Before I get into the disgusting subject of rats, I wanted you to see this gorgeous new sign my dad made for us. He hand-carved this lovely design into a plank of basswood, and highlighted the carvings with lamp black. I have it inside now to stay, but if you subscribe to the blog, when it arrives in your inbox you will now see this lovely plaque instead of the basket of tomatoes. Thank you Dad!
Now, on to the considerably less-pleasurable topic of our rat problem.
We have a serious issue this year with roof rats. Rats have always lived in and around our garden; I've often found them nesting in the compost bin, and last summer we would see them running on our fenceline. We've always been able to keep things under control, but this year nothing we have done has put a dent in the problem. We know these are roof rats because we hear them in the attic in in the walls of our home. We have tried trapping, with minimal success, and have even resorted to poisons, though those have been even less effective. We practice severe cultural control, with all of our home-grains in the freezer and all of the chicken grains in gnaw-proof bins. These rats are active at night, and every morning we evidence of their nocturnal carousing in our garden. Roof rats love garden vegetables and are likely what has been eating our tomatoes and peaches every year (even though the squirrels also take their share, it's not all their fault).
Every neighbor has complained about the rat problem this year, and Tom and Adam have had some serious skin problems recently that we thought might be bites from tropical rat mites, which can travel pretty far from a rat to find another host. My gross-out meter had the needle pinging on 'high' and no one was sleeping because of all the scratching we heard in the walls. Time to figure something else out.
I talked to several neighbors about their methods, which was enlightening. One of them has a pest company come out every three months and spray her home and yard. She brought me the list of pesticides the company was using and I was literally gobsmacked - there were several poisons on that list that have been banned in the UK. Another of our neighbors had a quote from a rat control company of $9k. !!!! Our next door neighbor had simply sealed off every single hole from his crawl space (we don't have basements here) to his attic, from the outside. And he hasn't had any problem since.
I decided to call Vector Control. Recently they came out to talk to my beekeeping association about yellow jackets, and they mentioned that rats were also part of their purview. A really nice man from Vector Control came out a few days after I left a desperate message. And he was a font of information! It was a very interesting hour I spent with him, and completely free by the way (our tax dollars at work), and I learned a lot.
Dave went through our entire house, from attic to crawl space, and all around the foundation and roofline. He also spent a good deal of time in our messy garage, and also went around with me looking at compost piles and food sources. Dave also used to be a bee-and-chicken-keeper, so he had a good idea of what to expect here. He also used to be a roofer so I got some side advice about the roof! Anyway, no surprise, but it turns out that there are many many ways the rats are getting into our attic and Dave found every one. He advises closing these up using 1/4" hardware mesh at the very minimum; he would prefer we follow that up with galvanized steel sheeting on top of the mesh. Where our roof lines overlap there were clear holes going into the house. And where our air conditioning lines go in, there is also a clear path. In our garage, there were holes we didn't notice near our fireplace.
Dave also showed me the way to tell if my peaches have been eaten by rats or squirrels. If they are on the ground, and all that's left is the pit and some shreds of flesh, that's a rat. If there are a couple bites out of the fruit but the rest is intact, that's a squirrel. He said tomatoes are a rat's favorite food.
He does not advocate poison and gave me zero recommendations about it because they don't want us to use it (and, in fact, he found the poison chunks we had put out completely intact and told me to throw them out as they were useless). He advocates trapping, and wanted us to buy the old-fashioned Victor rat traps with the copper hook (the newer ones have a yellow plastic plate). He impaled a whole, unshelled peanut on that hook, and said we could use those or chunks of dried apricot - something the rat would have to spend some time working off the hook.
Dave told us to bait 10 traps and to put three in the garage, three in the attic, and three in the crawl space, as well as one under our sink (where we keep a covered compost bucket). He said to check them every day. He recommended that we give them one free feeding so they get used to eating on the traps, but we're so desperate for relief that we just went ahead and spring-loaded all of them. Nothing would give us more pleasure than hearing 10 large SNAPS tonight.
Unfortunately two of the traps snapped Tom and he has a very sore (but not broken!) thumb right now. These traps really work.
Dave also liked my cultural controls and approved of the way I composted, but said it was likely all the produce that was attracting the rats to our house. Free shelter, free food, and free water (from the back fountain) - it's like a neon sign pointing "COME HERE!" Since I'm not going to stop growing food, we have to just constantly be vigilant about this issue. Trapping is going to have to be a daily thing around here. And once Tom and I have a handle on it, we're going to have to spend a day sealing up every crevice and crack so that they don't come back.
Have you had roof rat problems? How did you handle them?