Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pack Rat War; The Second Front

Okay, okay.  I'll end your suspense over the two unaccounted pack rat deaths that I claimed in my last post.

Sometime in late January, I noticed that my John Deere tractor (which I had thought was safely housed in the barn adjacent to the donkey stall) seemed to be sprouting wisps of hay around it.  Hay that I initially thought was just stray debris from carrying bales around it while feeding the donkeys. At one point, however, I chanced to lift the hood off the tractor and found the entire engine compartment stuffed with hay, and bits of donkey food, and rat droppings, and, most irritating of all, blocks of unchewed rat poison that I had placed in the barn this fall to guard against such an occurrence.

Further investigation revealed that there was a pack rat midden growing beneath a mower deck against the wall, and that my tractor was merely a forward position for the pack rat duo who had evidently made my barn their home.  I also realized, as I began to clean out the engine, that a lot of wiring had been chewed bare by the pack rats in their quest for food.  Revenge fueled by anger became my quest.  If they wanted to be fed, then so be it.  I banished the donkey's from the barn, sealed it, and placed out a more enticing table of D-Con pellets mixed with peanut butter.  The initial offering, two entire trays of poison, disappeared in the first night.  Three days later, no more food was disappearing.  At that point, I celebrated my partial victory, kept the barn sealed (sorry, donkeys), and awaited warmer weather.

Recently, I reentered the battlefield, cleared all the debris from the tractor by hand, coated the bare wires with electrical tape, replaced several wiring connectors, and then, with a hose running nearby and several fire extinguishers at hand, I started the tractor quickly and moved it from the barn for a more further cleaning.  Once the tractor was safe, albeit jury-rigged, I backed it into the barn and moved equipment around until I could lift the mower deck off the midden and destroy it.  I found the pair of pack rats at the center, long dead, and I unceremoniously tossed them out into the prairie.

In retrospect, I should have recognized that something was out of hand when I first noticed these cute footprints in the dust on the seat of my tractor.  The brazen little thieves obviously had no concerns about leaving evidence behind that would enable me to track their crime spree.

And, for those now wondering if it was wise for me to throw rat carcasses full of poison onto the prairie, you should know that I had no problems with pack rats in my tractor last year when I had two wonderful cats living in the barn during the winter.  Two wonderful cats that were  likely casualties of the coyotes that roam the prairie at night.  The same coyotes that might just possibly chew on a rat carcass or two if they came across them.  In unconditional war, one uses every weapon available to win.

Friday, May 1, 2015

ProfessorRoush 6, Pack Rats 0

Among my spring chores, one of the nagging little tasks that I kept putting off was the formulation of a siege and eventual frontal attack on a pair of pack rat middens that have encroached across the neutral zone onto my garden.  In particular, the evil pack rat empire has practically destroyed my beloved 'Red Cascade', pictured at right from last year, and I could no ignore the necessity of the mission.  Thus, I carefully planned, and then executed a  temporarily successful campaign.   Believe me, JFK was much less subtle in dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis than I was in my blitzkrieg on the midden.

I began first by surrounding the middens with baited traps since I wanted to eliminate the rats before attacking their castle.  There is, for your information, actually a better mouse trap that the world should be beating a path to.  Those traps, in both mouse and rat sizes are the TomCat Secure Kill Rat Traps, which are easy to set without endangering your own fingers.  In full disclosure, I have received no payback from TomCat, but I'm still endorsing them   The score, in three nights; ProfessorRoush 4, Pack Rats 0.

In a second wave two nights later, I marshaled my tools of assault and began the sacking of Pack Rat Troy. I first used loppers to remove the camouflage that hid the nest so well (left, above).  Now you can see the midden more clearly (photo to the right), and you can see where most of last year's hardwood mulch from the bed has been moved.

I then pulled, raked, and swept all this structure from around and among the rose, cutting canes further down as each layer came off, until I was left with a clean and very much shortened miniature climber (photo to the left).  I'm hopeful that a little sunlight and water and fertilizer will restore this rose soon to its former glory.  As a trophy of war, I also transplanted two self-rooted starts of 'Red Cascade' from near this pile to another part of the garden, an activity that might not have occurred if I had not been provoked into action.  Silver linings and all that.

I know this whole activity seems somewhat cruel to those who hold Nature innocent and feel that its activities should be held beyond human interference, but other innocent bystanders had fallen in harm's way, innocents such as this young nearby hosta that was providing the fresh greens of the pack rat diet.  I couldn't stand by while the rights of neighboring living creatures were eaten away.

Oh, and if you're wondering if I can count and don't know the difference between the casualty rate I claimed in this blog's title versus in the text (6 vs 4), tune in again in a couple of days and I'll tell you how two other pack rat villains met a recent demise in my garden.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It's a Yellow Kind of Day

But, it's a good yellow kind of day.  I was stupendously cheered up last night when I noticed the first few blooms on 'Harison's Yellow' were open.  The recent rose massacre, both from winter and my culling of rose rosette-infected roses, has been dragging down my spirit in the garden, but now as the early roses come storming back, I'm feeling my strength return minute by minute.  Honestly, who could not look on the sunny yellow face of 'Harison's Yellow' and not be smitten by joy?  I'd normally caution you not to sniff this offspring of R. foetida too closely, but in the vicinity of this bush last night, all I could smell was its sweetness.  Perfection, thy name is 'Harison's Yellow'.  At least as long as I don't have to prune you or fight those vicious thorns to cut out deadwood!

My 'Yellow Bird' Magnolia also continues to bloom and please the dickens out of me.  I've got to tell you, the longer this tree is in my garden, the more impressed I am by its winter hardiness, drought resistance and stamina.  There are probably places in the country where it won't thrive, but I strongly recommend it for the Midwest.  It originally started out  for me 5 years ago as a 3 foot tall seedling, but it has now topped me in height and is 6 feet or better, finally outgrowing the top of its protected cage.  Additionally, the bloom period this year has been exceptionally long.  She started blooming this year around April 7th.   I took the picture on the left, below, on April 17th, just after I felt the tree was reaching its peak bloom and right after a rainstorm knocked off some petals.  Yet a week later, on April 24th as shown at the right, she is still blooming and just last night I was admiring the dozen remaining blossoms.  I apologize for the cage, but if you look closely towards the bottom of the tree, you'll notice the bare stems where the deer "pruned" the buds that were outside the woven-wire fence.  It's a necessity to protect this tree for a few more years.

 As I've said before, the "experts" seem to think the emerging green leaves distract from the beauty of the soft yellow flowers, but I disagree.  "Yellow Bird" has light green glossy leaves, which in my mind provide much needed contrast to the blooms and I greatly prefer this form to my bush magnolias who bloom earlier on bare stems.  "To each their own," as the saying goes.  Happily, "Yellow Bird" lives on in Kansas.


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