mice and rats eating tomatoes

david837February 20, 2007

i have had a seious problem with rats and mice chewing up my almost ripe tomatoes in the past few years. i know that it is rats and mice because i have seen them take off , and their dropping have been all over the leaves below, and i have killed them in traps. i wanted to know if there is a natural deterent , plant , scent , anything that i can do to fend these guys off my tomatoes. they did not bother any of my cherry tomatoes , just the large heirlooms that were either ripe or pretty close to being ripe. i use rebar cages and they can pretty much travel the whole plant easy.


david e.

va. bch. va.

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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

David, I have had the same problem. My garden is in a rural area, so the mice can get really destructive if allowed to do so; voles will even nest under some of my paste tomatoes.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a deterrent that works on mice. I garden on a friend's land, and their dogs mark the garden perimeter - to no avail. My garden is quite large, and I plan my garden such that there is little bare ground... so the little pests have plenty of places to hide.

I use a lot of mouse traps & a few rat traps, with locations marked by survey flags (which I also use to mark blossoms for hand pollinating). If I find damage in one area, I concentrate more traps there until I catch the culprit(s). This method is mostly effective... but in early Fall (when the late tomatoes are in full fruit) I usually get overrun, and can't catch them all fast enough.

Mice are not the only problem, either.

Once the vegetation in the garden becomes dense, rabbits usually move in to raise a brood. In years past, I found a trick that seemed to help; when I weed, I never pull clover. After a few years of letting them seed, I started getting a pretty good stand. Initially, I did this to improve the soil in the pathways. Well, it turns out that the rabbits would rather eat the clover than most vegetables! That is, until I began growing soybeans... at which point the bunnies stopped being cute, and became destructive.

Soybeans & bunnies don't mix; if you don't get rid of the rabbit, the rabbit will get rid of your soybeans... and I mean _completely_. Voles can take their toll on soybeans (and peas) as well, once the pods begin to fill. This is especially troublesome if you are saving seed, when the voles will strip entire plants of their pods... so as the pods begin to fatten, I place more traps around them. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for the mice) they prefer dried apricots to most vegetables.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 12:29AM
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thanks for the reply . i also talked to a garden supply company/nursery and they said the same thing , use the traps and poison away from the edible crops. i hate putting poison out though. i think they come from my crawl space or very large oak trees in the vicinity.

thanks and good luck

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 3:37PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

David, I tried poison only twice in my lifetime, many years ago, before going organic. Once was against gophers, when I lived in SoCal - which was highly effective.

But the other time (also in SoCal) was against a particularly tenacious colony of ground squirrels. After placing bait in their burrows, I arrived at my garden the next day to find a dozen or so dead squirrels littering the ground. There were hawks nesting nearby, so I had to hurriedly collect & bury the dead. This took some time, but fortunately, the hawks were not yet active. It was a sobering experience, and I never used poison again.

As further evidence, I recently noticed a hawk observing me from his perch atop a building, as I was gardening. I had just cleaned my traps, and had a few dead mice. Normally I just bury them where I have open ground, but I wanted to see whether hawks would attack a dead animal... so I walked outside the garden, laid a mouse in the grass, and returned to the garden.

I wasn't sure that the hawk was watching; but it did, indeed, see the dead mouse. After watching it for awhile, the hawk took flight & hovered over it, then returned to its perch. It seemed to have trouble deciding what to do. But then, after a few more minutes of watching, it suddenly swooped down & flew off with the dead mouse.

So to make a long story short, I feel that the use of poison (regardless of its location) poses too great a risk to predators, which may receive second-hand poisoning by consuming the dead or dying rodents.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 12:48AM
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First, my disclaimer: I do not farm or garden for a living, but as a hobby. If I depended on my crops, my thinking probably would be different.

