Rats

Monday, April 4, 2016

We've been battling a rat problem since last fall. It's decidedly unappetizing.

Rat in trap by Eve Fox, the Garden of Eating, copyright 2016

They tunneled about in the compost bins - sometimes one would pop its almost-cute, little head out of a hole as I dumped the latest bucket of scraps in ("Oh, good, that lazy waitress is finally back!," they were probably thinking...) They wintered in the woodpile - a smart choice since it's cozily protected from the elements and conveniently located right next to the compost. We figured this out when the firewood became increasingly covered in copious amounts of rat droppings (which are a LOT bigger than mouse droppings) that we then had to sweep or knock off before loading it onto the wood cart each time we brought wood inside.

If they'd left it at that, I don't really think we'd have minded but they've also been breaking into the house for months, chewing holes through the dishwasher hoses and the dryer vent to get from the crawlspace into the pantry - where everything is now under lock and key after numerous messy meals that required me to clean the whole room.

Pantry under glass by Eve Fox, the Garden of Eating, copyright 2016

But of course it's not just the pantry, it's also the kitchen. They are fond of dragging whole bananas behind the dishwasher for what my husband and I have started to call a "banana party." For some reason, these celebrations get them whipped up into such a frenzy that they have to vent their excitement by chewing through the electrical wires that power the heating element of the dishwasher. It's happened a few times, fortunately, my husband is quite handy.... They also like to pull entire bags of pretzels behind the fridge and steal multiple tomatoes off the counter, somehow smearing them all over the floor in their frenzy. And they don't just come out at night - I have encountered them during the day - bold as brass.

In short, it's been a problem. We think (fingers crossed) that we've finally closed up all of the gaps, cracks and tiny holes that they were using to get inside. You would be amazed at the tiny spaces these creatures can fit through - it's really impressive!

But lately we've been seeing them tunneling and strolling about on the rock wall right behind the house and scurrying alongside the house and along the front deck. One even stood up on its hind legs to look through the glass of the front door the other day.

Rat traps by Eve Fox, the Garden of Eating, copyright 2016

We've put out some traps (clearly) and killed four in the last week. I was feeling all triumphant about it until I came across this disheartening bit of information in my research:

"Brown rats live in large, hierarchical groups. If a large fraction of a rat population is exterminated, the remaining rats will increase their reproductive rate, and quickly restore the old population level."

To which I can only say, "Well, shit." Not to mention that they're so smart that they've quickly learned to avoid the traps, no matter how alluring the bait we use is.

But we do not want to use poison since it could potentially kill other animals like hawks and coyotes and foxes that could eat the poisoned rats. Judging by how quickly the dead rats I've tossed into the woods have disappeared, they're clearly considered a delicacy. After all, they're raised on a diet of locally-grown, organic food that we've provided :)

A rat terrier would probably do the trick but we really, really do not want a dog. I could not handle having one more messy, hungry, needy being depending on me at this point.

We had been planning to get chickens this spring but are having second thoughts since we already have a rat problem and chickens tend to draw rodents... But we really want chickens! So we're at a bit of an impasse.

Hopefully, this is not too much information for you. I keep thinking about this blog and the seemingly millions of other food-related blogs out there and have decided that I am bored by most blogs and sometimes I am even bored by my own blog.

I am tired of blogs written in a cutesie tone sprinkled with lots of "for realz" and "you betcha"s and emoticons and perfectly posed pictures with stripey straws in them. Not only do I not have time to take perfectly posed photos, I also prefer writing that is honest. Blood and guts and failure and insecurity are all important parts of the human experience. Stripey straws, not so much. Perfect is boring.

So I am going to try to write more about what's really going on and that includes rats - lots of 'em. I will continue to write about food and gardening and the like, of course, but I want to curb my impulse to sugarcoat and sanitize things (though I did spare you the more graphic images of the dead rat in favor of this more genteel, Wicked Witch of the East-style one...)

Feel free to stop reading or unsubscribe if this is not your bag.

You might also like:

19 comments:

justme said...

My parents are battling a similar rat problem. I am trying to encourage then to get a cat for the basement at least at night. I have found that just a cat in the house or around the yard encourages rodents to go elsewhere.

Interestingly enough I just heard this article http://www.npr.org/2016/04/04/473002208/facing-a-growing-rat-problem-a-neighborhood-sets-off-the-cat-patrol

Seems that whole predator prey balance might have something to it.


Good luck

Unknown said...

