Taking mint-sing steps
Monday July 13th 2009, 8:59 pm
Filed under: My Garden,Wildlife

A misremembered start of a fairy tale that was passed around the DarpaNet back when Richard was in grad school:

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut vent two sea irk groin-murder inner fore rest… (no, that’s not spam, say it fast.)

It took it awhile to find the new restaurant, and when it did, it was cute–Michelle and I both wondered at first if it were a large mouse. My! What big ears you have!  With its small size, those ears, and slim build, it had us for a moment.

Till we saw the tail.  Great. A Californian rat, thin and trim, ready to see and be seen, out in the open, nibbling at the offerings from the birds above.

I was none too pleased. If only we had a cat.  A little aversion therapy.

When I was in San Jose talking to the garage-top falconatics a few weeks ago, one told me she’d ditched her birdfeeder after finding she was supporting not only the local rat population but its next generation right there in her yard.

Last week, I got a flier from the Wild Bird Center saying they had just stocked up on seed catchers, and I’m definitely going to go buy me one, but meantime,  I remembered what my daughter Sam had said about rats avoiding the smell of mint plants.

And I do have me some mint plants.

So I cut a sprig from the front yard, hoping it too would sprout roots in water and take off into a new plant, but if not, let it stand sentry till I can get more going, from seed or bought, I don’t care, and I put it in a plastic container on the patio.  I turned a comfortable chair to face outwards to watch and knitted.

It wasn’t long, just a few minutes later, that the rat I’d scared off came out again.

And stopped. Its nose sniffled furiously.

It left.

It came back a few minutes later, stopped and sniffed again, took a few steps to the side to see if that would help, turned back to face the mint–it was still there.  Rats.  It ran away again.

Then over the next little bit I watched it try to take a wide berth around it to the right to get back to its intended dinner so infuriatingly close.   No go–till the squirrels, who didn’t pay it nor their little cousin no never-mind, had a fight and knocked the mint clear thataway.  Yay! And the rat made a break for it.

For about a second till I reached the door, anyway.

On the next round, it took a wide berth around to the left this time, putting it out in the open air away from even so much as the protective covering of the awning overhead, the kind of exposure a rat hates.  But the only way it could figure out how to get to those easy pickings.  Smart little thing. In broad daylight, too!

So I upped the ante.  I wasn’t going to use glass containers; I’m too much of a klutz and I’d seen how much momentum quarreling squirrels could produce. No shattering allowed. I took a plastic container from Costco that had held Alphonso mangoes, ie it looked like a giant clear egg carton, and cut it into two-section segments.  I filled them with water and cut another sprig for each segment. I set all my containers on the patio fanned out in a wide circle encompassing the reach of the fallen birdseed, four times the intensity of the mint that had stopped the thing in its tracks before.

It has not come back. The birds don’t care about that little bit of leafy green down there, the squirrels ignore it, but that rat gave up unfed.

I have some mint seeds.  I have pots.  I have plants to top off as needed in the meantime.

One mint-woodcutter, to the rescue.

(July 24–one caveat. Since I wrote this, I found a site selling mint plants warning that they must be kept in pots: saying that the first year, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. The second year you’ll start to find out. They can send underground runners as far as 20 feet past weedblocker, whatever weedblocker is, and will take over everything. I knew they were fairly invasive but that’s more than I knew, so I thought I’d better put that in here for anybody coming googling by.)

20 Comments so far
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Oh, I am so going to plant some mint. The worst was when I was looking out the window at the bird feeder, having just set the table for Passover. We were expecting a few guests, and I did not want them to gaze on that bold, fat rat, eating from the bird feeder right under the dining room window.This rat did not look like he carried diseases- he looked so smooth, sleek and fat he looked like he had a health plan. I stood there, in wait, and threw a piece of firewood at him. He went away, and I was relieved. The guests arrived. And, my seven year old spilled the beans before we had even sat down to eat.

Comment by Laura 07.13.09 @ 10:01 pm

Ooohhh great idea!!!
I have some mountain mint growing, and we have mice in the garage….

Comment by Diana Troldahl 07.13.09 @ 10:07 pm

That’s very interesting. I’ll have to find some mint. I don’t mind domestic pet rats, but I’d rather the wild ones stay away.

