Mystery on the Farm

I keep trying to write the next post in the series about what happened to us during the flooding – the one about the evacuation itself – but unfortunately, it is all still a bit too raw and fresh and I am struggling to write about it without getting massive anxiety.  I am not trying to be dramatic here, I just think it will take some time for me to process it all and get it written out, though I do think it is good for me to do that and I do want to share our story.

Well, I found this post sitting in my drafted postings.  I had written it right before the disaster and planned to post it that weekend.  It is a good story, so I decided to post it now, even though it kind of doesn’t matter anymore.  It just gives yet another story of the little adventures we have around here every day.  Enjoy!

“Mom!  Mom!  The Garden!!!”  I suddenly had four children calling to me and running from the other side of the house, frantic about something.  When they arrived at my side I had to calm them all to be able to understand what they were all saying at the same time in different ways.

“Something got into the garden again, but did MAJOR damage this time!”

Two nights ago we had found that some bean plants and a cabbage had been eaten by something, we assumed a rabbit.  We found a couple of places where a rabbit could squeeze through the fence, fixed them, and figured the problem was over.  So the first thought that ran through my mind was that whatever it was, it must be able to climb over the fence.

It had been raining all night, and was still lightly misting, so we all put on our rain coats and rubber boots and headed out to the garden to investigate.  I hoped that with the mud maybe we could find some prints in the garden dirt to help us figure out what was doing this.

We started by investigating the strawberry patch, where we had been having some leaf nibbling going on for over a week.  My son had set a mouse trap and a rat trap in that garden and had caught one mouse so far.  This morning, the traps were still set and there was no sign of anything.  No prints.  No droppings.  Nothing to indicate anything.  The strawberry plants looked good, just the nibbles we had seen before.

We moved on to the herb garden, which, like the strawberry patch, is more accessible to rabbits and such since it is not inside the fenced garden area.  We found plenty of evidence of what had been in the herb garden – there were rabbit droppings everywhere.  I decided that it was time to move my favorite plants inside to protect them until next spring.  We plan to do some work on the backyard fence that will keep anything that can’t climb the fence out of the herbs and strawberries – so that will take care of the rabbit issue.

Next we went into the garden, and I saw for the first time the damage from last night.  Sigh.  Whatever it was it had really worked its way around, trying this and that, causing destruction wherever it went.  It cut off cucumber plants by the stems, it nibbled on peas, cucumbers, and beans, it cut off parts of the squash plants, ate entire carrots and cut some off just by the tops, chewed more on the cabbage, and cut up some more bean plants.  It left a mess of greens everywhere it went.  We found stems, leafs, and greens in the walkways and in the bare spots of the garden.  The only things not effected by this mystery thief were the lettuce and the brussels sprouts.

Sigh.

We all worked our way around the garden, looking in the mud for footprints and/or droppings.  We found plenty of footprints, but none were descript enough to know what it was, just that it was big.  Bigger than a mouse or chipmunk, smaller than a bear.  We don’t have opossums here, so a raccoon maybe?

My son had set several mouse and rat traps around the garden the week before.  He had caught  a few mice, but nothing else.  So whatever it was it was big enough to not get in the rat trap, or it was smart enough to not, or it was uninterested in peanut butter, which is what we set the traps with.

While we were investigating my husband drove up.  He was home from work to drop off something.  He came into the garden and I showed him some of the tracks.

“Seems like a raccoon to me, we can set the live trap tonight and see what we get.”

Sounded like a plan to me.  As we all worked our way around the garden, cleaning up and looking for more clues I happened to glance up towards a pile of wood stacked just above the garden on the driveway.  I saw something moving in the pile.  Our cat?  I moved closer, focusing in on the shadowy shape I could see because of the light shining in a crack from the other side of the woodpile.

“There is something in the wood pile, and it’s not the cat!” I yelled.  The kids and my husband all rushed up to the top of the garden where I was, to see.  Just then the animal stood just right in the light and we could see the full outline and shape of it.  It was a very large rat.

“Eeeeeewwww!  It’s huge!”  My daughters and I yelled.  Husband walked off while we all stood there examining the critter as it happily enjoyed its breakfast inside the woodpile.

“Here comes Jerry!  He’ll get it!” my son called out, referring to the larger of our two barn cats.  The cat went right to the pile and peered in the crack at the rat.  He gave the pile a once over and then headed for the barn.  This cat has brought in some large critters in his day, he could totally handle this one, but he clearly had decided that this guy wasn’t coming out of the pile, and he couldn’t get it, and it wasn’t worth waiting for.

My husband arrived back at my side, with the bb gun.

“Clearly this thing isn’t getting caught in the traps, and we are not just going to leave it to wreak havoc in the barn, and the garden.”

I took the kids and we headed for the back door of the house, out-of-the-way.  My husband checked the area carefully, got a good angle through a crack, and pop!  We headed back to the pile.  He began pulling it apart enough to get to the area where the rat was.  He found it and pulled it out.  Whew, it stunk!  It was a big, fat, furry pack rat.

We have so many stories of the destruction these guys can do to a house or barn from our experience living with them in mountains all these years.  Our friends lost 6 bales of hay to ONE rat over a two month time because it tore them apart, built a huge nest, and then filled it with all sorts of yucky stuff.  At $9.50 a bale that is a huge financial loss to one rat.  My in-laws had one build a nest in the crawl space under their bedroom.  Their whole bedroom started stinking really bad.  They finally trapped and killed it and then climbed under there.  There was a nest the size of a king-sized bed.  Seriously.  That’s what these rats do.  And that nest was made up of insulation, chewed up books, towels, sheets, and who knows what else that was unrecognizable by the time it was found.  It also included screws, drill bits, Christmas tree ornaments, and miscellaneous other “sparkly” things.  That is how they get their name (pack rats), because they collect all sorts of things, especially shiny things, and keep them in their huge nests.  I was so glad that we had been able to deal with this one before it did more than the damage it had done in the garden.

Husband disposed of it and headed back to work.

“Ok kids, we will set the live trap tonight and find out if that rat was our thief, or if there is a raccoon too.  But just in case, let’s harvest everything that is even close to done.”

We harvested a bunch of beans, some cucumbers, and 3 of the acorn squash.  We left a lot of small beans, all the carrots, and a few squash and pumpkins that aren’t ripe yet.  After dinner, we carefully set up the live trap in the garden.  We baited it with wet cat food – something that no raccoon would choose to overlook just to eat veggies.

Unfortunately, we would never get a chance to solve the mystery because the next morning we would wake up to pouring rain and flooding everywhere.  And now, with the garden done for the year, whatever it was has moved on to some other place.  We will finish building the garden before next planting season, and will get the fence fully secured.  Hopefully, we wont have this same problem again next year.

5 thoughts on “Mystery on the Farm

  1. First of all, ewww! I had two pet rats in college but cannot imagine them wild. Second of all, the flooding is huge deal. It is ok to process it and we are here whenever you are ready! Love reading your posts!

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  2. This post feels like it was written a lifetime ago for you. You will write the evacuation post when you are ready. I’m sure it will be a huge catharsis for you, but don’t push yourself. When you are ready, the words and probably the tears, will flow.

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