We have rats in our neighborhood although I haven't seen any recently, and I have never seen any in the house. We do have a cat in the hood though, and I'm sure that helps somewhat. (We also have a dog, not sure if he is a deterrent or not). That being said, I gave up my garden a couple years ago after realizing that it was drawing rats to our yard and out of fear that the rats may have been contaminating the garden). Hopefully whenever we move to a bigger house, there will not be rats in the area.

kitblu said...

Years ago I lived in a house with mice in the attic. My cats would bring a mouse into my bed at night to party. It only happened a few times before the mice found non-party accommodations.
My problem now is moths. They can get through such small holes that I have no chance of plugging them all. They can get into jars of food that I think are well sealed. My cat is not interested in hunting moths and I have not yet found a viable solution. Currently my only defence is a fly swatter (messy).

Eve Fox said...

kitblu, they sell this pheromone based bait for those pantry moths, I think. I haven't tried it but have heard good things from other people. I've had them once or twice and it's no fun.

They can actually come FROM new bags of grain that already have the eggs in them and then, of course, they can migrate from jar or bag to others. If you have them, I think you pretty much have to get rid of all the grains you have unless they're stored in glass and you don't see any sign of them in there. Then get new flour, rice, barley, oats, etc., and immediately store them in glass jars with tight fitting lids. This has worked for me!

Best of luck to you.

aimee said...

instead of trapping them, we can chase them with scent

Eve Fox said...

aimee, please elaborate on that tantalizing comment!

Urban Reininger said...

Mothballs Aimee? Are we talking about rats or moths. Regarding Moths... The "pantry pest" style trap is only good as a follow up to purging the pantry of anything contaminated. We got some wonder organic brown rice that clearly was the culprit and all the pasta, flour, breadcrumbs, cereal, chocolate all had maggots in it months later. One the plus side the rice does come out wonderfully sticky when cooked (if you don't know it's in there).

As for the Rats I have heard of folks trying to use the same anti-mole/vole treatments(castor oil based) to try and get rid of rats but I don't think they have had much success. How about a smoke based poison if you know where the nests are? Not sure they even make them anymore but used to work on Groundhogs that were UP-earthing the barn/patio.

Back to my vole fight.

Eve Fox said...

IV (Urban), I bet that rice was nice and sticky. Ha!

So far, we don't have voles. So far... Smoke based poison, interesting :)

Rocquie said...

That sure puts our ant invasion into perspective!

Thank you for your honesty and I agree with you, Eve, perfect is boring.

Rocquie

Anonymous said...

kitblu, the pheromone based traps for moths work really, really well. A few years ago the moths had taken over our home (we think they came in on an area rug we bought from a store that imports most things) and it got so bad we had moth larva hanging from the ceiling in one room (the one the rug was in). After several days of standing on a ladder taking down every one of those (every time they looked gone we'd find a few more the next day) we got rid of that rug and we put the traps in every room in the house. We bought the kind that are for pantry moths and the kind that are for clothes moths and put one of each in each room. The clothes moth traps got very little attention, but the ones for pantry moths filled up quickly and had to be replaced. We had to keep replacing them every few months, but they eradicated all the moths. I now put out new ones a couple times a year, and we don't notice any moths flying in the house at all, have found none in pantry items, but still find a few in each trap when I check for replacements. They're often on sale in springtime.

Urban Reininger said...

Yup, Smoke based poison (for giants apparently): http://amzn.to/1RHoFoE

Anonymous said...


Girlfriend, I check your website regularly as you do good work. Please reconsider calling an exterminator. Extermination companies have been putting effort into product that is greener, less toxic, and does not affect other species. Last year I had fleas, for no reason at all!, and after weeks of battling with green products and being majorly chewed, I broke down and called a service. It is quality of life. You deserve it. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

What about a cat? If you get one, get a kitten from a farm. Mousers come from farms. My husband doesn't like cats, but we got one 1-1/2 years ago and all the neighbors thank us for our cat's voracious hunting behavior. For the first time in years, their pool equipment hasn't been chewed up my mice over the winter.

P.S. Love your blog, rats or no rats!
Karen

Eve Fox said...

Thanks, Karen! Yes, a good mouser (ratter) is a definite possibility... Glad you've got one at your place :)

Josias Tiburcio said...