Comment by Marlene 07.13.09 @ 10:17 pm

Ha ha, very amusing story and hopefully, remedy. I haven’t seen any rats around here, but then I don’t have a birdfeeder hanging out there for them to forage from 🙂 Wish I did but alas, no real backyard to speak of… 🙁

Comment by Cathy (catsandyarn on ravelry) 07.13.09 @ 10:20 pm

That is very interesting to know!
Glad the rat left.
When I was in Ireland (about 14 years ago) we saw what we thought was a small dog. After getting a closer view, it was the biggest rat I had ever seen.

Comment by Sonya 07.13.09 @ 10:27 pm

Yup, definitely going to plant mint, and lots of it! I was wondering what to do with my empty flower pots.

Comment by LynnM 07.14.09 @ 12:05 am

Just a bit of a warning. Mint grows like something out of a bad Science Fiction movie (“The Plant That Took Over Manhattan!” Now showing on two screens) I have been pulling out mint from garden for YEARS and of course this year in particular. It was so strong that the weed whacker wouldn’t cut it. So make it stay in it’s nice little prisons, ehhhhhhhhhhh, planters that is, and all should be fine. Either that or I will look up two New Jersey wise guys for you…

Comment by afton 07.14.09 @ 4:29 am

Thanks for the mint tip. I didn’t know that. I fed birds for years and never had a problem until two years ago. I was upset to see those rodents so I stopped feeding the birds till this year. Now I have a problem with the crows. (sigh)

Comment by Joansie 07.14.09 @ 4:52 am

Isn’t it interesting what mint can be used for.

Comment by Laura 07.14.09 @ 5:42 am

Oh good, glad it worked. Spearmint is very easy to grow from seed, so you should be set (most other varieties are sterile hybrids, just so you know).

Comment by Sam 07.14.09 @ 6:07 am

Wonderful! All the more reason to plant some mint along the edge of the house. I’ve not seen a rat, but I’d like to keep it that way.

Comment by Channon 07.14.09 @ 6:24 am

Very interesting, my mom planted mint to keep ants out of the house years ago (they won’t cross it either), but I had never heard that it would keep rats away too. I’ll have to pass your tip on to her. They put out bird feeders last year:)

Comment by TripletMom 07.14.09 @ 6:53 am

Hm, wonder if mint works for mice. Not that we have had any yet but I may hang some in the basement, just in case. Didn’t the old-timers hang something from their rafters to keep ?? away? AARRGGHH, a rat–I still remember the first wharf rat I saw in Washington.

Comment by sherry in idaho 07.14.09 @ 7:49 am

Sending two New Joyzy guys to do a whack job on the mint plants–Afton, that’s *funny*!

Comment by AlisonH 07.14.09 @ 9:44 am

off to buy some mint containers for the cottage. Gotta get the mice to find a new home…

Comment by Sandra 07.14.09 @ 9:50 am

Zat wrat bay thur lie kon foosed bay de meent. Gaad fer u.

odder fon teem:

A young couple were married, even though she said she didn’t know how to cook. “But I’ll try to learn; really I will,” she promised. So she read cookbooks, and got help from her mother and friends. She would serve a meal to her husband, who would say, “Not bad, but not like mother used to make.” And she would try another recipe, and he would say, “Not bad, but not like mother used to make.” Then one morning everything went wrong — the coffee boiled over, she dropped the glass of orange juice, the eggs were underdone, and the toast was burnt. But she set it down in front of her husband anyway, who took one bite and said, “Ah, just like mother used to make!”

Comment by Don Meyer 07.14.09 @ 11:19 am

Okay, now I’m really, really glad that I have a huge mint plant near the dog door. Maybe that’s why we’ve never had one ‘break and enter’ yet!

Comment by Ruth 07.14.09 @ 1:28 pm

Mint…hooray! You go!
I love my mint plants.
Several years ago, unbeknown st to me, I was feeding a family of rats with my bird feeder, too, and one wily devil-of-a-rat climbed up the ivy on the house to a window, gnawed through the screen and got caught between the glass and screen. Imagine my surprise. It was like a horror movie at my window.

Comment by Toni Smoky-Mountains 07.15.09 @ 3:36 am

Mint, eh? I’ve not had a rat problem, but I love it when I hear about another way to repel critters that is non toxic.

Comment by Carol 07.15.09 @ 10:05 am

I have a yard, not a lawn, so I’m planting mint! As long as it doesn’t overtake the periwinkle I’ll be ok with it. I figure if it will keep rats away it might deter those pesky field mice and maybe some squirrels and chipmunks. Thanks for the hint!

Comment by Leslie 07.18.09 @ 1:33 pm

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