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Monday, April 17, 2006

$%%@#@^&**^ Mice Redux

Peppers seedlings on a light table about 7 days ago before being beheaded by a small critter

Living and working on an organic farm may seem to many to be the ultimate way to live one's life free of stress and full of beauty. These would be the folks who have bought into the romantic ideals of farming. In reality farming is one of the more stressful jobs you can have. You are at the mercy of the elements and wild animals both big and small. And either can destroy a lot of work in a very short amount of time. We have, in the past, had wind take out hoophouses, floods kill crops in the fields, odd/early cold snaps do great damage to cold sensitive plants, birds and dogs take chickens. These are things farmers stress about

We recently have been getting a lot of mouse or chipmunk damage to our pepper seedlings. Some critter gets on the light tables and eats the heads off of the baby plants. This is real nice to find first thing in the morning after you have spent half a day, the day before, making soil blocks and moving germinating seeds to bigger blocks. So we have been doing many superfluous things to stop the critter and few have worked.

One night we put cardboard guards around all the legs and cords thinking this might stop the critters from climbing onto the stands. No dice, they breached our system easily and beheaded more seedlings. We have traps and about once a week one gets a mouse and on Friday put out more traps in the grow room. Took down the plastic sheet that was dividing the room in half making it easier to heat the area where the seeds are germinating. And than we moved all the stands away from the walls (thinking mice can climb rough brick walls easily) on Saturday with the help of an old friend, Scott, who showed up to volunteer his time on our farm (he helped put in 2 peach trees and start the trellis for the grape arbor as well). We also moved a lot of the seedlings out to cold frames since no critters are eating the seedlings in the cold frames. But because a cold front came through last (Sunday) night it is now too cold to keep things like peppers and eggplant in the cold frames so back to the warm grow room they went. It's a damned if you do damned if you don't situation. Leave the peppers outside and they will get cold damage. Take them inside and they may get killed (but at least if they do not get beheaded they will produce later in the summer, the cold damage seedlings will not, been there, done that)

Yesterday evening Navin the senior cat had killed a mouse outside the grow room door.

Maybe, just maybe, all these things together will stop the pepper seedling carnage. There was no damage Sunday to what was left of the seedlings so perhaps we have made it too difficult for the mice to get at the seedlings (we also have removed all germinating melon seeds from the barn altogether as these seem to be prized fare for the critters and a huge attractant). I have not checked things out this morning. But I am hoping that I will not go in once again to see all my work destroyed.

Today the plan is to replant the peppers and if these get killed than I will have to either buy pepper seedlings (very expensive), plant again and hope it is not too late in the year to get a crop (it takes about 8 to 10 weeks to get peppers ready for transplanting than it is another 80 to 110 to get ripe peppers and if these things get planted past mid June there is not enough time left in our growing season for this to happen) or just give up altogether and have no peppers at all (not acceptable, we make decent money off of this crop plus I use a lot of peppers in my cooking).

I hope, at this point, the critters have found the room not as hospitable and better things growing outside now and will leave the seedlings alone.


Peter comly said...

I feel your pain. We just start seeds for ourselves mostly anymore, but it still pisses me off when the mice do that. I had one this spring that clipped all the tomato plants I had started of a rare local variety (some kind of oxheart type). Luckily I only planted half of the seeds I had saved from last summer. I finally resorted to covering the flats at night with another flat upside down with a rock on top. I finally caught the bugger with a regular mouse trap using a chocolate chip melted onto the trip pan. I used a little peanut butter on the chocolate chip as an attractant. Good luck

Joe Greene said...

You said you wrapped the legs of the table with cardboard. How about trying aluminum flashing (used in roofing) wrapped around the legs of the tables? You might find that the mice can't climb past the aluminum.

Laurie said...

Ah, yes, I feel your pain, too. The critters are not getting my seedlings, but they've eaten half my artichokes and my beet greens are nearly gone. I thought that the squirrel problem might disappear with the black walnut tree we took down two years ago, but there are other walnuts and a pecan nearby, and they have been working double time to replant that walnut tree. It's amazing how many plants they've dug up and how many little walnut trees I've had to dig up soon after in the same spots. Last year they ate every single one of my okra seedlings, twice, except one stray one that rooted under a bean bush.