Here in the Philippines and, I believe, much of our fellow rice producing countries field rats are a big problem. The burgeoning industry for rat poisons is evidence of this problem. But many of our farmers are in remote places where transportation is unreliable. Moreover, the farmers are reluctant to use rat poison because the rats die in the field. When they die in the water (rice grows in flooded fields) the smell is so yucky. As a development worker I once suggested to the farmers in the communities where I was working macerate chili pepper in water, and strain and spray the "hot" water along the edges of the fields as a rat deterrent. As a rat went to through the grass the chili rubbed on its face, feet and belly. Before it gets to the rice plants it feels the irritating hotness of the chili and tries to rub it off. But the feet are also hot. Because the rat is so focused on its predicament it won't notice the farmer approaching with a stout stick. The rats end up at the farmer's table. Yumm!

Eve Fox said...

Josias, brilliant! Plus they are already seasoned :) Have you seen this fascinating documentary about the way the rat population in parts of India is affected by the rare flowering (happens every 48 years) of a kind of forest bamboo? Causes huge problems for the farmers, of course. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/rat-attack.html

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting about something unpleasant but very real. I've been battling rats too and was feeling super freaked out about it. Your post helps to normalize it. Once mine acclimated to the regular wooden traps I switched to a plastic trap and managed to catch one that had been eluding me for a while.

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Tomcat-Secure-Rat-Trap-0360810/205566237

MaryO said...

Hoo boy Eve - I've just discovered your blog - LOVE IT! And I have no advice for you regarding the rats - when I was a kid living in Southington, CT a BIG one took up residence under our back porch. It was a wily little bastard too. Finally our border terrier cornered it and killed it. Apparently it was a "hermit" rat as no other friends or relative followed; or perhaps word got out about our terrier.

I live in SoCal now and a number of years ago we had a mice problem. This was brought on by my storing bird seed in Miracl-Gro plastic containers. It didn't take me long to figure out that the chew marks were made by mice teeth. Then they made their way into my kitchen. I had two cats at the time who were only mildly interested. Because I was finding mice sh*t in my pantry we got put out sticky traps - GAGH and I removed the bird seed to more secure containers. After a few deaths, they decamped.

I wish you luck with your rat problem! Like I said I love your blog!

Mary E. Osborne
San Pedro, CA

Eve Fox said...

Hi Mary,
thank you so much! That means a lot to me. so glad you were able to discourage your mice.
Hope to hear from you again soon.

All the best,
E

Monday, April 4, 2016

Rats

We've been battling a rat problem since last fall. It's decidedly unappetizing.

Rat in trap by Eve Fox, the Garden of Eating, copyright 2016

They tunneled about in the compost bins - sometimes one would pop its almost-cute, little head out of a hole as I dumped the latest bucket of scraps in ("Oh, good, that lazy waitress is finally back!," they were probably thinking...) They wintered in the woodpile - a smart choice since it's cozily protected from the elements and conveniently located right next to the compost. We figured this out when the firewood became increasingly covered in copious amounts of rat droppings (which are a LOT bigger than mouse droppings) that we then had to sweep or knock off before loading it onto the wood cart each time we brought wood inside.

If they'd left it at that, I don't really think we'd have minded but they've also been breaking into the house for months, chewing holes through the dishwasher hoses and the dryer vent to get from the crawlspace into the pantry - where everything is now under lock and key after numerous messy meals that required me to clean the whole room.

Pantry under glass by Eve Fox, the Garden of Eating, copyright 2016

But of course it's not just the pantry, it's also the kitchen. They are fond of dragging whole bananas behind the dishwasher for what my husband and I have started to call a "banana party." For some reason, these celebrations get them whipped up into such a frenzy that they have to vent their excitement by chewing through the electrical wires that power the heating element of the dishwasher. It's happened a few times, fortunately, my husband is quite handy.... They also like to pull entire bags of pretzels behind the fridge and steal multiple tomatoes off the counter, somehow smearing them all over the floor in their frenzy. And they don't just come out at night - I have encountered them during the day - bold as brass.

In short, it's been a problem. We think (fingers crossed) that we've finally closed up all of the gaps, cracks and tiny holes that they were using to get inside. You would be amazed at the tiny spaces these creatures can fit through - it's really impressive!

But lately we've been seeing them tunneling and strolling about on the rock wall right behind the house and scurrying alongside the house and along the front deck. One even stood up on its hind legs to look through the glass of the front door the other day.

Rat traps by Eve Fox, the Garden of Eating, copyright 2016

We've put out some traps (clearly) and killed four in the last week. I was feeling all triumphant about it until I came across this disheartening bit of information in my research:

"Brown rats live in large, hierarchical groups. If a large fraction of a rat population is exterminated, the remaining rats will increase their reproductive rate, and quickly restore the old population level."

