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Protecting corn from rats and other nibblers

 
Earl Mardle
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I also combine landraces... For example: I crossed my sweet corn, with one of my flour corns, and then reselected for sweet corn. This allowed me to bring a whole new suite of genetics into my sweet corn. That has been a long-term goal of the corn breeding project. I expect to finally have seed to release this fall.
Off topic I know but I have been growing a couple of lines of open pollinated corn, Country Gentleman and Golden Bantam. The latter showing some very nice characteristics, although a little too savoury for my wife's taste in sweet corn.

My BIG problem, however, has been predation, this year I lost an entire bed of about 400 plants to rats. As someone who tries to produce organically, I steer away from poison baits but I am almost at my wits end with trying to protect it from them. I managed to keep another bed of about 80 plants going long enough to harvest seed corn but any suggestions about how to fend the rodents off would be appreciated.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Earl: I can't address the issue of rats specifically. However, coons, skunks, and pheasants used to be voracious predators of my sweet corn. They aren't so bad any more... The pheasants were the easiest to deal with, I selected for corn plants in which the shank of the cobs were higher than about 18".

Then one year, I acquired a new field, and almost every cob got eaten by skunks and/or coons. The operative word here is "almost". Some plants were resistant to predation. They got saved and replanted. The next year most of the plants were resistant. These days the stalks are stronger, the cobs are carried much higher on the stalks, and the shanks are thicker. An added benefit is that I don't have to hunch over to pick corn. The cobs are at about chest to eye height. I haven't observed lodging in the 'skunk-resistant' line of sweet corn.

I vividly remember the evening when I was picking corn, with my pistol on my hip, and I came face to face with a skunk. It was in that moment, that I decided to use genetics to solve the predation problem rather than bullets. Sure, it cost me several crops of corn, but seems like a price worth paying.

I stopped growing one of my favorite landraces of sweet corn, because it doesn't have enough genetic diversity within it to solve the skunk predation problem. It would be more resistant to skunk predation if I fertilized my fields, but one of my core values for farming is to grow under subsistence level growing conditions and with zero soil amendments. I want to select for varieties that thrive in my soil exactly how it is.
 
Tyler Ludens
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For rodent problems you might need more snakes and raptors. Snakes have their own set of problems, of course, because some few of them are venomous. I feel that isn't something significant to worry about unless unsupervised young children or dogs are involved. To encourage snakes, you can make low piles of brush. Maybe 3' x 3' x 2' high or so, dotted around the area where you have rodent problems. Piles of rocks also might work. For raptors, install perches: http://www.rain.org/~sals/perches.html

http://tommy51.tripod.com/perch.html
 
Earl Mardle
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
Earl: I can't address the issue of rats specifically. However, coons, skunks, and pheasants used to be voracious predators of my sweet corn. They aren't so bad any more... The pheasants were the easiest to deal with, I selected for corn plants in which the shank of the cobs were higher than about 18".

I stopped growing one of my favorite landraces of sweet corn, because it doesn't have enough genetic diversity within it to solve the skunk predation problem. It would be more resistant to skunk predation if I fertilized my fields, but one of my core values for farming is to grow under subsistence level growing conditions and with zero soil amendments. I want to select for varieties that thrive in my soil exactly how it is.
I'm in awe of your persistence and patience. I suspect that one of my problems is that, to reduce possible transfer of pathogens from one garden to another I compost everything from each garden either on a bed or close to it, creating a haven for the critters. Creating more distance to the heaps and making sure the ground between them and the garden is more open might help I suppose.

My other nasty suspicion is that if I do manage to breeed a landrace that the rats wont touch, I may not want to eat it either. =(
 
Earl Mardle
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Tyler Ludens wrote:For rodent problems you might need more snakes and raptors. Snakes have their own set of problems, of course, because some few of them are venomous. I feel that isn't something significant to worry about unless unsupervised young children or dogs are involved. To encourage snakes, you can make low piles of brush. Maybe 3' x 3' x 2' high or so, dotted around the area where you have rodent problems. Piles of rocks also might work. For raptors, install perches: http://www.rain.org/~sals/perches.html

http://tommy51.tripod.com/perch.html
Thaks Tyler but in NZ we have zero snakes and we plan to keep it that way. Our only raptors are an Australian Hawk and a native falcon that has a pretty limited range. Although i have heard of an Australian barn owl that has introduced itself in the far north and is working its way south, I'll certainly make any of those very welcome.
 
