Saturday, June 2, 2012

Attack of the Rats

Over the last few weeks I have lost dozens of tomatoes to fruit rats. I would estimate that I had to throw out about half of this Spring's tomato harvest due to caterpillars and rats.

The rats went after the tomatoes closest to the ground.

Even green tomatoes were eaten.

When I saw this type of bite I thought at first that I was dealing with rabbits.
 The most difficult part of this battle was identifying what was eating my tomatoes in the first place.
 At first I suspected rabbits because we do regularly see rabbits around the garden and it looked like little rabbit teeth marks on some of the green tomatoes. So I put up a new garden fence around the whole garden. I had taken down the garden fence I had last year because it did seem to be accomplishing much, and it just made it more difficult to work around the garden. However, I never actually saw a rabbit eating a single tomato, and I continued to lose tomatoes even with the fence up.

I thought the garden fence looked nice. But it obviously will not keep out rats. In fact, it does not keep out rabbits either. I have seen rabbits nibbling on the grass growing inside the fence. I think the only real value of a fence like this would be to keep out stray dogs.

The rats seemed to like to chew on both the red and green tomatoes.
 Since the garden fence was not working and I was still losing tomatoes every single day, I used some left over rabbit guard fencing to wrap around just the tomato plants themselves to see if that would keep out rabbits. I did not know at this point that I was dealing with rats.

The rabbit guard obviously did not slow down the rats.
In fact I think the rats were laughing at me when they saw me put up all the wide gauge fencing.
Between the caterpillars and rats I was not having a very good month!
 At this point I suspected birds because we also have tons of birds around the garden. I have heard that some birds will attack tomatoes just to get the water out of them. Since it has been a dry Spring this made sense, so I put some containers of water around the garden. However, the water containers did not make any difference except to possibly grow more mosquitoes. I also harvested many tomatoes before they were fully ripe to try to save them, but I would lose green tomatoes as well. I was thinking at this point it might be some rodent but I did not see any rodents at that time. I also created a barrier of Repels-All around the garden, but this did absolutely nothing for me.

Fortunately, I was able to return this for a refund because it did absolutely nothing for my rat problem.

I was now losing about five or six tomatoes a day at the height of my tomato season, so I was desperate for a solution. I ended up getting some chicken wire and wrapping it around the raised beds that had the greatest tomato damage. This really slowed down the damage and at first I thought I had the problem fixed. But then a couple of days later I started losing tomatoes again. I had left the top of the chicken wire loose to discourage rodents from crawling over the top, and the bottom I had folded over and brought tightly all the way down to the ground. I saw no signs of digging under the the wire.

A quick job of trying to protect my tomatoes from rodents.

Tomatoes still being eaten, even inside of chicken wire enclosure.

 Still not sure what was causing the damage, I placed a plastic owl in the garden and I also strung some "scare tape" around thinking the damage could still be caused by birds.

But finally. . .  I spotted a rat. I hid behind a tree and was very still for several minutes late one evening, and I was able to watch a rat squeeze itself under the chicken wire, scale the raised beds, climb up a tomato vine, and start munching away.

At least I finally knew exactly what the problem was!

The night after finally spying the rat, I placed a $5 reusable rat trap at the base of one of the rat's favorite tomato plants. The next morning I had trapped my first rat. The tomato damage really slowed down at that point, but I have caught two three more rats over the last several days. I have also taken down the garden fence and the chicken wire, which made the garden much easier to work on again.

 Warning: dead fruit rat photos below - not for the squeamish or for for those who love rats.


The garden fence that I left up at the back of the garden actually proved useful.
 It prevented this rat from running into the wood with my trap.

I have no idea how many rats are still in the woods behind my garden. My tomato plants are now approaching the end of their season for this Spring, and I will just keep the one trap I have ready for more rats. The ants tend to eat the bait pretty quickly. But most of the rats I have caught because they step on the trap on their way up the tomato vines--not because they have tried to eat the bait. Next season I am not sure what I will do yet. I may try to just have a few rat traps around the tomato plants at all times. I could build a better chicken wire enclosure for next Fall; however, that is a lot of trouble, so I am hoping several rat traps will do the job. At least at this point I know there are three less tomato-eating fruit rats in my garden.


  1. Thank you for the tips on growing tomatoes.
    What vegetables can you, do you, plant from Nov to May?

    1. I like to plant a lot of lettuce varieties in the winter as the frost if we have one will not harm them. Also snow peas, broccoli, and cabbage are doing well this winter.