Hush, hush, hush, I smell a rate close by…

Wednesday around noon I checked on the garden then left for an hour. When I came back there were rat teeth marks in my biggest eggplant. Cringing, I picked it and then cut off the part that had been gnawed. After all, eggplants are rarer then a pink elephant in Seattle gardens.

An hour later I went back out. There were teeth marks in another eggplant. I repeated step one from above. Then I picked some mint and covered the remaining eggplants with it since I had read rats don’t like the smell of mint. I immediately ran to the shed to get my deer netting and covered the entire eggplant diamond, anchoring the netting into the ground with garden stakes.

By the time I got back a third eggplant had rat gnawings on it. I repeated step one from above. Then I noticed quite a few of the tomatoes had rat gnawings on them too so I hastily picked all the ripe ones.

That night I did some research online. I couldn’t find any information about whether it was safe to eat non-affected areas of food (i.e. after cutting out the gnawed parts.) These were my 3 biggest eggplants. I’ll probably never be able to repeat this success again. And freshly picked eggplant is a cat of a whole different class then even farmer’s market eggplants. I wasn’t about to chuck it in the compost.

And then is that even safe? If it’s not safe to eat, is it safe to compost? What I was able to find about rat-related diseases is that they seem to be spread specifically by rat urine in a wet environment. So swimming in the sewer or other stagnant water seems like a bad idea but probably even if a rat peed in your garden or on your compost pile you would be ok. Certainly cooking foods would be enough to destroy it, especially if you were going to pressure can it which takes things up to 240 degrees (the temperature necessary to destroy bacteria.)

Except I had no pressure canner.

And then just for grins I did some research on the side effects of botulism. Not pretty. Even with lipstick on it. So I freaked out and bought a pressure canner the next day.

I’ve always sort of prided myself on the fact that I didn’t own a pressure canner despite putting up massive amounts of food at certain points in my life. Honestly though, I think I feared the pressure canner. I’ve several times had my espresso machine blow off on me and it’s a little daunting. Not to mention difficult to clean espresso grounds off the ceiling, walls and cupboards.

So now I’m the proud owner of one 23 quart pressure canner. I’m pretty stoked too, reading through all that it can do. As we speak I’m making up my own version of V-8 juice for bloody marys without care for pH. My husband is going salmon fishing in Elliot Bay tomorrow and should he catch anything dag nabbit I can can it. Next year when the asparagus are producing (and they WILL, yes they will) I can can some.

And tomorrow when I’m sick and tired of freezing, drying, jamming, leathering and chutneying the 32 pounds of peaches I picked up today from Rama farms I can can me some. In short, I can can.

And now back to the rat…

Whilst on my internet journey the other night I read that if you stick a piece of Wrigley mint gum down their burrow they’ll move out. So I went to the store and bought quite a few packs. Two days later I’m still pulling off about 10 tomatoes daily with filthy little fang marks on them. So today I finally let me husband go the store and get some poison.

I made him buy some PVC pipe to stick it in so that our dog, stray cats or escaped chickens can’t get at it. He bought one T section with end caps for the two T parts so the rat could crawl deep in the burrow but nothing else could get in.

I hope I haven’t damned my organic garden here but if this keeps up there won’t be a garden left. There you have it. Rat: 34 tomatoes and 3 eggplant, me: karma down a notch.

Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass.

19 Responses to Hush, hush, hush, I smell a rate close by…

  1. I’m sorry for your rat problems but enjoyed the “fruit” of it: this delightfully written blog post!

  2. I got a good chuckle from this! I know they are nasty to deal with, but you are handling it admirably. The silver lining is that you now have a pressure canner! WoooHooo!

    I hope ratbert exits soon and your garden can resume it’s productive season.

  3. Well, I commend you for all the attempts before resorting to poison.

    Also, if you are one who wishes to avoid BPA (Bisphenol A) you should only use Weck home canning jars. They are the only ones that are BPA free. Ball and Kerr lids are lined with BPA. Weck uses glass lids with rubber seals.

  4. look, I don’t mean to heckle, but you were seriously that worried about some rat nibbles? If you are serious about this urban homesteading thing, you are going to have to get some thicker skin! The food safety scaremongering that the USDA and other official sites put out about the dangers of canning and bacteria is way over the top, in part b/c they want to discourage you from self production. If you read french, there is some much better stuff online in French. Even the Canadian stuff is more realistic. In general, you should assume that all your veggies have coleiform bacteria on them and wash accrodingly, but you should also spend some time marvelling at just how robust our immune systems are as a general rule.

