Sunday, October 14, 2012


Sometimes on the farm, we lose.  I could present an upbeat, wholly untruthful narrative about the way things turned out on the farm this year. And, if I did so, I would be lying.  We had our share of losses.  No corn, and as it turns out, a pitiful vegetable garden plagued in a Biblical fashion.  Yes, I would have to call it a plague; RATS.

I have always been aware of their existence on this farm but this past winter was especially easy and I noticed them jumping out of the way in front of my tractor when I mowed in early spring.

They haunted all of my dreams of abundance. I planted 50 of the most lovely, lush paste tomato plants one could ever hope for.  I tended them, put manure around their roots, limed the soil to a perfect pH and watched them grow, expand, set flower and fruit.  I staked them with a Florida weave, and the green tomatoes abounded.

Then, in the heat of summer, just when the fruit was taking on a nice blush of red, the plague attacked.  I entered the garden daily to find each fruit still green at the top and eaten on the red-tinted blossom end.  Grrr.  Ok, I thought, just a rat or two (there is never just two where they live in cities). Indeed they are a force of destruction, taking a few nibbles out of each-and-every-somewhat-ripe---tomato.  While they plundered the tomatoes, my beans grew nearby, untouched and unravaged.  Lucky for me my taste runs toward the “haricot vert” side and I picked probably 10 lbs of beans for the freezer.  I felt like I was winning. Why is it that I had to erase this last sentence and rewrite it because of Charlie Sheen? He does not belong in my paragraphs.

All went well until the bean shells swelled with fat seeds inside. Now there was a higher nutrient value within the seeds, and the instinct of these remarkable yet disgusting creatures lead them to the bean patch. 

Half eaten beans, just barely chewed beans, completely eaten beans and very, very few pristine beans left for me.

The beet seedlings; sheared off at the sprouted tops.

Carrot seedlings; gone.

Sweet corn seeds were snatched out of their rows in the ground. No sign of disturbance at the soil surface, just unrealized corn.  Again, corn is an abstract this year on the farm.

I checked the sweet potatoes, previously pushing their tough shoulders against the soil, and rupturing it in great cracks above as they muscled through the dirt.  All dug out of the soil, and eaten.

My heirloom squash seemed to be defiant.  Tough shelled and smooth with a reasonably large diameter, they resisted assault.  Fine pairs of flat chisel marks from rodent incisors began to appear on some of the fruit.  HA HA!  The vermin cannot bite the squash.  I quickly harvested all the ripe and near ripe fruits.  This may be a sign, and adaptive gardening measure.  One should only plant hard shelled veggies. Sigh…not the diverse and tasty garden of my dreams.

What is going on here?

The organic, environmental reason for this plague is an imbalance in the ecosystem.  Perhaps it is the warm winter we had last year? Perhaps it is the presence of Livestock Guardian Dogs keeping rat predators at bay while ignoring the rats themselves?  Perhaps it was the lack of a human presence pushing them back for the past 20 years? Who knows, but this year I am hoping for a mighty winter to descend upon these fields, and for balance to return to the farmstead.