Category Archives: rats

Reluctant Landlord

Ha ha!

What is this? It’s a shot I didn’t mean to take in my work storage. You know there’s this thing my camera does of taking a photo if I touch the screen? I often forget that exists, and so we get great fuzzy shots like this one…

What am I doing? It’s a sad story. I have rats in my shop storage area. I have way too many little nooks and corners and stacks of work and boxes of paint and jugs of brushes. Bottles of solutions and glazing and painting medium…and then there are the books.

So it’s like the perfect protected abode of rats. Apartments, rent free. No predators. Maybe a draft or two, but all a rat needs to do is chew up a little canvas or some of those handy books and make a nest. I don’t know how familiar you may or may not be with rats, but the fellows who live here in Southern California and inhabit places like my studio are not the invasive European breeds, but a local, Neotoma macrotis, the big-eared woodrat, Trade Rat, Roof Rat, or Pack Rat.

Why, you ask, “Trade Rat“? This is a rat that collects things. She likes bright and shiny, or odd and glittery, unusual items. One time I cleaned out a nest that contained a cheap gold-colored wrist watch, a handful of plastic beads, some pebbles and over forty clear plastic headed push pins. Made me wince to think about how the rat must have carried them in her mouth with faithful fascination for this delightful new gem. I’ve heard stories about how a Trade Rat will drop one desirable item for another, like a shopper running out of hands. This has led to people feeling that the rat is trying to trade one thing for another– and you should hear the Gold Rush tales of Trade Rats who left gold nuggets in exchange for some trinket or even a coin.

He’s handsome, personable, diurnal when it suits his plans, vegetarian– in fact frugivorous. You think of a rat as a heavy headed, mean-eyed sneak, but our Trade Rat is often light brown or deep blonde with soft thick fur, often has some fur on his long tail, possesses huge meltingly dark eyes and big ears. This makes him look like a magnified slightly plump mouse, rather than a rat. Plus he’s curious. See below for a fast sketch:



So I have a fondness for this creature, but it doesn’t extend to what she does to my garden. Oranges, feijoas, apples, persimmons, kumquats, even oh horrors, my beloved tomatoes– Neotoma eats them all. You who have followed this blog over the years, will have seen my posts on how these rats have decimated my Concord grapes and all my peculiar efforts to keep their depredations in check.

As for the storage– well, I have torn everything out of place, disinfected and deodorized (I swear by SCOE 10X as a deodorant of real use that truly disassembles these odors,) washed, dried out and washed and dried again, and established a factory grade electronic squealer on a timer that makes the air hideous in the room from about nine thirty PM to six AM. I also tossed a huge number of items, because, alas, Neotoma¬†cements his nest with feces and urine. You may ask, did I seal up all points of ingress, and to that my answer is are you kidding? This place used to be a greenhouse before it got moved to be part of our house in years long before our residence here, and there are more entries than exits…! At the end of these ten days of labor, I have a refreshed storage– almost a new room. Not only that but I set to and photographed every painting with its master RMG number to enter images in my computer files. I already keep an Excel file of all the paintings I deem worthy to be in my permanent records. Now I have the numbers properly tied to images.

In good time I shall report on that squealer to you all, and let you know if I think it works. But now it’s time to make paintings. I have a one-woman show coming up in March under my painting name of Robin Gowen, at Sullivan Goss in downtown Santa Barbara. See you there?









Filed under natural history, painting, rats

Last Comment on All For Pie

concord grapes in box

I must share with you the final tally in our effort to save our concord grapes from the rats. We put up eighteen pies’ worth of concord grapes in the freezer– this is seventy two cups after stemming. So yes, it was worth the labor and the invention of rat proofs!

Grape Pie

Oven 400 F

9″ unbaked pie shell


3/4 c flour

1/2 c sugar

cut in 1/3 c butter until crumbly

Filling: Combine these three ingredients thoroughly.

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

dash of salt


1 Tb lemon juice or more

1 Tb melted butter

4 cups concord-type grapes

Slip the skins from the grapes and put the sugar combination with the skins in a bowl. Simmer the grape innards until very soft, soft enough to easily press through a sieve to remove the seeds. I have tried other methods but none work as well as this one. Mix the now seedless grape pulp with the other filling ingredients including the melted butter and lemon juice. Pour into the pie crust and scatter the crumbly topping over the top before baking for 40 to 50 minutes. Best served at room temperature, not hot.

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Filed under blog, food, food processing, gardening, pests, rats, Uncategorized

All For Pie!

Grape pie and Porthos teapot

I am done with these rats. Traps do not suffice, poison feels unethical and gives a horrible death, the tricks of radios and deterrents are fantasies. Plus, I refuse to have an outdoors cat because of traffic, coyotes, parasites, and the mass slaughter of birds and my delightful lizards. But these rats are eating my Concord grapes– even before they ripen….

Of course I must backtrack and say that if you have been reading this blog for recipes, you will have seen my post about the wonders of Concord grape pie, complete with instructions. We love that pie. Consider therefore, our dismay this spring when I reached for two of my frozen Concord grape pie fillings and could only find one bag. I could have sworn I had at least another couple stashed in the big chest freezer. Our dismay inspired a defrost– it was time anyway, but still after a complete clean-out, only one little pie’s worth of grape filling remained in hand.

So these are desperate times, and despite our drought I have had it in mind that this year’s harvest of Concords will be carefully husbanded for future grape pies.

Now, enter the rats. No not the ones you are thinking of, these are our lovely little Neotoma fuscipes, the dusky footed woodrat. also known as the Trade Rat, Roof Rat, or Pack rat. A charming elegant creature fond of climbing in trees, indeed, with some habits that might make you think of tree squirrels. This is the fellow who is known for filching treasures from campers and, in the old days prospectors and miners, leaving treasures in apparent exchange. (Thus ‘trade’ rat.) They have a fondness for bright, shiny, or odd things– in fact I may have already mentioned that I found a nest in my studio that contained many pink, white and blue plastic beads, a cheap wristwatch, a number of nuts and pebbles, plus forty three (yes, I counted them,) clear-head plastic push pins. The mere idea of the rat carrying these in his or her mouth makes my lips hurt.

But the bad news is that Neotoma likes fruit. Thus I have the little fellows gracefully scampering through my orange trees and hollowing out the sweetest fruit, and they even eat my tomatoes. No gardener is going to take that without a struggle. The tomatoes put me into the red zone, so to speak, and I started trapping. But Nature is infinite and hates a vacuum, so you can trap rats all you like, yet in a drought year the sources for new ones are infinite.

I bring you to the morning I step out, brimming steaming coffee cup in hand, to see the tell-tale signs of knocked-down grapes on my side patio by the kitchen garden.

Rage. Council of war with my spouse who is possibly even more fond of grape pie than I … maybe. Possibly not.


If you cannot take out the enemy, take away access. Cheap plastic food containers, drilled to accommodate the stem,

snipping the box

cut so that you can open and slide the stem in,


setting the box 1


setting the box

then cap with the tight fitting lid.

lidding the box

Try not to have these hang too much in the sun because you don’t want pre-cooked grapes.

final image


Triumph. A solution for the pie hungry family!



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Filed under blog, food, food processing, gardening, pests, rats, recipies