To which I can only say, "Well, shit." Not to mention that they're so smart that they've quickly learned to avoid the traps, no matter how alluring the bait we use is.

But we do not want to use poison since it could potentially kill other animals like hawks and coyotes and foxes that could eat the poisoned rats. Judging by how quickly the dead rats I've tossed into the woods have disappeared, they're clearly considered a delicacy. After all, they're raised on a diet of locally-grown, organic food that we've provided :)

A rat terrier would probably do the trick but we really, really do not want a dog. I could not handle having one more messy, hungry, needy being depending on me at this point.

We had been planning to get chickens this spring but are having second thoughts since we already have a rat problem and chickens tend to draw rodents... But we really want chickens! So we're at a bit of an impasse.

Hopefully, this is not too much information for you. I keep thinking about this blog and the seemingly millions of other food-related blogs out there and have decided that I am bored by most blogs and sometimes I am even bored by my own blog.

I am tired of blogs written in a cutesie tone sprinkled with lots of "for realz" and "you betcha"s and emoticons and perfectly posed pictures with stripey straws in them. Not only do I not have time to take perfectly posed photos, I also prefer writing that is honest. Blood and guts and failure and insecurity are all important parts of the human experience. Stripey straws, not so much. Perfect is boring.

So I am going to try to write more about what's really going on and that includes rats - lots of 'em. I will continue to write about food and gardening and the like, of course, but I want to curb my impulse to sugarcoat and sanitize things (though I did spare you the more graphic images of the dead rat in favor of this more genteel, Wicked Witch of the East-style one...)

Feel free to stop reading or unsubscribe if this is not your bag.

You might also like:

19 comments:

justme said...

My parents are battling a similar rat problem. I am trying to encourage then to get a cat for the basement at least at night. I have found that just a cat in the house or around the yard encourages rodents to go elsewhere.

Interestingly enough I just heard this article http://www.npr.org/2016/04/04/473002208/facing-a-growing-rat-problem-a-neighborhood-sets-off-the-cat-patrol

Seems that whole predator prey balance might have something to it.


Good luck

Unknown said...

We have rats in our neighborhood although I haven't seen any recently, and I have never seen any in the house. We do have a cat in the hood though, and I'm sure that helps somewhat. (We also have a dog, not sure if he is a deterrent or not). That being said, I gave up my garden a couple years ago after realizing that it was drawing rats to our yard and out of fear that the rats may have been contaminating the garden). Hopefully whenever we move to a bigger house, there will not be rats in the area.

kitblu said...

Years ago I lived in a house with mice in the attic. My cats would bring a mouse into my bed at night to party. It only happened a few times before the mice found non-party accommodations.
My problem now is moths. They can get through such small holes that I have no chance of plugging them all. They can get into jars of food that I think are well sealed. My cat is not interested in hunting moths and I have not yet found a viable solution. Currently my only defence is a fly swatter (messy).

Eve Fox said...

kitblu, they sell this pheromone based bait for those pantry moths, I think. I haven't tried it but have heard good things from other people. I've had them once or twice and it's no fun.

They can actually come FROM new bags of grain that already have the eggs in them and then, of course, they can migrate from jar or bag to others. If you have them, I think you pretty much have to get rid of all the grains you have unless they're stored in glass and you don't see any sign of them in there. Then get new flour, rice, barley, oats, etc., and immediately store them in glass jars with tight fitting lids. This has worked for me!

Best of luck to you.

aimee said...

instead of trapping them, we can chase them with scent

Eve Fox said...

aimee, please elaborate on that tantalizing comment!

Urban Reininger said...

Mothballs Aimee? Are we talking about rats or moths. Regarding Moths... The "pantry pest" style trap is only good as a follow up to purging the pantry of anything contaminated. We got some wonder organic brown rice that clearly was the culprit and all the pasta, flour, breadcrumbs, cereal, chocolate all had maggots in it months later. One the plus side the rice does come out wonderfully sticky when cooked (if you don't know it's in there).

As for the Rats I have heard of folks trying to use the same anti-mole/vole treatments(castor oil based) to try and get rid of rats but I don't think they have had much success. How about a smoke based poison if you know where the nests are? Not sure they even make them anymore but used to work on Groundhogs that were UP-earthing the barn/patio.

Back to my vole fight.

Eve Fox said...

IV (Urban), I bet that rice was nice and sticky. Ha!

