Urban Farming


It’s been a busy few months for the Urban Farmer and Co-habitator. They’ve been hit by pests: first a slug invasion in the storage room, then mildewed Thermarests in the bedroom, then rats.  Some roof rats decided it was fine and dandy to hole up in the attic crawl space. So not true. The Urban Farmer and Co-hab were lucky, in a way. They  found them early, before they became entrenched. At least that’s what they thought. Now, after bagging four, they wonder.

The Urban Farmer did not trouble herself too much about the micro ants marching through the kitchen, along the counters, walls, and floors, and parading across the dish towel. Nor did she get excited when they breached the screw-top lid on the peanut butter jar she had re-purposed to hold sugar. She admired their industriousness. They didn’t freak her out. She considered them friendly creatures. Two measured end to end would be about the length of one Basmati brown rice grain. One or two baked into a raisin oatmeal cookie? Bonus protein.

She engaged in occasional kill battles with the fruit flies that impudently rose from the compost container. Her annoyance wasn’t enough to employ her sister P’s technique of setting the compost in the freezer. So far as she knew, fruit flies did not carry disease. So why get excited?

But the slug inching across the storage room, the place where she kept flour, oats, and other foodstuffs? That bugged her. Slugs left slimy trails. They ate decaying things. They were part of the death cycle.

This particular slug didn’t even have the decency to be pint-sized. It was three inches long, a sluggy brown-green, brazenly inching across the gun metal gray concrete floor.  It wasn’t even trying to hide. She tweezered it up with a scrap of paper and flung it out the back door.

Now for the truth. The Urban Farmer spotted glistening slug residue on the soy milk boxes and basement shoe rack months earlier. But she ignored the suspicious slug trails. Co-hab sighted a slug over by the green Schrank where lightbulbs, Xmas decorations, jam jars, house paint, picture wire, etc. were kept a month before. Two weeks later, the Urban Farmer spotted a slug midway between Schrank and washing machine. They hadn’t bothered their pretty heads about those slugs. But the storage room slug had crossed the line. The Urban Farmer and Co-hab were going to deal with him.

The following day Co-hab and the Urban Farmer nixed their urban walk to the Harvard Exit and began operation clean. They removed every last thing from the storage room. Then they vacuumed—floors, walls, ceiling, around the windows—and TSPed. The Urban Farmer went over the dampened plasterboard walls with a hair dryer and dialed the knob on the wall-mounted space heater to high. Mildew and mold were getting the boot. (Before she had considered the heater a pointless taker-upper of space. More than once she had tried to wrench it off the wall. Now she understood the previous owner’s motivation for installing it. She had been anticipating the Urban Farmer and Co-hab’s future slug problem.)

The Urban Farmer didn’t stop with cleaning. She culled. Former treasures and can’t get rid ofs went into the get rid of pile. Her collection of German novels went—good-bye Gunther Wallrauf’s Ganz Unten, good-bye Damals War Es Friedrich, good-by Dumm und Dick. Her collection of children’s sewing patterns (the bulk of which she had inherited from one of P’s downsizings) went. Good-bye pattern for fleece patchwork jumper, good-bye bear costume pattern, good-bye cute-as-a-button children’s coat and hat set.

Ahhh. More room in storage room. Fewer items to succumb to mildew and mustiness. (Sadly, the German books and children’s patterns had succumbed.) Fewer slug hiding places. Oh, the lightness of Being!

The storage room was refreshed, freshly organized, and slug-free. The Urban Farmer and Co-hab slept soundly.
Or mostly soundly. The Urban Farmer awoke in the wee hours with stuffed and clogged nasal passages. This had been going on for weeks. Was it dust? Mold around the window sills?

Thursday night she saw it. Black spots on the Thermarests. Mildew. A foot from her pillow. She’d been sleeping less than a pillow’s length away from a mildew metropolis. For weeks mildew spores had been multiplying, ambushing her breathing passages, triggering copious nasal passage-blocking mucous. Yuck!

The next morning she read up on mildew counter attacks. She carried the mildewed Thermas to the back yard. From her googling, she’d learned that mildew was best dealt with outdoors. Elsewise, the spores could find their way to other vulnerable surfaces and resume colonizing. She brushed at the Thermas’ mildewed areas, dabbed them with bleach, and hung them on the clothes line. The day was sunny and she’d learned that sunlight was nature’s mildew killer.

