I have declared War

By JoAnne Hewett | August 18, 2006 12:26 am

I woke up this morning to find this:

and it triggered my instinct to kill. I mean, some varmint is eating my food! Can’t get more instinctual than that. Not to mention all the time and investment I have put into nurturing this crop. Not to mention that my very first BIG juicy tomato was just about ripe enough to pick…

After a thorough debate and inspection of the photos, the concensus of the SLAC theory group is squirrels, rats, or birds. Keeping in mind that my tomatoes are in container pots, on my deck, about 30-40 feet off the ground, rabbits were immediately excluded. I have ruled out birds after a detailed investigation of the crime scene this evening. Burton Richter himself (Nobel prize winner and co-discoverer of charm and former director of SLAC) made a point of calling his wife – an expert on such things – in order to determine the origin of the varmit. Mrs. Richter suggested roof rats. Egads!! I certainly hope not – that sounds rather disgusting and I’d rather have squirrels…

Meanwhile, I have put up every defense possible, short of building a cage for the plants. I might do that this weekend, but since the plants are 6 feet tall, it will be a job. I did some web research and devised a fortified multi-strategy defense. I have purchased Shake-Away Critter-Repellent, it is composed mainly of garlic and fox urine so it is organic, and sprinkled it about. I put out boxes of rat poison and traps, as well as one of those ultra-sonic/EM-wave rodent repellent thingies I had in my garage. I also put out 2 bowls of water (several websites said squirrles eat tomatoes for H2O during a drought – which adequately describes summer in California) and a bowl containing the 7 partially eaten tomatoes from the night before, hoping it might be easier for the varmint to finish them off first. I have also left the lights on, on my deck.

Short of building a cage (or sleeping on the deck with a BB gun) it’s the best I can do….we shall see what has transpired in the morning. If my tomatoes are further eaten by the morning, hell will hath no fury….

Update: It is now Friday. Last night around 1 AM I went out to check on the plants. Sure enough a large juicy (but green) tomato was sitting at the base of the pots. Then there was a rustling noise and a reasonably large RAT (Eeuw!) scurried out of the container pots and ran away. I caught the varmint red-handed! I involuntarily jumped back and screamed (wonder what my neighbors think now), but had no weapon on me so just watched the critter scurry away. (Actually, I don’t have weapons save for a baseball bat or two.) So much for the ultra-sound thingie. I unplugged it and turned on a radio instead for the rest of the night. LaRose Richter gets the prize for the correct hypothesis. Today I took action – the rat control people are coming first thing tomorrow morning, the container with my best plants is now sitting in the middle of my kitchen for the night, and I have about 10 zillion traps surrounding the plants left outdoors….

Update^2: 1:30 AM Saturday. No rat like a dead rat. Yep, my tom-cat snapper trap got’em! Gotta have the right tools for the job.

  • http://sourav.net/ Sourav

    Plant chili peppers. That’ll learn’em.

  • Anal-Retentive Orthographer

    It’s “varmint.”

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi JoAnne, Natural Born Killer. lol!
    Instint to kill to protect your food?
    Instinct to kill to protect your water??
    Instinct to kill to protect your children???

    Glad to read you are using Organic Solutions.
    garlic and fox urine – did you get that before you shot the fox???
    or do you like foxes, squirrels and other critters with bushy tails
    Hard to separate Nature & Animate beings from particle Physics, after all they may not quite be one & the same thing. But one is composed of the other

    Pity about the crop, I was looking forward to fresh tomatoe salad. I guess now I ought bring my own beef toms

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    Dear JoAnne, when I lived in La Honda, deer were a frequent visitor to the local produce. The environmentally friendly solution I used (advice from my neighbors) was to hang bars of soap around. Might be worth a try.

  • astromcnaught

    Critter repellant, Rat poison, rat traps, ultrasonics, water attractants, tomato attractants, lights on all night, lol. You missed out the barbed wire, searchlights and electric fence.

    But more seriously, i would not recommend leaving food out in the hope that it will deter pests, it will just attract more. Also, leaving the lights on is very un-PC these days and contributes to light pollution (astronomer here btw).

    The usual solution for this sort of thing is a fruit cage, used especially for raspberries. A net draped over the whole lot should work fairly well. The other solution is to develop a sense of the inevitable in these matters – if it’s not critters its bugs, if not bugs, its virus attack, if not that then its too cold, or too hot, or the plants collapse (but hopefully not all at once :)).

    Good luck!

  • a cornellain

    Deer netting works well, it is a black mesh with very find strands. Apparently animals (or atleast deer) can’t see it very well and get all distressed when they hit it. I certinally have alot of trouble seeing it….

    We tried the soap thing…it didn’t work

    my mother uses this stuff and it seems very effective. http://www.bobbex.com/

  • Sam Gralla

    hilarious :). Please update us on your progress. Also send me a tomato.