Tyler Ludens
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You might have to set a lot of rat traps!
 
Rue Barbie
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Tyler Ludens wrote:You might have to set a lot of rat traps!


Amen to that. Start early.. way before they start causing trouble to help get the population down. Find something that they love and bait your traps with that. Put bricks or rocks around three sides of the traps so they come in head first lest you only get a leg and it suffers. You want a quick, clean kill. Traps can be very effective.

It can be helpful to make a tool from a metal clothes hanger so it's easier to release the traps without getting too close to the dead critter, if that's a concern. Just flatten it so it's like a long handle with the hook on the end. With foot on the trap, use the hook to pull the bar up and flip the beast off. Since no poison was used, you can put the body up on a fence post far from the house for birds of prey.
 
Earl Mardle
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Tyler Ludens wrote:You might have to set a lot of rat traps!
Yep, I have a few and they have worked reasonably well but, as with our rabbits, I'm keen to find something that will either deter them or make them disinterested. Admittedly, dead in a trap pretty much fills the second criterion.

And yes, I have a note in my diary for next season to start trapping early and hard. But I'm always up for a systemic response that will steer, or send, them away.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Sheltie collies and small terriers ar excellent at patrolling for rats. Shelties are also good for keeping large herbivores out of the corn patch.
 
Ken W Wilson
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If you have that many rats, I'd get a couple of rat terriors. They really live up to their name. Good pets too. Mine would kill any pest it could shake and chase bigger dogs and coyotes. He was not neutered. Totally fearless. He was a mix so a bit bigger than most rat terriors though. Dogs hunt best in pairs or more. One dog goes face to face with the enemy. The other attacks from the rear. They really hate rats. He'd chase rabbis to eat them. Rats and possums, he just wanted to kill.
 
Earl Mardle
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Ken W Wilson wrote:If you have that many rats, I'd get a couple of rat terriors. They really live up to their name. Good pets too. Mine would kill any pest it could shake and chase bigger dogs and coyotes. He was not neutered. Totally fearless. He was a mix so a bit bigger than most rat terriors though. Dogs hunt best in pairs or more. One dog goes face to face with the enemy. The other attacks from the rear. They really hate rats. He'd chase rabbis to eat them. Rats and possums, he just wanted to kill.
Its a thought, we have one terrier who is very efficient at killing rats but not especially motivated so if they get away, most times, she wanders off. Jack Russells are great ratters, they also, however, have a reputation as chicken killers which is not what we need.

Part of the problem is that it has also been what is called in NZ a mast year for beech trees, mostly in the South island, but across the country it has been a great year fro production of all kinds and the better we get at producing food locally the more predators we feed anyway. What we really need right now is a really cold, wet, winter. But I'm betting that isn't going to happen again for a while.
 
alex Keenan
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Rodents need water. I have made a number of water traps around garden that have a walking plank that falls as the rodent gets to the end.
I have also had good luck with baited windup traps. The key is to control the sources of water during dry spells and use water as the attraction to reduce the rodent population at a time it would normally be building.
 
Ken W Wilson
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I once had a male Jack Russel too. He was the most temperamental dog I've owned and the only one not good with kids. May not have been the breed though. After I moved from the first house I had him at, someone told me the neighbor kids had been throwing things at him. He was a great dog with me though.
 
Earl Mardle
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alex Keenan wrote:Rodents need water. I have made a number of water traps around garden that have a walking plank that falls as the rodent gets to the end.
I have also had good luck with baited windup traps. The key is to control the sources of water during dry spells and use water as the attraction to reduce the rodent population at a time it would normally be building.
I know this will sound like I'm trying to make life difficult, but the gardens in question are about 25 metres from one of 3, count 'em THREE good sized ponds (as in triangular 30 metre on a side, 4 metre deep in the middle) that we have built especially so that we don't run out of water in a drought. The other 2 ponds are only about 20 metres apart in a cascade down a gentle slope.

I've seen the walking plank design and it has some appeal, although I am also leery of just letting animals drown, a good, fast, effective trap is far preferable to me. Hell, I am not even that happy about fly papers where the insects die of exhaustion or starvation or whatever. Another reason I would rather fend them off.

