of the collateral damage caused by sprays – not only do I kill the species I aim at, but most organic sprays are indiscriminate in what they kill. Spray for aphids and you wipe out the lady bug eggs that were laid nearby to feast on those same aphids – and instead of solving my problem, I've only postponed it because ants will bring more aphids back to recolonize the area and there will be no lady bugs to oppose them.

I have seen squirrels get bit by rat traps. The squirrel is not killed, but the trap is attached to his leg and he will wear it until he dies. Which one prays is soon, because the suffering must be immense. I do NOT like squirrels one little bit, but I struggle with inflicting that kind of suffering on any living thing. And if a squirrel can be caught by one, why wouldn't a dog? Or a cat?

Traps are out.

Speaking of cats, they were the second most popular suggestion – they also elicited the most responses and controversy. On one side, the indignant cat rescuers and on the other, people who wrote me long emails about the 'misguided' opposition to rodent-catching cats.

I am from a farm. I grew up on a farm with many cats, all of whom got very little food from humans – they were on their own to police the barn and granaries. One of them lived to be thirteen (I was told, certainly she was older than I was!), but that was the exception – most had much shorter lifespans. Still, they were a part of the working life of a farm.

However, on Unified School District property it is out of the question – it's against school policy. I don't get to vote.

Less effective than cats, dogs were also mentioned. My experience makes me think they are worthless; the one's I know think of rats running around as a kind of free TV.

Absolutely a non-starter with me. Too many chances for non-target species to be hurt.

That pretty much shoots the whole lot of 'em down, doesn't it?

Except, for me taking responsibility for a poor location and doing something about it. Sixteen human hours late, the compost pile has been relocated to a space not far from where it was before, but there is 15 feet of clear ground they will have to cross before they reach the corn. Already, this morning, remnants of rodent were found adjacent to the corn field.

This will not result in 100% effectiveness. I don't need that. I am willing to take some losses – I am NOT willing to lose everything however. I am also going to cage some of the biggest and best ears in hardware cloth to prevent those specific ears from being eaten.



  1. Addendum: Arriving at the garden this morning, I discovered a s-q-u-i-r-r-e-l feasting on the corn. Mind you, I still think most of the damage was from the land bound vermin and not the squirrels, but it does give one pause to not be too certain of his suppositions!

  2. David, give the Havahart chipmunk, squirrel, rat live trap a try. No collateral damage. The biggest drawback is deciding what to do with the rat when you get it. The single sided one is available for about $22 on Amazon.

    With both regular snap traps and live traps, placement is the critical function. You need to figure out their path. For rats, apple slices work wonders at luring them in.