Of Mice (and more) and Men

Originally appeared in VioletsFun Photo Journal, issue no. 4 (1999)

One of the attractions of growing house plants is that it allows us the keep a little piece of nature in our homes, to bring inside a little bit of the “outside”.  For anyone who has grown plants long enough, this has meant dealing with any number of pests, disease, and other plagues common to the hobby.  We’ve had them all or, at least, most of them.  Grow enough plants, for a long enough time, and you will too.  If you’ve been lucky enough to avid all of these problems, money spent on violets would have been better spent on lottery tickets.

Living in a century-old barn has also meant dealing with seasonal swarms of bees, “stink bugs”, ants, lady bugs (and other beetles), and “cluster” flies, to name just a few.  As we say around here, “if it’s a lady bug, it must be October!”.  Fortunately (or not) few of these have any interest in the plants and spend most of their time in the living area–the price we pay for living the good “country life”.

Growing the plants in the barn (or the attached greenhouse), also means dealing with the little creatures with fewer than six, eight (or a dozen or more) legs.  At the moment, this means rodents–mice, chipmunks, and squirrels.  All quite adorable when seen outside on the lawn or in the woods.  We’d even be willing to peacefully coexist with little furry friends–“we’ll leave you alone, if you leave us alone”.  Having two cats in the house lets us sleep in peace (except when they’re running across the bedroom roof), but does little to protect the plants.

Every day during the winter, it seems, the same scene is played out.  We wake up, go down to the plant room, and look over the night’s damage.  Shelves of plants with all of their blossoms very neatly picke-off.  Dozens of little green “toothpicks”–the bare blossom stems of a tray of young streptocarpus trying to bloom for the first time.  Next, the searching for evidence of what might have done the deed–a mouse, a chimpmunk, what?  Whatever, you had to be impressed.  Dozens of flowers carefully removed from plants, without a single leaf broken or pot turned over–they do have good table manners.  After this comes the brainstorming over what to do to catch the perpetrators of the crime.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve tried it all, non with great success.  Last year, their favorite meal seemed to be one particular shelf of strep seedlings.  After catching a few mice and still finding blooms missing each morning, we decided to enclose the shelf in a wire cage.  This worked, but now they’ve moved on to entrees in other areas of the shop and greenhouse.  This makes it all the more frustrating, knowing that we, as the most evolved form of life on the planet, are being outsmarted by those with walnut-sized brains.

Living “life in the country” means learning to live with all of nature’s creatures.  it is easy to forget that they are not guests in our home, we are guests in theirs.

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