With that said, the use of poisons, especially with predators actively working an area, is a terrible thing to unleash. You can never find all the bodies of the vermin you are trying to kill, and it is a very painful way to go. I know, some would say they deserve no better, but my parents employed poisons once a long time ago in their house and garden, and it was absolutely awful. Imagine your insides turning into jelly. If you're going to kill something, kill it outright. Even a housefly gets a quick end with a swatter, a mosquito dies instantly with a slap of the hand.
There are alternatives, probably the cheapest is to borrow a few good hunter cats. Yes, you may have some poop to contend with, maybe some battle damaged plants, but they will do the job. A couple of small terriers are hell on wheels when it comes to rodents, too, and not big enough to cause serious garden damage. If you keep your growing area chemical-free, a few indigenous snakes will do the job nicely, as well.
Consider chipmunks. Yes, they are rodents too, but not so vermin-y, and they are quite territorial. Where there are chipmunks, no rat or mouse, or rabbit is welcome.
Hire a gunner. While the rats and mice will be refused, many hunters will gladly keep any rabbits they get. Leave the carcasses where they drop - rats are intelligent enough to figure out your garden is a killing zone fast enough.
Your quick kill snap-traps are good. Bait them with sweet tasting items, even peanut butter. Make them more attractive than your plants, to capitalize on the lure. Be sure to move the traps around, and even set up the next locations, away from your prized plants, by placing the lure food before there is a trap to begin with. Salt is an excellant lure to just about any mammal. Sometimes varmits bite ripe fruit more so for the water, not the food itself. Place a easy-access water dish at your next intended trap spot.

There are other things to try. In my area, it is rabbits, squirrels and white-tail deer that are that are chief amoung thieves. Since we are in city limits, guns are not an option.
Barriers are the most expensive to employ. With rabbits, you have to sink the edge of the fencing in at least 2 feet to deter them from digging under it. Chain link or chicken wire is best. Wood is the least effective on chewers. I would imagine with rats and mice, you'd need a tight-weave metal mesh, also sunk in, but the trouble with these rodents is they can climb quite well.
Other organic methods have their drawbacks, mostly they length of time they are effective. Pepper-based powders are really good, but they need to be replaced after a rain, or every 3 weeks as the dew and dampness of the earth renders them useless. There are ready-made products out there, but if you read the ingredient lists, you can mix up your own quite cheaply. While human hair, soaps hung around the perimeter of the garden may work for rabbits (and human male urine), I doubt these would scare a rat or mouse. But one can buy fox or wolf urine easily enough these days.

I hope something of what I wrote is helpful. I used to frown upon killing any animal, saying I took their chunk of land in the first place and they have a right to live just as much as I do. I still feel that way, more so for creatures that were here before us, not imported pests like rats. Then one summer my yard was invaded by groundhogs, which I was willing to put up with, until they got territorial, standing and baring their teeth at me. I had two young children at the time, and could not risk their safety (funny how our ideals change when our babies' safety is concerned!). We live-trapped them. In hindsight, it might have been better to death-trap them, because dumping them out in a rural area is a death certificate for the animal, and a pain in the backside for anyone living in that rural area.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2007 at 12:53PM
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bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

OK, this will sound weird, but you might want to try it. I grew a bunch of tomatoes in California and had one volunteer yellow pear tomato come up about 15-20 feet from the rest. The roof rats loved that yellow pear (in fact, some odd occurances had me wondering about the rats of NIHM). They stole every ripe tomato off that plant before I could get to them. I'd watch, thinking "tomorrow, that one will be perfect" only to find it gone in the morning. The interesting thing was they never touched my other tomatoes. Maybe you could plant a bunch of yellow pear tomatoes closer to the rat source (barn, wood pile, shed, etc) to keep them from your tomatoes. It might work best if you also tried some deterent ideas around your tomatoes - blood meal, etc.

I have no idea if it will really work, but I thought I'd pass it along.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2007 at 1:28PM
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Hi - reviving this thread. I have an almost-organic urban kitchen garden and I'm watching in horror as rodents eat my barely ripened gorgeous heirloom tomatoes.

I have a cat that was - yes - rat poisoned (the blood thinner/cumadin type) (he recovered but it was a big vet bill and heartbreaking) so I don't let him out at night and have some reluctance about bringing other cats in - but I will say this is the first year I've had a rats-in-the-garden issue. Cats rule.

