April

There is something rather lovely about the emergence of spring. Perhaps I am enjoying it more this year because it seems to have been so slow arriving. The odd promising day and then we are plunged into cold winds and rain again. But there are good signs wherever you look. Fat buds on the shrubs, little green rolled up leaves ready to burst and weeds already poking their heads above the soil. I have been particularly late putting seeds in but everything will catch up and whilst it remains colder the daffodils and primroses last longer.

I remember when my late father was in hospital and particularly unwell I asked him if there was anything I could do. I had in mind bringing in paper work that needed attending to or some new books and home comforts. His reply has lived with me forever. ‘Its mid January’ he said ‘please put the broad beans in seed boxes in the greenhouse.’

Therefore every year I have planted the seed in pots in the greenhouse in mid January If I put them straight in the ground the mice get them. So imagine my horror last year when two days after sowing in the tunnel they had all been eaten. They were up on a warm propagating bench and under a raised fleece but the little beggar had had the lot, thirty six beans – gone!

As a teenager I had contemplated joining the police force to become a detective (I was totally absorbed by Agatha Christie books) until my dad reminded me I would have to work night shifts. Appalled at the thought of missing a night’s sleep that idea went out of the window but the detective has remained in me and I was determined to detect and arrest the bean thief.

Not one for capital punishment, I resisted the temptation to find the mouse traps and found the paraffin instead. Mike Harrison had told me some two years ago, successfully, that mice are deterred by the smell, so I sprayed it all round the tunnel edges on the ground, inside and out, up the legs of the benches and put in more seed. I also left a couple of seeds at the other end of the tunnel on the floor so I could try and determine which of the two entrances he was using. You’ve guessed it, what an idiot putting in so much more seed, just a few would have tested the system, but that night mousey ate the lot. I could smell the paraffin but it was a little aged so I bought some new and tried again, this time just leaving a few seeds on the bench. Yes, he ate all of them on the bench, but he left the two on the floor. So now I knew through which entrance he was entering. One more go with another spray of paraffin round the entrance way and a few bait broad bean seeds.

By the next morning I was facing defeat, should I put all the seeds in the conservatory? Not satisfied with the beans, he had eaten every seed on the bench, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers all the herbs (of which there were sixteen different varieties) and the fourteen different euphorbia (idiot, I should have moved them too). But he left the aquilegia seed. Not to your taste mousey or were you just full?

Now this must have been becoming one fat mouse, or perhaps there was a huge family of them. The prospect of detecting what was, in my mind, becoming a huge gang of shoplifters with a rapacious appetite was becoming daunting. The Harrison method had failed we could only resort to capital punishment, without trial. So we put out four traps on the bench, loaded two with broad beans, clearly his favourite food and two with chocolate buttons; they came recommended from another amateur advisor.

Yes, he came again, he ate the beans and the buttons and so deft was he that the traps didn’t spring. The mouse was now named Raffles.

This crime had been perpetuating now for at least six nights and I was losing time on seed sowing let alone growing on. I was beginning to wonder if I had to do that night shift after all and stand on guard ready to catch the burglar. I suggested to my husband that we put the blue fly trap light on, thinking that this attempt at floodlighting the crime scene might deter him. When Stuart had finished laughing and muttering about obsession and paranoia and cynically suggesting CCTV, I agreed this was probably not a solution. Stuart took control, loaded the traps with cheese and, as previously agreed, he inspected the next morning.

Raffles was caught, I am told he died with an expression of surprise on his face and I could have cried. I had a sneaking admiration for the little chap, who, acting without accomplices, had found a source of food and gone for it. I suspect he was living in the tunnel and I had deterred his exit with the paraffin but there would be no interview or interrogation. He was dead. There was no malice aforethought, just an instinct for survival and I hope he had a good laugh on his last few nights when he saw the food shelves replenished.

So at least eight days later I started again and there were days of work to sow all the seed.

Raffles had probably delayed me by three weeks in total. But it doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things. All the seeds are came up; I needed a little less heat because the weather was warmer. During the hunt and in desperation I put broad beans straight in the soil as I had seen Gilbert doing this in his patch earlier in the week.’ Don’t the mice take them I asked’? No, just the rabbits, from which he defends himself (and the beans) with netting in the ground and a small electric fence. ‘Try Marjorie’s remedy for rabbits’ I said,’ she assures me it works’. ‘Get two coal shovels back to back and when the rabbits appear go out and bang the shovels together, they don’t come back.’

So there are the solutions to mice and rabbits. Grow aquilegia, get a mouse trap and just hope your rabbits aren’t deaf!

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