  5. Hi Hentrain,

    I love your heckling – that is exactly the info that I want to get! Part of being an urban farmer is converting your perceptions. If only I had my grandma to phone and ask that question but sadly several generations of city living have shaped my world.

    I did end up cutting off the rat nibbled sections and cooking everything. And that is the reason I planted so many plants, knowing there would be critters out there who would do this but by the time I got to harvest I had sort of forgotten all that.

    Thanks so much for adding another side to the story – I look forward to learning lots from you in the future! :)

    I’m bummed it looks like you don’t have a blog I can follow along…maybe you would consider starting one?

  6. LOL, I just got a good laugh although I’m sorry for your troubles. We’ve had our fair share of problems with rats. In fact, we’re still waiting to make sure they are under control before we get chickens.

    A few years ago we had a huge active yellow jacket nest. I don’t mind them because they are beneficial in the garden, in fact this one was so large because they were feasting a caterpillar infestation on our neighbor’s beautiful daphne…but this nest was in the ground by our sidewalk and every time someone would walk by yellow jackets would fly out and dive bomb them. We had enough after we saw a young mother with her stroller stop in front of it to wait for her dog and we saw the wasps dive bomb her and her infant – so we put out a warning sign, it was late fall and we soon they would die back. The sign worked for about a week, people would just cross the street, but then we received a notice – “can’t deliver mail because too many wasps & bees” . We were overly sensitive because it was our first year keeping honeybees and we didn’t want the neighborhood to panic. So after trying numerous organic methods to get rid of them, and many many stings later, including yellow jackets chasing us into the house and attacking – we got out the can of raid that mother in law bought us 5 years ago and put it to use. I wasn’t too happy about it, and it’s the only time I’ve ever used any pesticide on our property, but I gave in. I did take down my pesticide free zone sign.

    Ironically, I always thought the mail man would enjoy delivering mail to my house because of all the flowers and the little path I made for him that goes directly to the next house… LOL!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and good luck with the rats!

  7. I’ve had many hand to hand rat combats in this house. It’s an older house and when we first moved in we had a rat in the ONLY toilet so I couldn’t wait for my husband to deal with it. In front of my then 14 month old toddler I had to fish him out of the toilet and do him off. I had another opportunity this summer in front of a group of neighborhood kids I had a little assistance from the dog.

    We’ve since redone the plumbing but definitely have rats under the house. Now that we have the garden and chickens they are much more leisurely, lounging about during the day and sampling the fare.

    Sinclair, where did you get your weck jars? I’m hoping soon BPA will be illegal and ball, kerr and mason will change the lids so I don’t have to buy a new round of jars. I lust after the weck ones, they are so beautiful!

  8. Justine – have you noticed fewer wasps around now that you have bees? I heard that bees help to displace the wasps which would be great since we have a lot of wasps!

  9. we never had any rat issues, but deer, gophers, birds, cats, raccoons, dogs, bad bugs, etc. a few for them, a few for us, a few for them…

  10. Ooooh I sympathize with your rat problem, and the image of them “lounging about and sampling the fare” is both gross and hilarious. Have you read Michael Pollan’s book Second Nature? If you haven’t there is the most hilarious essay in it where he tries to get rid of a woodchuck, who refuses to leave his garden alone. And it gets to the point where he almost blows himself up.

  11. Sara – I just figured out how to post on your blog again today. I have to be logged into wordpress first. If I didn’t have a blog I don’t think it would let me post at all! I plan on reading a lot more Michael Pollan this winter when the garden is on “low” and the harvest is put up. I’ll put that on my list, along with Joel Salatin’s So You Want to Be a Farmer. Thanks for the tip!

  12. Hi, I haven’t noticed fewer wasps with the honeybees. The honeybees will defend thier hives from wasps, but we have lots and lots of all kinds of bees and wasps, I’m sure they are drawn to your garden.

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  15. I can relate to the rats only our pest was mice from a dead tree a neighbor cut down at our last home in the city. One day we had no mice and the next day after the tree came down we could see dozens of them in the back yard and into the house they came within a week. We had to use a pesticide we got from a local landscaper. It was safe for the ground, plants and water. But very toxic to pets and humans.

  16. Hi Annette,

    What kind of pressure canner did you get? Did you buy it online or locally?


  17. Mary, yikes! Mice in the house?
    Barbara, I got a Presto canner which I found at Fred Meyer in Seattle. It happened to be the same price as online with no shipping or wait and I wanted to get processing.

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