I've read that used kitty litter might work - but what about the results to the soil and the pregnant-woman issue (I don't think any pregnant women will be eating my tomatoes - but still). I've also read peppermint oil.

Had anyone found anything that works over the last 2 years? The impacted tomatoes are near my porch in large containers - I have other tomato plants - so far so good, but I fear its a matter of time.

Thanks for your help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Flickr garden photos - 2010

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 8:04AM
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melon_grower(ZONE 10)

I planted a lot of tomato plants, almost 100 plants and I have not noticed any tomatoes as half eaten. Last year either squirrels or rats or birds have decimated my tomato patch. Not this year. I have to many tomatoes and have to give away. The solution is to plan a lot of plants.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 8:48PM
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I just want to report that the ziploc bag suggestion worked for me. thanks! (I also carefully mowed and weeded and - brace yourself - applied used cat litter at the base of the plants). Haven't had a problem since the ziplocs.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 10:59AM
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beachartist(coastal so cal)

Rats and mice don't like mint. They were eating my meyers lemons. I read somewhere that they didn't like mint. I had been ripping out my English Mint because it is pretty invasive, but I let it grow under my lemon tree, and now no problem with rats anymore. I think this might work for tomatoes, because I have four sprawling all over the place, and even the one that is not trellised is not getting eaten. Except the birds are eating some of the millons of cherries.
Sometimes a whole flock of birds goes in there. I think they are eating bugs too, because there aren't enough damaged tomatoes to equal the scores of birds that seen to love going in there. I have started harvesting to beat them, picking the cherries a day before I might normally, but they are still super sweet and flavorful.

Here is a link that might be useful: A Hunting Dog in Suburbia

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 3:14AM
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The yellow pear tomatoes haven't deterred the rats in my garden. If fact, that is the only tomato plant they haven't even touched. My 40 heirloom tomato plants were 6ft tall, green and gorgeous. I did a great job of killing the rooms and keeping pests away until they started ripening. Now I can't stop them from eating all my tomatoes. I made individual cages for all remaining big tomatoes to keep the rats out. The outside light just turned on and I looked out and 3 small tomatoes were gone just like that but the mini caged ones haven't been touched. I have yet to see the rodents actually steal or eat tomatoes...they are quick and work well at night that's for sure. And they steal my cherry tomatoes too but don't like Black Prince tomatoes (which is good cuz they are my favorite). But I have to come up with good game plan for next year because I lost a lot of money this year and realistically can't make mini cages for all my tomatoes. I should post a picture.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 4:05AM
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Hello, my name is Mr. Myzzer. I've done over 30,000 hours of poison and pesticide free rodent control. I have many clients with prize roses, chicken coups, fruit trees, and gardens. The only real way to stop the rodents is by using rodent proof screen to simply circle the plant, or build a screen box to cover it. Go to www.StopthatRat.com for Rodent Proof screen. It's easy to work with and looks good. Sometimes random approaches will seem to work for a while, but screen is the way to do it reliably. Sink your screen 6" into the ground. Hope this helps.

Here is a link that might be useful: Myzzer Rodent Exclusion

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 7:10AM
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trap ideas

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY traps

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 6:31PM
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I have rats in my garden they have been eating my tomatoes and now I see teeth marks on my Zuccini. We put traps out with peanut butter and they seem to eat it without setting the trap off. It is near the end of summer growing season here in Oregon. My concern is it still ok to eat my tomatoes and squash that have not been chewed on. I'm worried about the rat droppings and their urine on the veggies as I can smell where they have been.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 10:44AM
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I want to grow tomatoes again this year; last year, rats & possums started eating them. I've heard about using coyote urine, but does anyone know if human urine will work too? I am at the point that I'm willing to try anything to get these things out of my tomatoes. What about sprinkling cayenne pepper around the plants or spraying hot sauce on the tomatoes? Hair clippings? I would think if I wash the tomatoes, it wouldn't matter if I spray that on them.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 3:49AM
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