In the garden in February

We live next to an equestrian farm where there are naturally lots of rats so it is inevitable they will turn up from time to time and take advantage of some of the bounty in your garden, especially if you do things like feed birds, who spill some of the food on the floor.

Most of the time you would never know they are there, as they go about their business, but every now and then they become a bit of a problem. I first noticed them when the bottom of my thermal composter had been nibbled through, and the contents strewn all over the floor. Actually this was quite a sizable hole. From then on I was on the lookout. Sure enough a small family of about four animals were walking about, bold as you like, on the lawn at dusk, and when they saw me they scuttled away.

It took a while to work out their direction was generally towards the real compost heap. Let me explain what I mean by real. I had been undertaking an experiment to find out the best form of compost heap for a small garden. I wanted to put three designs through their paces, but in different ways. For a time I composted nothing more than garden waste, and then kitchen waste too.

There were three heaps, or composters. A thermal type which was basically a highly insulated composter, an old fashioned wooden bin and one of those ‘compost darleks’ you can get from the council.

The thermal composter was quick on leaves, but poor on anything more woody things without a lot of turning, and this was difficult because there wasn’t enough room. But it certainly did make a lot of worms, and it did get hot! The darlek was too cold to make a lot of compost, and the old fashioned big was somewhere in the middle – but is much easier to turn the compost.

Now, being full of warm compost makes any heap the perfect home for a family of rats. And after careful examination my old fashioned bin has now become social housing with all the potato peelings you can eat.

What to do about it?

It’s simple really. One could buy a humane trap and take the rats somewhere else, an enforced transportation to the colonies in the next valley. We could put bait down, but I don’t fancy the effect on wildlife if things were to go wrong. I could get a Jack Russel, but I have been bitten too many times by cantankerous little dogs.

The thing to do, for me, is easy. All I need to do is turn the heap, that is, pile the material into another compost heap, thus aerating it, speeding the breakdown of the organic material and encouraging the non paying guests in the heap to move to Manchester, well, anywhere really.

What about in town

We live on the edge of a small town, we only have three neighbours and one of those is a kilometer away. In a town where you live in very close proximity to a lot of people there are a lot more rats. It is said, and I can believe it, that in the city you are only a few metres from a rat at any one time. So what then? Moving them to next door’s garden is hardly an answer and in a way you might never be free from rats.

There are some things you can buy such as sonic disturbers, a kind of loud rock music to annoy rats that no one can hear. You can buy humane traps and bait and so on. But I preferred a simple regime on my urban allotment. First of all, anything that can be gotten into – such as the shed, had reinforced bottoms, using old ply. This way you can see if they have been gnawing at it to get in and you can take steps accordingly.

Secondly, if you store food in the shed, or seeds or bulbs lift them off the ground and put them in metal containers wherever fungal infection is not important.

Thirdly, be tidy and have fires. They don’t like smoke do rats, and if you have a regular bonfire you will have fewer of them.

Make sure you lift everything off the ground by a good two feet – don’t have cosy looking little places for them to shelter, they don’t like being exposed.

Keep a look out for poo, an obvious telltale sign, but don’t touch it with your bare hands, rats do carry disease that can really cause you problems, such as Leptospirosis.

And of course, make sure you always wash your produce and always wash your hands when you have been in the garden. I don’t think I would want to live in a world without rats, they obviously have their place and deserve it but I don’t particularly want them as neighbours!

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