The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Two thorny homesteading issues

Split firewood"I was wondering whether this feels like it might be a longer winter than normal and if the woodshed was full enough to make it through to the warmer weather of spring? In our two years having a woodstove at our cabin, we are still learning just how much wood we will need to keep us warm during the cold months.

Also - I was curious if you have to deal with mice in the trailer? Our cabin was invaded recently and I was looking for more good ideas to make them less inclined to visit."

--- Karen B.

Two great questions, Karen! As for the wood --- we never seem to have quite enough, but we manage. In order to really get ahead on firewood, we'd need to change our system so that we can stock up on wood during the winter that comes a year before we plan to burn it, since that's a season when our lives are less busy. But since I need to be able to get to last year's firewood during the winter, we instead empty the woodshed out and then fill it back up. In the end, that method means that cutting firewood has to compete with the garden --- I'll bet you can guess which one wins! To make up for our slacker habits, I tend to earmark a standing dead tree or two for spring firewood since the dry wood can often be burned soon after cutting, which generally ekes us through late February, March, and April.

Trapped mice

The mouse issue is more interesting to me because we're finally starting to figure it out. Every fall, the local mouse population does tend to invade our trailer, and even though Huckleberry catches an occasional mouse, he's not our first line of defense. (Our other cat, Strider, is a lover, not a fighter.) We've learned the hard way that it's essential to be hyper vigilant at this time of year --- at the first sound of nibbling in the walls or sight of mouse droppings on the counter, we pull out the traps with a vengeance. Mark talked me into buying this super fancy trap years ago, and it did work for a little while (as you can see above), but then the scent of death built up and the mice started to avoid it. Now, we tend to use cheaper traps, which we can reuse a few times until they lose efficacy and then toss. Our favorite trap is currently one a lot like this.

When trapping mice, you'll want to put the trap where you think a mouse might run. Mice are skittish little varmints, so they're unlikely to head to your bait in the middle of the floor; instead, set your trap against a wall in an out-of-the-way spot (but near where you saw their signs). We sometimes bait with peanut butter, but cheese has a higher success rate, especially cheddar. I probably don't need to say it, but don't bother with live traps --- moving animals around is never a good idea, and unless you live way out in the country, the mouse is likely to head into another home after you release it, where it will get killed anyway.

Another factor to keep in mind is sealing away anything that a mouse might like. Food is obvious, but clothing and toilet paper are also in great demand for bedding. An average bureau doesn't really keep a mouse out, I've found, so rubbermaid bins can sometimes be better. Barring that, I try to at least go through each drawer on occasion so I don't miss a mouse nest being built. If you have storage areas inside your home, don't pile things up in such a manner that a cat can't get into the center to hunt, and do check those little-used areas at intervals as well. Catching the first few mice who drop by in the fall is only of middling difficulty, but if you let them breed and have fifty mice to hunt down, your work will really be cut out for you!

I hope that helps, and I'm glad you're being proactive. In the city, roaches are probably the most common vermin, but in the country, it's all about beating the mice. And as cruel as it seems to kill them off in the fall, you'll be rewarded by a winter sitting by the fire without the sound of nibbling in the walls.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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My philosophy toward wildlife is "live and let live", until they are interfering with my living. When they contaminate my food, destroy my belongings, that are rightfully stored in my personal home, then the gloves are off. I do not seek out and destroy their personal living spaces in nature, and I will not accept them intruding on my personal living space. I too believe in clean killing of mice, when the weather turns colder and they decide my home looks like a great place for a winter vacation. We use very large glass jars, and freezers to store food, so that there is little sustenance available to beings who do not respect the boundaries of our home. When they do enter we hunt them relentlessly. At the same time we continue to look for ways to block their initial entry, and have had some success there. Steel wool in even the tiniest openings will discourage them, as does steel mesh.