  • graviton383

    I think we should film JoAnne’s battle against the roof rats & release it as a major motion picture: “Rats on a Deck”

  • strange

    Strange that your plants are so high. Did you tie them?! Good tomatoes come from locations closer to the ground. 6 feets is a great height for string beans and not for tomatoes.

  • theophylact

    Uhhh… “roof rats” are squirrels…

  • graviton383

    Actually roof rats ARE rats & not squirrels:


  • http://RiofrioSpaceTime.blogspot.com Louise

    Get ANTI PESTO, humane pest control! Joanne’s picture can take Lady Tottington’s space as the lovely redhead. The scientific method works!

  • hack

    It wasn’t a varmit, it was a starving graduate student!

    Graduate student infestations are very difficult to deal with. The only solution is to give them PhDs and get them postocs somewhere far away.

  • http://RiofrioSpaceTime.blogspot.com Louise

    Since the beast went for your biggest tomato and it was 30-40 feet from the gorund ,this can only be the dreaded Were-Rabbit.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Maybe it is a sleepwalking Joanne who took a bite of the tomato?

  • TJ

    Cover the tomatoes with Dave’s Gourmet Insanity Sauce or
    other very hot pepper sauce. It won’t stop birds, but most
    mammals (except some humans) really dislike the stuff.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Nice touch leaving the remains for the squirrels, I like a lady who likes to share with her little furry neighbours, even if they turn out to be roof rats. lol!.
    What are you doing with roof rats in the first place though – surely you would have noticed or heard them before now.
    What was all that talk about deer, you got deer round your back yard?
    Anyway I’m guessing the pics below could be used for your symmetry caption too. The same tomato green unripe inedible, and yet suddenly in spacetime (in a matter of hours) ripen become red and change into something ready to eat – if the critters don’t munch at them first. Funny how they know which ones are juciest and taste nice too – colours???

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Hi All, I have included an update to this post which reveals the latest news and the nature of this ferocious beast.

    Anal-Retentive Orthographer: I corrected the spelling of varmint. I hope you can sleep at night now.

    Quasar9: For now, you’d better bring your own tomatoes. I have NO idea how I have roof rats (except I live in the wild) and I haven’t heard a peep. And yes, I do have deer, many in fact, in my yard. My street is like a penisula jutting into a large nature preserve and there are many wild creatures. Last summer this huge buck used to spend his days sitting under my oak tree in back. It was magnificent to watch.

    astromcnaught: Sorry for the light pollution, but my lights are on again tonight. This is a state of war!

    Strange: Well, only some of my plants are 6 feet. Actually I was worried they were dwarfed for some reason – the seed packets seem to expect plants up to 9 feet!

    Hack: thanks for making me laugh! It all makes sense now….

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    You’ve got an oak tree, and bucks come to visit, my oh my!
    Glad to hear you discovered who the pesky little munchkin is. So will the rat control people be offering a permanent solution to the squatter problem.
    Funny how Nature nurtures diversity, and we ‘humans’ the observer determine what is vermin and what is cute. To some bunnies & squirrels are cute, to others clearly vermin. And you do know rats make very good intelligent and clean pets, it is sewer rats carry the plague.

    PS – Six foot tomatoe plants are average, but yes six foot seems dwarfish for California or the US where everything is meant to grow larger than life. lol!
    PPS – Don’t you think it is a little ironic that the most sophisticated peace of land on earth should suffer from water shortages. I presume you mean rain water, after all the peninsula does jutt out into that little pond they call the Pacific, and desalination plants, solar panels and wind turbines … ehr, well we’ll leave that for another day, when I come and visit.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Further Update: It’s a dead rat.

  • Q

    You are not seriously telling me you sat there till gone three in the morning with a baseball bat. That is determination. Nevermind the patience of a saint, I forgot you have the patience of someone working on colliders …
    Worth the wait, just to see the final (collision) result. huh!

    Plus, saves having to call out the rat control people, unless of course he left a widow and orphans in your loft. But I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it if I were you. lol!

  • Sam Gralla

    I am always inspired by passion for food. Those tomatos will be extra-good when you enjoy them rat-free.

  • erc

    Get a cat! Natural born rat-catchers, and very nice to have sitting on your lap whilst you work.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi erc, a cat would be both the Natural solution and the ‘organic’ one too. Gosh one could possibly say it is even the Physical Solution – to rats anyway!
    PS – Don’t overfeed the cat on tuna chunks or salmon. A cat with more appetite is a leaner keener meaner killing machine. Natural born killer, stalker, hunter, predator

  • Cynthia

    Joanne: By picking your tomatoes while they’re still green, you might avoid this battle for the red ones, so to speak.;) After all, the rats don’t seem to take an interest in green tomatoes. Simply slice them, roll them in seasoned cornmeal and fry them in a hot iron skillet. Surprisingly, a fried green tomato sandwich including a layer of goat cheese and a drizzle of tarragon vinaigrette is quite tasty.

  • Amitabha

    Tomatoes near an `atom-smasher’. Does anyone remember Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?

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