Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rat a tat tat

Capsicums in the inner-city patch.

For a long time, we have lived with rats in the inner city patch. We hear them in the roof and at night we sometimes see them using the trellis against neighbour's wall as a highway. Up until recently, we haven't been overly concerned, figuring they are all over the inner city. We also had built what we thought was ratproof compost bay.

However, one morning in May I woke to find my cauliflowers eviscerated, my broccoli seedlings munched to the ground, and my sweet pea seedlings all but reduced to green sticks. It was clearly the work of rats. Talking to neighbours and locals confirmed that our area is in the midst of a rat plague. Since then I have considered renaming this blog to 'Land for rats'.

First step was to redesign the compost. My partner and I figured that it had become an easy food supply. This big job, undertaken by my partner, meant completely dismantling the otherwise excellent bay. Originally built to be rat proof, the weather and some determined investigations by the rats had rendered it rat accessible. All our compost is now stored in three closed bins, set on a new raised paved platform. When I want to build a new tumbler batch of compost, I move it from the bins to the tumbler.

Next step was trapping. I bought a spring-loaded cage trap recommended to me by a veggie gardener from Olinda. Initially this was reasonably successful, garnering about a rat a week. However, given the rate at which rats reproduce and the obvious ongoing activity, it was clear that we needed to do more. So we laid bait and put out more traps, some of them less humane than the cage. While I think we've reduced the numbers, we haven't won the war, and I think the final step will be thoroughly baiting the roof cavity. And if that doesn't work, we may have to reconsider our longstanding dislike of cats.

Unfortunately, this has meant very little gardening activity as there is not much point planting seedlings out if I'm just feeding the rats. Thankfully, they do seem to leave some mature things alone - rocket, beetroot, chard, for example.

Tomato goodness

Tomatoes from the MPYE patch becoming tomato sauce, recipe courtesy Jeff Jansz

Oxheart and Beefsteak tomatoes from the MPYE patch lasted into May. I made some into tomato sauce, using herbs from the inner city patch, and froze it for use during winter in pasta and other dishes. The very simple recipe is in the May 2006 post.

Tomato sauce ready for freezer
I saved some the seeds from the tomatoes I used in this dish. I used the fermentation technique described in Jude and Michael Fanton's Seed Savers Handbook. A good explanation of this process is published on the Bega Valley Seed Savers website.

Saving tomato seed: seeds are fermenting here. Leave for three days. A foam will form on the top and fermentation will occur. According to The Seed Savers Handbook, this is caused by the microbe Geotrichum candidum acting on the sticky gel that surrounds the seeds. Fermentation produces an antibiotic environment that mitigates against diseases such as bacterial spot, spec and canker.

The passata proved to be a good base for soudough pizza - extending our ongoing love affair with this homemade fast food.

Homemade sourdough pizza with tomatoe passata base and capsicums from the inner-city patch

What the rats left
In the inner city patch, the rats left this lovely eggplant alone.
Thankfully, they don't seem to be fans of herbs, chillis, jerusalem artichokes, or pak choi, so we have had the opportunity to enjoy the last flush of French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), admire the flowers on the rosemary, and spice up our chicken pho soup with chillis from a prolific little bush that's growing in a sunny spot towards the back of the patch.
French tarragon, enjoying the Autumn sunshine. This dies back over winter and will need repotting or a good feed of compost in spring.
Potted chilli plant. This put on a flush of growth and recovered from a mystery illness when I moved it into a sunnier spot and fed it with compost.
Rosemary in flower
Pak choi
Other bounty that the rats have left us includes jerusalem artichokes and potatoes (from the the peninsula patch).

I leave you with an image from the pond in the innercity patch (otherwise known as the pink bathtub) where there are some new aquatic natives sourced from MPYE, including the elegantly drooping Slender Knotweed (Persicaria decipiens), which flowers all year round, and Upright Water-Milfoil (Myriophyllum crispatum).
Slender Knotweed (Persicaria decipiens) in the inner-city patch pond
Marie Antoinette