DEAR JOAN: I just planted my summer vegetables with fervent hope that this year the rats won't eat my tomatoes just as they ripen. I'm assuming they are rats because when the tomatoes are eaten, they look like they've been literally cut in half by a knife. Birds would peck holes, and any larger animal would knock down the tomato cages.
My gardener suggested I put rat traps with peanut butter in the vegetable garden, but I'm afraid the cat next door or a squirrel would be caught in them. Are the traps a good idea, and if not, what would you suggest?
Lisa Van Valkenburgh
DEAR LISA: Nothing will ruin your day more than going out in the morning to check on those ripening beauties and finding the biggest one half eaten and hanging on the vine.
Your gardener is right about the traps. That is the surest way of getting rid of the rats, but there are things you can do before the tomatoes start ripening.
Take a good look at your yard for places that say "come on in" to the rats. Do you have pet food out? Is your garbage secure? Do you have ivy or other ground cover that provides a safe haven for the rats? Are there places under your deck or in your garage that would allow the rats space to build their nests?
By taking steps now to eliminate rat habitat, you may not have a rat problem by the summer.
As for the traps, get a box, turn it upside down and cut an entrance hole in the side large enough for a rat, but not for a cat or squirrel. Bait the trap and set the box over it. The box should be high enough to allow for the trap to snap shut without hitting it.
I know many people are opposed to killing any animal and I respect that. They recommend using humane traps that capture the animals alive to be released elsewhere. That's not a good idea. You likely are making your problem someone else's, and putting rats out in the wild can cause serious harm to the wildlife living there.
I don't intend on using my column to recommend specific products, but when I saw something posted on Facebook by a friend, garden designer and author Susan Morrison, I thought it was such a great idea I wanted to share.
We all know the important role that bees play in pollinating crops and keeping agriculture alive, and we also know that the bees are becoming threatened by colony collapse and the widespread use of pesticides. So I'm all for doing things that make their lives a little safer.
Bees rely on a good water source to keep spreading pollen and making honey, but oftentimes, the birdbaths and other watering holes are too deep. The bee falls in while drinking and drowns.
One solution is to give the bees a safe landing spot. A company called Glass Gardens NW, based in Mukilteo, Wash., has started producing decorative glass floats specifically for the bees. Barbara Sanderson, a glass blower and artist who is Glass Gardens NW, makes the glass balls with textures and shapes on them to give the bees a secure foothold.
Now, you don't have to buy Sanderson's bee floats. You can figure out your own devices to help out the bees. But if you buy Sanderson's floats, she will donate $3 from the sale of each one to the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees. So it's kind of a twofer. Prices range from $13.95 for the small size to $31.95 for the large. Check them out at www.glassgardensnw.com and learn more about the plight of bees at www.abfnet.org.
Joan Morris' column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.