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Plantgasm - I love plants too much. By Derek Powazek.

If I’d Kept Him Any Longer, I Might Have Named Him

I’ve been sewing seeds in the vegetable garden outside for a few weeks now – the winter stuff you can plant anytime in San Francisco: carrots, spinach, and lettuce – and one by one, the seedlings have been coming up and then disappearing after a few days, little craters left in their place.

I thought it might be birds, which I’ve seen go after seedlings before. Or maybe one of the four little dogs that live here had gone vegetarian. But, no. Today I found the culprit.

I was outside planting Rhubarb (a request from the wife) when I looked up and saw a large rat, casually munching my seedlings, not four feet from me. I froze for a moment, half horrified and half impressed by his brazenness. I swear he looked right at me with a “hey, what’s up?” look in his eye and just kept eating.

He ran off when I stepped toward him, but as soon as I walked away, he was right back there, devouring my future bounty. So, not especially confident that it would work, I grabbed a clear bucket I’d been using for mixing soil, walked over slowly, and brought it down on top of him. And, to my amazement, I’d captured a rat.


That’s about as far as I’d thought this through. As I watched him run in frightened circles in the bucket, digging at the soil with tiny worried hands, my heart sunk. I couldn’t end him. He was, after all, just appreciating my garden. But I couldn’t let him continue or I’d never get anything to grow. Clearly, a solution was required.

I put a potted plant on top of the bucket to keep it there, went in the house to grab the first flat thing I could find, and ran back outside with a cutting board. I slid the board under the bucket and scooped him up. I decided to take him to a nearby park and set him free. A change of venue would do us both good.

This was, I thought, a good idea. What was definitely not a good idea was deciding to show him to the wife before we left. I asked Heather if she’d like to see something cute. She said sure, but when I showed her a scared rat in a plastic bucket with a cutting board top, she screamed and ran to the other side of the room. I really did think he was cute, but then, I once had a rat as a pet. (His name was Lowell and he attended UC Santa Cruz longer than most underclassmen. Long story.)


As I was walking him up to the park, I bumped into a friend who asked why I was taking a rat for a walk. So I recounted the whole story and we sat there for a moment looking at him. He’d calmed down and was wiggling his whiskers and brushing the dirt off his face. I know he’s vermin, but you have to appreciate an animal that combs his own hair, even when trapped in a bucket. For a moment I wondered how our dogs would get along with a pet rat and if it’d be creepy to name him “Lowell Junior.” That’s when I realized I’d better finish this up before I got any more attached.

I set him free in the bushes beside the steps of Buena Vista Park. This may sound insane, but I really hope he’s okay. And that he can’t figure out how to get back to my vegetable garden from there.

What have you caught in your garden?

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9 Responses

Well done, sir! I hope the little guy does well in the park. I’ve caught and released many a rodent. Because: Tiny pink hands with nearly opposable thumbs! Eyes like buttons! Once I even adopted a mouse I found on 6th & Mission. He lived with me for five years. Had the sweetest disposition coupled with the IQ of a twig.

Posted by rosenatti on 4 March 2012 @ 2am

Well, I was doing a little weeding under a pine sapling in the back yard. After I spend a lot of time weeding I’ll often sit back, heave a sigh and look at everything in my arm’s reach. It was during one of these quite moments when I noticed a small field mouse come out of a hole at the base of the tree. A much longer story about this hole and the TEN brothers and sisters is set for another time.

Posted by KJ on 4 March 2012 @ 6am

Never having had a rat as a pet my response would likely be closer to your wife’s. I used to keep finches in outdoor aviaries and the spilled seed drew them in from the nearby creek. Do you know those things can chew right through a four by four post?

Once I surprised on in a six foot square outside flight cage. I had a trowel in one hand and a hose with a spray nozzle in the other. I felt like some kind of warrior but I was too slow to do more than soak him. I eventually coaxed him out the door without losing any birds. An acceptable compromise.

Posted by serialplantfetishist on 4 March 2012 @ 8am

Where there is one you can see, there are four more lurking. Be prepared to relocate more!

Posted by Rachelle on 4 March 2012 @ 3pm

I bet he has a nice new home. :)

I catch lots and lots and lots of mantises.

Posted by Cat on 4 March 2012 @ 4pm

Last summer I wondered how birds were getting through plastic bird netting to eat my blueberries, then I saw a rat 2 feet up in the branches munching on them. I trapped one – poor little fella – but I guess they’re in the neighborhood.

Posted by rats on 5 March 2012 @ 4am

Very cool! I agree with Rachelle, where there’s one there will be more. For some reason, this reminded me The Rats of NIMH!

My last property was located close to San Pedro Valley Park, so we would get all sorts of wildlife in our yard. We used to have chickens in the yard that attracted a whole cornucopia of critter goodness — we had humane traps (that my Grandfather constructed) that would catch critters live and we would release them again after relocation. The trap was constructed to catch raccoons, however we once caught a skunk. (The outcome did not smell very nice…) We would have deer frequent our yard too.

A couple years ago I caught a hummingbird that ended up in one of my greenhouses. ( It was amazing to feel it’s heartbeat.

Posted by Rob on 5 March 2012 @ 12pm

Jesus… you need to get a dog or something! :)

Take one of my chickens… that will feed your pet desires.

Posted by dirty girl gardening on 6 March 2012 @ 5pm

I also want to warn you about Lowell Junior’s friends and family, who most certainly are still around and will likely keep noshing on your salad bar. I have also heard from numerous sources that mice should be relocated at least 2-3 miles away or they’ll return — not sure if that applies to rats, too. Two years ago we had a terrible rat problem in SF that destroyed tons of our outdoor potted plants, so I unfortunately speak from experience. Good luck!

Posted by Jennifer on 7 March 2012 @ 4pm


Plantgasm is where Derek Powazek chronicles his botanical antics and misadventures. More.