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And You Think You've Got Trouble! 

Double trouble on four legs: the Bushy-tailed packrat.

Cheeky lil pack rats - JIM ANDERSON
  • Jim Anderson
  • Cheeky lil pack rats

hose who try to grow their own vittles know that in Central Oregon—especially in the juniper and sagebrush country —it's tough to grow veggies outdoors. Corn is almost impossible, fruit trees often bloom beautifully in spring, only to be frozen out on frosty nighty (like my crab apples!)

Out on Jones Road in Bend, when I lived at the old Jones House on the Hollinshead place, there was once a fruit tree farm with every fruit tree that would grow in Oregon. Mr. Jones purchased the property, once a huge turkey farm, and planted the trees. Then he waited for them to grow up, bear fruit and make him a millionaire. What he didn't know was the area he chose, on the north side of Pilot Butte, was a micro climate that froze frequently at night all spring.

When the trees finally matured and started budding, I'm sure Mr. Jones celebrated and rubbed his hands together, waiting for apples, peaches, apricots and pears to choke on. But they didn't; they literally froze on the vine/trees. I was told Mr. Jones committed suicide because of that horrible personal disaster.

To circumvent this common problem of springtime frost, my son Caleb built Sue and me a very beautiful greenhouse out of sandbags, lumber and greenhouse Solexx, facing the sun. For several years we've enjoyed tomatoes, squash, peppers and cucumbers with only the pestiferous aphids to battle. By using clever placement of blankets and a space heater, we can keep the greenhouse going into December and January most winters.


h, those little mouth-watering Sungold tomatoes, the huge deee-licious beefsteaks and about six other good-to-perfect tomatoes Sue raised.

That's the way it went, year after year...until this year. Then something moved into our greenhouse that just loved to commit mayhem! It didn't eat hardly anything; it just went on night after night destroying tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and our milkweed starts.

Every morning we'd go out and find another tomato plant chewed off at the surface, lovely, green and healthy pepper plant leaves lying about, and felled milkweed.

I'm usually at peace with Mother Nature (all except her big, slobbering mule deer that hop over Sue's 7-foot fence to eat her beautiful strawberry plants...) and now this "creature" who moved into our greenhouse, bent on destroying everything.

Curious fellow ain't you?
  • Curious fellow ain't you?

It wasn't mice. I tried my small Victor snap traps on them and came up with nothing. (Using peanut butter as bait, they never fail.) It wasn't gophers; we looked for their sign in all the raised beds and not a piece of soil was moved there. By the size and shape of the droppings left behind I suspected a packrat.

Now, good people, I DO NOT like to kill anything, but I do snap/trap mice. The Hopi People have a saying that I firmly agree with: "Never allow a mouse to live in your house, they will steal the breath of your children." That's one of the symptoms of the Hantavirus, and no one wants that in their house!

Besides, the dead mice are going to a good cause. Marley, the Great Horned Owl that educational bird raptor rehabber Gary Landers watches over, loves fresh-caught house mice.

The various chipmunks around my place are all harmless and have never moved into the greenhouse, so they're left alone. The big California ground squirrel and Bushy-tailed packrats have to move on because they—like our Belding's ground squirrel and Golden mantels—are known carriers of the bubonic plague.


y gut feeling was that we had a packrat coming into the greenhouse, but not knowing much about their preferences for food, I wasn't too sure. However, Sue has a lot of money and TLC wrapped up in our greenhouse plants, and the infernal killing was going on every night. Sooo. ...

I put out the big Victor rat traps and started with peanut butter bait. That didn't work so I went to baiting with organic wheat chips, then to good old Lay's potato chips and finally to cheeses of all kinds. Nothing I set out was the right bait..until...I just happened to use a boiled leftover Brussels sprout garnished with butter. That was it!

The beast swiped it from one of of my live traps. "Ah, ha," says I, and moved the smaller live trap into the cupboard and placed a delicious butter-soaked (just the way I like 'em) Brussels sprout on top of the treadle.

"Jim!" Sue announced the next morning. "We got him!" When she brought in the live trap, there was that beautiful whisker-twitching, Bushy-tailed packrat with tomato juice on his breath.

It's still alive as far as I know. I took it far from any structures to one of the Bureau of Land Management's wildlife corridors and turned it loose. If it can find its way back it will take a long time, and I''ll know who it is by the dab of red marker ink I put on his tail.

So, if you suddenly have a packrat turn up with a dab of red on its tail, boil up a few Brussels sprouts, lay some butter on 'em and call me. I'll loan you my live trap, and share a few of my fresh batches of Sungold tomatoes.

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