Comment by Maggie Turner Mon Nov 17 07:54:09 2014
Can you possibly build a second wood storage structure? If you have two, and they are accessible front and back, you can fill and use from different sides. Just keep track of when the wood went in so you're taking the older out. It does take planning to avoid moving wood multiple times. We heat with wood and my husband insists on the wood being at least two years old - though we don't use snags, which would shorten the drying time a bit. Dry wood sure does make a difference.
Comment by Stephanie Mon Nov 17 08:37:17 2014

After our mouser, Pickles was run over early last summer, I worried that I'd be invaded. But at the same time I was really sealing up any cracks roaches could come in by, and liberally sprinkling boric acid around the perimeter of the front room, that is, concentrating on sealing between the wall and floor. So far, in spite of no cat, we have gone almost 6 mos without a sign of mice! I sort of wonder if they, too tried to get in and somehow got poisoned. The way for boric acid to work, there has to be a source of sweetened water, say in a jar lid, under the fridge or other stationary appliance. About bureaus--I think that becomes a way to trap insert a baited trap in the bottom drawer, or under the bureau. Of course, you have to keep a list of places to check frequently! And maybe try to hang up clothes as much as possible. As for books, I think they head for the raggedy ones, so some books and papers that need to be saved might need to be in mouseproof boxes or even old trunks. Rats, esp. if they get into potatoes or sweet potatoes, of course are much worse. Good luck--don't give up!

Comment by Mon Nov 17 09:28:12 2014
We found chocolate biscuits worked better than cheese in our traps, but eventually we had to turn to poison. Mice always seemed to come indoors in September here so now we bait the traps in later August and leave them down all winter.
Comment by Chris Mon Nov 17 09:39:54 2014

When we moved into our home (older trailer in the country) we had mice in the walls, under the house, in the attic, and worst of all, in the kitchen. I absolutely cannot Stand the idea of mice crawling over our dishes and cookware, and when they chewed into several items in our pantry I was livid. We had been setting out sticky traps with success, but when they got into our pantry items it became full fledged warfare. I sealed every crack I could find, put poison everywhere the cats couldn't get to (one of our cats catches chipmunks regularly, but none seem interested in mice), set out snap traps and sticky traps, and sealed up all of our food in plastic storage containers. It took several weeks before I stopped seeing signs of mice.

The weird thing is, I'm not sure What actually did the trick. They ignored the peanut butter baited snap traps and the poison looks untouched. The sticky traps did catch several mice, but we kept finding fresh sign for a while after the last sticky trap was used. Maybe they gave up and left since they no longer had a food source. Or maybe they actually did eat some poison and die. I'm not sure what got rid of them, but as standard practice now I keep traps and poison out, and store food in glass and plastic containers as much as possible.

Constant vigilance against mice is sometimes annoying and inconvenient, but when it comes to rodents an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.

Comment by Rae Mon Nov 17 10:36:39 2014
A foolproof trap as well, is to use a 2 or 5 gal bucket put about 1/4 of bucket with water. If you have small children or pets you can cut a portion of the lid , then sprinkle bait on top of water,, peanuts , cheese and etc. Cover with lid and the mice can get in but not out. They will drown . Empty repeat. Rose.
Comment by Rose Mon Nov 17 10:36:50 2014

Thanks Anna for taking the time to respond to my questions. Great idea about using the snags as insurance.

Our first winter we accidentally chainsawed down a living oak tree that we thought was a standing snag. Winter=no leaves on the oak trees (they ALL look dead!). We learned to mark the standing dead with colored marking tape in the summer so we can find them again later if we need them :)

Comment by Karen B Mon Nov 17 12:12:04 2014
I found two cabbage leaves halfway down a rodent hole in my garden. I think the mouse's eyes were too big for his hole, as they had gotten lodged! I was wondering what was stealing leaves from the cabbage. I also have a packrat which decided to build a nest from a bucket of electric insulators in the shed. the shed looks like a hurricane went through . . . clean it up and have no problems for a few months and then walk in one day and rodent mayhem again.
Comment by Charity Mon Nov 17 12:21:18 2014

A friend of ours is a rock hound. He always has his rock polishing machine going. He has never had a mouse problem.

Another friend turns on her overhead fan when she hears mice in the walk. She says mice don't like the vibrations.

We don't have a rock polisher or an overhead fan so I will try a few standing fans letting them touch the wall as they spin.

Wish me luck.

Comment by mona Tue Nov 18 20:59:27 2014

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