So far, we don't have voles. So far... Smoke based poison, interesting :)

Rocquie said...

That sure puts our ant invasion into perspective!

Thank you for your honesty and I agree with you, Eve, perfect is boring.

Rocquie

Anonymous said...

kitblu, the pheromone based traps for moths work really, really well. A few years ago the moths had taken over our home (we think they came in on an area rug we bought from a store that imports most things) and it got so bad we had moth larva hanging from the ceiling in one room (the one the rug was in). After several days of standing on a ladder taking down every one of those (every time they looked gone we'd find a few more the next day) we got rid of that rug and we put the traps in every room in the house. We bought the kind that are for pantry moths and the kind that are for clothes moths and put one of each in each room. The clothes moth traps got very little attention, but the ones for pantry moths filled up quickly and had to be replaced. We had to keep replacing them every few months, but they eradicated all the moths. I now put out new ones a couple times a year, and we don't notice any moths flying in the house at all, have found none in pantry items, but still find a few in each trap when I check for replacements. They're often on sale in springtime.

Urban Reininger said...

Yup, Smoke based poison (for giants apparently): http://amzn.to/1RHoFoE

Anonymous said...


Girlfriend, I check your website regularly as you do good work. Please reconsider calling an exterminator. Extermination companies have been putting effort into product that is greener, less toxic, and does not affect other species. Last year I had fleas, for no reason at all!, and after weeks of battling with green products and being majorly chewed, I broke down and called a service. It is quality of life. You deserve it. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

What about a cat? If you get one, get a kitten from a farm. Mousers come from farms. My husband doesn't like cats, but we got one 1-1/2 years ago and all the neighbors thank us for our cat's voracious hunting behavior. For the first time in years, their pool equipment hasn't been chewed up my mice over the winter.

P.S. Love your blog, rats or no rats!
Karen

Eve Fox said...

Thanks, Karen! Yes, a good mouser (ratter) is a definite possibility... Glad you've got one at your place :)

Josias Tiburcio said...

Here in the Philippines and, I believe, much of our fellow rice producing countries field rats are a big problem. The burgeoning industry for rat poisons is evidence of this problem. But many of our farmers are in remote places where transportation is unreliable. Moreover, the farmers are reluctant to use rat poison because the rats die in the field. When they die in the water (rice grows in flooded fields) the smell is so yucky. As a development worker I once suggested to the farmers in the communities where I was working macerate chili pepper in water, and strain and spray the "hot" water along the edges of the fields as a rat deterrent. As a rat went to through the grass the chili rubbed on its face, feet and belly. Before it gets to the rice plants it feels the irritating hotness of the chili and tries to rub it off. But the feet are also hot. Because the rat is so focused on its predicament it won't notice the farmer approaching with a stout stick. The rats end up at the farmer's table. Yumm!

Eve Fox said...

Josias, brilliant! Plus they are already seasoned :) Have you seen this fascinating documentary about the way the rat population in parts of India is affected by the rare flowering (happens every 48 years) of a kind of forest bamboo? Causes huge problems for the farmers, of course. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/rat-attack.html

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting about something unpleasant but very real. I've been battling rats too and was feeling super freaked out about it. Your post helps to normalize it. Once mine acclimated to the regular wooden traps I switched to a plastic trap and managed to catch one that had been eluding me for a while.

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Tomcat-Secure-Rat-Trap-0360810/205566237

MaryO said...

Hoo boy Eve - I've just discovered your blog - LOVE IT! And I have no advice for you regarding the rats - when I was a kid living in Southington, CT a BIG one took up residence under our back porch. It was a wily little bastard too. Finally our border terrier cornered it and killed it. Apparently it was a "hermit" rat as no other friends or relative followed; or perhaps word got out about our terrier.

I live in SoCal now and a number of years ago we had a mice problem. This was brought on by my storing bird seed in Miracl-Gro plastic containers. It didn't take me long to figure out that the chew marks were made by mice teeth. Then they made their way into my kitchen. I had two cats at the time who were only mildly interested. Because I was finding mice sh*t in my pantry we got put out sticky traps - GAGH and I removed the bird seed to more secure containers. After a few deaths, they decamped.

I wish you luck with your rat problem! Like I said I love your blog!

Mary E. Osborne
San Pedro, CA

Eve Fox said...

Hi Mary,
thank you so much! That means a lot to me. so glad you were able to discourage your mice.
Hope to hear from you again soon.

All the best,
E