Of Rats and Strawberries

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Letting The Light Shine In Dark Places

On Monday, a headlight was out on my car so I took it to the auto shop to get the bulb replaced. I have a spiffy little red Smart car which gets great mileage and is a blast to drive. It is, however, very small. The engine is in the back and there is hardly any front to it; the driver is just a foot or so away from the headlights.

When the mechanic popped the front panel off, he yelled and several of his co-workers rushed over. In a minute, they got brooms and sticks and powerful flashlights and started poking away at my car. The narrow space between the headlights was packed with what looked like dried leaves but when the men poked them, several critters slithered away into the dim recesses of my tiny car, which I didn’t even know HAD dim recesses.

Enter The Rats

“It’s a mouse!” one man yelled. Another said, “No way, they’re HUGE,” and the third man said, “Dude, those were rats for sure.” He thumped the sides of my car while his companion got an air hose and blasted air into every nook and crevice. Soon they had a pressure washer running as well and my car was really rocking. I thought about asking them to wash the car while they were at it but felt the request might not be well received.

All this time, no rodents of any size had emerged from the car, which seemed ominous. Where were they? The men said that the rats could get into amazingly tight places and hang on for a long time. It turned out that they had seen over half a dozen other rat nests in cars over the past few weeks, probably because of all the rain. Rodents like to find dry nesting spots and fair enough except that I am not willing to share my little car with a rat family.

Hitting All The Puddles

They fellows cheerfully advised me to drive through every puddle I could find and go over lots of bumps. “Don’t go home,” one man cautioned, saying the rats would bail but get back on board. He suggested I do lots of errands so the rats would jump out elsewhere. He also told me to tuck some of those noxious clothing dryer sheets that smell so revolting into the front end because the smell would drive the rats out and keep them from returning.

I bought some–and they really do stink. Yuck! I put them under the little hood and drove along merrily. After a bit I was feeling chilly so I turned on the heat. Within minutes, I was sneezing and my ears teared up and I started to feel ill. I realized belatedly that the air intake for my car is in the front end, which now was packed with revolting dryer cloths. Oh well. Being cold is a small price to pay for being rat free.

Ditto for the Deer

I then recalled that several gardeners have reported good luck with using dryer cloths to drive deer away from tender young plants. Since my garden is regularly ravaged by our local herd of deer, I decided to plant out some dryer sheets along with my strawberries. Deer love strawberries and in the past, I have experimented with many ways to keep deer out of my berry beds.

One of the more successful techniques I’ve used is to buy big bargain-sized packets of skinny bamboo kebab skewers and poke them thickly, pointy side up, in amongst the berries. This time I decided to amplify that by threading some of the stinking dryer clothes on the skewers. In the past, my strawberries were sheared regularly by the deer, but so far, none of my tender new strawberry plants have been pillaged. Success? We’ll see….

Here’s To The Lovely Strawberries

Again this year I am planting all our food crops in big tree tubs on my South-facing deck, where the deer have not yet ventured. My strawberry bed is in the garden proper, but for backup, I’m growing a few dozen plants in tubs as well. I especially love the little Alpine strawberries that grow wild all over Northern Italy and Switzerland. Though tiny, each fragrant mouthful offers a burst of intensely delicious flavor.

I’m trying a new-to-me everbearing variety called Rugen Improved Alpine which boasts inch-long fruit. That doesn’t sound so big, but my old Alpines’ fruit was about half that size. It took forever to pick enough fruit for the family so most ended up on my breakfast cereal (unless I ate them all while weeding).

I’m also growing Golden Alexandria Alpine, with vivid chartreuse foliage that makes a pretty accent against dusky foliage (mine are partnered with red leafed lettuces). This one has ruby red, round little fruits like bright buttons with an especially sweet flavor. Serve these little treats with thick, Greek yogurt with a little honey and some chopped lemon balm or fresh mint for a refreshing dessert.

Invite In The Bees

Native to open meadows, Alpine strawberries appreciate a sunny spot with at least six hours of direct light each day. Because pollination can be an issue, I planted my Alpines between clumps of sweet alyssum and fragrant herbs that are frequently visited by bees. I’ve got lavender, chives, thyme, and rosemary in many places throughout the garden so with any luck, I should get good fruitset.

Many people plant Alpines along their garden paths, but in my experience, they are more productive when given a little plot of their own. Alpines like good, rich garden soil blended with compost, and I usually top dress with composted dairy manure as well. It’s easy to over-feed with commercial fertilizers, resulting in lots of saw-toothed foliage and very little fruit. Instead, I give them some liquid kelp in the spring and again in early summer and renew their compost after harvesting the berries.

This entry was posted in Garden Prep, Growing Berry Crops, Pets & Pests In The Garden, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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