For example, we solved most of our initial rabbit problem by growing long, dense grass pretty much everywhere except close to trees or actually in gardens. Turns out the bunnies don't like tall grass, it makes predators difficult to see and escape much harder so they go away. We also grow wormwood around established fruit and nut trees because, although artemisia can be hard on other plants, once the tree roots are well distributed, growing it under the tree forces both rats and possums to climb through it to get to the goodies and they start to prefer somewhere else. It also appears to work for some of the insect pests, although it means we have to cut it back in spring to avoid repelling bees. We are still a way off that in our present place but in the previous one it worked reasonably well. But artemisia isn't really an option for corn gardens.
 
alex Keenan
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Earl, I wish you luck.

Rats are social animals that are highly adaptable.
Your idea of changing the environmental conditions favorable to rats is a good idea.
However, there are limits to this when it comes to rats.
You have unlimited water, you will be growing abondent food.
The keys to life are shelter, water, food for the rats.
Depending on the type of rat, it is likely they are living in tunnels under concrete, boards, stumps, etc.
You can map your rats by dust when it is dry, or snow in the winter, mud also works but rats tend to avoid mud. You will be looking for tracks.
Make the places you are suspecting rats are at dusty, then look for tracks. The goal is to find the tunnels that they are using.
If you can find the tunnels you can use gopher bombs (super smoke bomb) to smoke out the rats. I place one gopher bomb in the tunnel I find and cover it with soil. Then I look for smoke and cover those holes or add another smoke bomb then cover.
Smoke kills fast once the air in the tunnels is consumed. This way you kill the breeders in the nest.
 
Larisa Walk
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A pellet air gun works on rats if you're a good shot. Are the rats eating the young corn plants or the cobs? Either way, I would start trapping before the crop is in the ground.
 
R Scott
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You can make a rat fence, but it is work. Basically a bamboo barrier but taller above ground, with an electric wire strung so the get zapped if they do try to climb it.
 
R Ranson
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I really like the more permaculture design solutions in this thread. I never imagined we could breed corn for rat resistance.

When we moved here, we had massive trouble with rats. Making it easier for the owels to hunt by making big open areas the rats had to cross helped a lot. Managing the raccoon population was another important step.

We're lucky because our rats have local predators. The problem was the local gang of raccoon were accustomed to human sources of food, like livestock and food left out for them by previous residents. By removing those raccoons, more wild ones moved in to fill the gap. These are much closer to their natural diet and prefer rats to ducks and pets.
 
C. Letellier
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So far as I know the only answers is to kill as many ways as you can find. In cats a mommy hunting to feed her babies is always a better hunter even long after they no longer have babies. Young animals are more likely to hunt for the fun of it. As for traps I would say anything goes as long as it kills. Snakes are not much good because rats breed faster than snakes eat. But still it is population pressure. Shooting, killing in tunnels and other methods already mentioned are all effective. Remember kill rate needs to be cumulative among all methods. Even some baits possibly. Does the plaster of paris bait trick that works for mice work with rats?
 
Earl Mardle
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C. Letellier wrote:So far as I know the only answers is to kill as many ways as you can find. In cats a mommy hunting to feed her babies is always a better hunter even long after they no longer have babies. Young animals are more likely to hunt for the fun of it. As for traps I would say anything goes as long as it kills. Snakes are not much good because rats breed faster than snakes eat. But still it is population pressure. Shooting, killing in tunnels and other methods already mentioned are all effective. Remember kill rate needs to be cumulative among all methods. Even some baits possibly. Does the plaster of paris bait trick that works for mice work with rats?
Thanks guys, next year, much earlier start. I'm pretty sure I know where the main nests are ad I can solve a couple of those this winter (note: no snow in my part of NZ which means they don't come under that pressure either) and we learned a valuable lesson a couple of years ago when they burrowed under our garbanzo crop and took only the pods in the middle, leaving the ones we could see to think we had a good crop, now we plant further apart to let us see where they are digging, interestingly, no sign of that this year, they have nested somewhere else and are coming in during the night.

Not preying on the plants, just waiting till the cobs develop then hitting them before they ripen.
 
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