Stop Rats, Mice, and Birds from Eating your Dinner

It is a sad morning to head out to the garden and see that a critter has taken bites out of not just one beautiful-should-have-harvested-it-yesterday squash…but all of the squash. Every damn one! While sipping tea you notice that the birds are enjoying the nearly ripe peaches…whoa! Now what?

While over time our urban holistically managed gardens will experience fewer pest problems, here are a few tools that can support abating pests without poisons as our gardens mature. Pest abatement toolbox:

Eliminate welcome mats. It can be a challenge to eliminate all welcome mats but it can be helpful to make a few changes. Remove all pet food—cat food, chicken feed, goat rations, etc. Pick up dog poop. Pick up fallen fruit. Turn the compost. The range of some rats is 300’ or more and that could mean they have taken up residence down the street. Talk to your neighbors about the problem and perhaps they will eliminate welcome mats too.

Disturb potential hiding places and rodent paths. Create the change that the little buggers do not like! I use a rake to poke, disturb, and generally make my presence known along fences, around the woodpile, and dark corners.

Birds of prey. Along our alley are telephone poles upon which hawks scope out prey. Support birds of prey by providing a pole.

No need to create a better mouse trap, standard snap traps are simple, effective, and toxin-free

Rat and mouse traps. There are folks who catch rats and mice and transport them to a release location but if they are eating my dinner, then they will be eliminated! I have tried a number of traps and strategies but snap traps are simple, inexpensive, and provide a swift death. Snap traps eliminate secondary poisoning but there is still a risk for animals investigating them. Trap boxes can house snap traps and protect inquisitive animals from the traps. I’ve found raisins to be the most effective bait. In my experience it doesn’t seem to matter if I place unbaited and unset traps first or not. Placement is key though—place the traps along walls, fences, and little dark nooks and crannies. Use more than one trap—as soon as I observe rodent activity I will set a dozen traps or more!

Bird Scare Ribbon. Bird scare ribbon is an inexpensive first line of response if birds are eating your fruit. Keep in mind that birds also eat bugs that might be pests so I only keep the bird scare tape out as needed. I use clothespins to attach 3’ tapes to trellises, stakes, or hoops. Use two or three lengths per location. No cost or lower cost alternative: Old CDs or DVDs. Several discs strung together might more effective than a single disc.

Bird Netting. Bird netting is an effective way to protect your fruit trees and other crops from the birds. A quality bird netting will last several seasons, allows the bees to continue pollinating, and birds do not get caught in the netting. Beware that some netting can ensnare small birds. No cost or lower cost alternative: Tulle.

Tulle. Bird netting doesn’t exclude our climbing friends such as rats and mice. I’ve found tulle wrapped around a tree with no gaps deters rats and mice. It is very important that the tulle is wrapped tightly around the trunk and that there are no gaps. Use fine mesh tulle that is often available 108” wide. Courser mesh can ensnare our bird friends. Use tulle after pollination and fruit thinning, as the mesh is so fine that it will exclude the pollinators. Tulle will not last season after season, but with care it can last three seasons if only used as needed. Use clothespins to secure the tulle.

Feed the birds. Provide dried corn or sunflower heads in easily accessible locations. Birds fill up on the corn and sunflower seeds thus saving your newly sown beds and small transplants from being ravaged.

Row Covers. Row covers can protect crops by excluding rats, mice, and birds. Low cost or no cost alternative: I have not found an alternative to a quality row cover. Quality row covers used only as needed, cleaned, and stored can last several seasons.

Baffle. A baffle can keep the climbers out of your trees. No cost, lower cost alternative: I have effectively used Tanglefoot insect barrier applied to cardboard and wrapped on the tree trunk for the first 2’ from the ground to deter rats and mice from climbing tree trunks.

Resources

  • Johnny's Seeds, www.johnnyseeds.com, if your local nursery or garden center doesn't carry row covers, bird scare tape, or bird netting Johnny's Seeds offers these products
  • Peaceful Valley, www.groworganic.com, if your local nursery or garden center doesn't carry row covers, bird scare tape, or bird netting Peaceful Valley offers these products