For good measure, she Murphy oil soaped the dining room floor. In the p.m. she made pies for the next afternoon’s bridge party.

The bridge party was boisterous. Three near-raucous tables. Usually their games were more sedate. Saturday evening, the Urban Farmer and Co-hab returned from an evening out (more bridge). A plastic, twig-looking thingy lay just over the threshold. Also, a trio of dust bunnies on the kitchen floor needed examining. The Urban Farmer stepped kitchenward.  Neither plastic twig-looking thing nor bunnies had been there before. Their bridge guests wouldn’t have left so much as a Kleenex on the floor. They deposited cheese wrappers, Kleenex, and pop cans in the proper receptacles.

Co-hab called to her from the entry way. “A rat is lurching up the stairs.”

“What?” The Urban Farmer wondered where to look first. Kitchen dust bunnies? Suspicious plastic twig? Was Co-hab joshing her? It was not his habit to rile her, but there was a first time for everything.

She spun on her heel. One look at Co-hab told her he wasn’t kidding.

The Urban Farmer threw up her hands. “I can’t take any more,” she cried.

Co-hab drove to Freddie’s for traps. The Urban Farmer stood watch in the entry way, armed with a tennis racket and all parkaed-up to ward off the chill, ready to whap. She mused on Co-hab’s remark about rattie’s difficulties going up the stairs. Could it be injured? She supposed uncarpeted stairs were not the easiest for a rat to navigate. Nothing for its nails to grab hold of.

On a separate track, the rat scene from Willard played in her head. The one where Willard follows the squeaky sounds through the deserted house into the rat room. Not an inch of floor space. A thick carpet of squeaking, mewing, whining rats.

Co-hab returned with two Victor rat snap traps and one Tomcat “rat house.” Rattie enters the plastic rat house box, tunnels  to the poison, partakes, then gets stuck inside and the poison does him in. Or so imagined the Urban Farmer. Later she would be clued in otherwise.

The Urban Farmer partook of Youtube vids to freshen her rat trapping skills. Use peanut butter, bacon, cheese, said the vids. Keep the bait gob small. Go for a smear. Rats will make off with the gob. Just a smear on the pedal makes rattie work to lick it off. Then, bang!, all that lingual pressure snaps the trap. Lastly, hands off the bait. Rattie’s olfactories are keen. He smells human and knows something’s up.

Follow the turds.
They climbed the stairs. Co-hab carried the traps; The Urban Farmer followed with the tennis racket. Co-hab stopped at the landing; the Urban Farmer crowded in behind: a blackish, cylindrical shape, ½ an inch long, close by their bedroom door.

“Rat turd,” they exclaimed.

Co-hab muscled through the door. “We’re coming in,” he shouted.

A cluster of droppings near the window. Co-hab charged into the bathroom for tissues; the Urban Farmer rounded behind the bed, still pulled out from the wall since Thursday’s mildew problem. A crescent of droppings fronted the attic crawl space door; a good three-quarter inch gap between crawl space door and floor. The awful truth confirmed. Rats. Their attic crawl space was harboring rats.

“Should we go to a hotel?” Co-hab asked.

The Urban Farmer steeled herself. No. Checking into a Best Western was tempting, but not the answer. They needed to stand their ground. No rodent was going to scare them from their home.

They set the traps outside the crawl space and crawled into bed, assuring each other that their houseguest had bedded down, too. If not, his last meal was awaiting him outside the crawl space door.

The next morning Co-hab was all for calling the professionals. The Urban Farmer argued for diy. In the end they agreed to try diy. If that didn’t work, they would call in the professionals.

While Co-hab made pancakes, the Urban Farmer solicited advice from past rat war veterans. The vets advised baiting with a peanut butter gob, not a smear. They advocated winding sewing thread around the bait ten times and knotting the ends. Rattie chomps on the pb, but his teeth get stuck in the thread. He struggles to free himself and—whap!—down comes the kill bar.

Another vet advised mixing grass seed with the peanut butter. “Rats love grass seed,” the rat vet said. “It’s like catnip.”

“Ratnip,” joked the Urban Farmer.

“Yes,” the vet said.

The rat vet explained that trapping solved only one end of the equation. The other end was finding their entry point and stopping it. Probably they had roof rats. Roof rats had long tails which aided them in jumping from tree branch to roof. The rat (or rats) were probably out during the day getting food. They just wanted a place at night to curl up and sleep. They were likely harboring more than one rat. Their attic might be home to mama, papa, and all their babies.

Roof rats meant they would need to check for gaps between the roofline and gutter; where chimney and roof met, and along the flashing. Gulp. Their roof went up awfully high. Their ladder didn’t extend that far.

Fortified with pancakes, coffee, and tea, it was time to look behind the crawl space door. Co-hab pried open the door and shone a flashlight over the area. The Urban Farmer stood ready with the tennis racket.

The crawl space was covered with a pillowy insulation—popcorn-sized fluffy white bits. Just try shoveling that around, trying to find a rat hole.

They spotted rat droppings and a “rat runway” furrowing from eaves to crawl space door.

Fortunately the droppings were by the dozens, not the hundreds or thousands. They hoped that meant rattie hadn’t been living with them for long.

Co-hab tuned into the Seahawks; the Urban Farmer walked over to the rat vet’s house for rat nip.

During a Hawk break, Co-hab climbed the ladder. He found a gap in the flashing, nailed down a couple thicknesses of heavy gauge wire mesh, then sprayed on industrial grade black foam that hardened into an additional rat barrier.

The Urban Farmer baited the snap traps with rat caviar (grass seed + peanut butter), then stranded sewing thread around the rat butter and tied it off.

When baiting, don't forget to thread.

When baiting, don’t forget to thread.

Co-hab lay the snap traps on either end of the rat runway, then lay a make-shift wire fence across the gap below the crawl space door and staple gunned it in place. The Urban Farmer stoppered the space between fence and door with steel wool.

Sealing the gap with steel wool.

Sealing the gap with steel wool.

Later that evening, the Urban Farmer heard scratching coming from the roof. She and Co-hab stormed outside. Co-hab leapt to the railing and shone the flashlight on the roof. Nothing.

Mon. night, they checked the traps. The trap near the crawl space door–ratless. The Tomcat rat house–empty. But the snap trap just opposite the eaves–rat.

Crawl space--post rat capture.

Crawl space–post rat capture.

Co-hab suited up in his rat suit—Wranglers, flannel shirt, Crocs, and green rubber gloves—and ducked into the crawl space.

Co-hab suited up to bag a rat.

Co-hab suited up to bag a rat.

“He’s going in,” the Urban Farmer warned any listening rodents.

Co-hab snatched up the trap and backed out of the space. The Urban Farmer ran to the kitchen for a zippie. She held the bag open wide. Co-hab dropped in rat and trap.

Rat, close up.

Rat, close up.

“No,” The Urban Farmer said. “We can’t throw the trap away. We need to re-use it.”

Co-hab reached in for the trap, released the kill bar, and gave the trap a shake. Rattie dropped into the bag.

Co-hab re-entered the rat zone with a freshly-baited trap. He set it just under the eaves, at the spot where rat numero uno met its Maker.

Tuesday night they caught papa. Papa was longer; its haunches meatier; its head bigger. Its flat black eyes were like bloated watermelon seeds.

Wednesday the Urban Farmer cleaned and cleaned. She Murphy oil soaped the wood floors; Pine-solled the entry way stones and the bathroom linoleum. She tried not to think about rats and rat droppings. She understood how a person could become obsessed with cleaning.

Wednesday night they bagged Junior. Thursday no rat, but one of the traps tripped. Worrisome. Also they learned the Tomcat was a bad idea. They didn’t want an in-house rat house. What happened with rat houses such as the Tomcat was rat enters rat house, munches the poison, then goes off to die elsewhere.  Good luck trying to find his corpse. Meanwhile he stinks up the place bad.

The Urban Farmer was already imagining scenarios where the rodent(s) that tripped the trap die of thirst or hunger instead of in the jaws of the trap. Then the attic space stinks up. Their bedroom stinks up. They have to remove all the pillowy, rat-dropping contaminated insulation in order to find the dead rat(s). Several loads to the dump later, they are yearning for the day when their only worry was de-slugging the basement.


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