mouseinwineWhat with all the real estate madness going on in my life since Spring, I’ve only been up to Sonoma a fraction of the time I used to spend here. Luckily, this was all during the season where things kind of take care of themselves — where “things take care of themselves” means Ranch Manager Louis and the guys do prodigious amounts of work keeping everything running. Well, here it is on the cusp of harvest and I figured I should put in some serious Sonoma time, even though we’ve progressed beyond the days when it was Cousin John and me crushing grapes with brute force and ignorance. Today we have a freelance winemaker who coordinates crews and trucks our grapes down the hill to a properly set up crush pad. There’s a long story to this, but basically, when we wanted to go pro with this winemaking, we discovered it would take more than a million dollars to bring our crush pad from “hobby level” to licensed crush pad. But less than three miles away is a large industrial park that is all set up for winemakers. We can use a corner of that for a pittance. The only drawback:  our labels can’t say “Estate Bottled”. But we can say “Estate Grown”. We don’t think our audience is going to mind. But despite the fact that the backbreaking work of winemaking is covered, there is still a lot of farm work for me to do up at Rancho Los Dos Terriers. Most of it, I found out, has to do with varmints.

I packed up the terriers and arrived Sunday night. We hit the ground running Monday morning. The goal was to get everything ready for the Fall season. It started with a thorough cleaning of the barn and the cabana and the work just intensified as the week went on.

First varmints: we discovered we are overrun with mice. They are everywhere! Chewing holes in the wires and nesting in the engines of all our farm vehicles. Making nests out of shop rags and leaving pounds of droppings everywhere. The sad truth is that we’ve been so successful with our rattlesnake eradication plan, this is the price we are paying. Our main line of defense are herbal based rattlesnake repellant we spread around all the farm buildings and anywhere we might want to walk. The herbs — a large portion of which seems to be Bergamot of Earl Grey fame — temporarily mess up the gland pit vipers use to navigate. They move away and stay away — at least as long as rattlesnake long term memory seems to last, which might be one season. Any other rattler we find where he shouldn’t be gets scooped into a bucket and released in an area where we hope he goes after the gophers and moles. But again, the price you pay, as Mr. Jinx of Pixie and Dixie used to say, is MEESES!

Unfortunately our rattlesnake repellent also repels good guys like this King Snake, who doesn't bite but does eat his weight in rodents.

Unfortunately our rattlesnake repellent also repels good guys like this King Snake, who doesn’t bite but does eat his weight in rodents.

Hanging out at the hardware store and talking to the locals, I learned that the Valley is overrun with mice these days. The drought is reducing the food supply and they can’t find water, so they’re heading indoors. I’m sure I’ll blog about our upcoming e-RAT-ication plan, but we got sidetracked on several other projects before we could put it in action. Be aware, the multi-pronged attack includes sachets of peppermint infused pellets (meeses hate peppermint), peppermint oil which we’ll drop on key bits of machinery, mousetraps baited with Slim Jims (best bait ever, I’m told) and, several sonic mouse deterrent units. These emit a high pitched whine so annoying mice flee. I believe it. We turned it on and we were ready to climb the walls. Those will be turned on at the end of a workday in the garage and lower barn far from our ears. If all that doesn’t work, we also have several mouse execution chambers set up. These are metal boxes that zap the offending mouse with a healthy, or rather unhealthy dose, of electricity when they step in the take the bait. Call it Capital Punishment for Rodents. We have to keep Oscar out of the garages where he might get his head stuck in farm machinery chasing varmints. But we have turned him loose up at the house site where, on his best day, he dispatched more than three dozen mice inside of five minutes. He attacked three nests flinging baby mice where they splatted on concrete slab, then quickly dispatched the parents. It was gruesome, but effective. As you can see, we know how to fight a multi-front war. We’re available to advise the Obama Administration. But only if they’ll let us work terriers into the offensive.

The next varmint was of the vegetative variety. And I’m not talking about the Scirpus we already dealt with.

The enemy this time is Star Thistle -- an invasive so nasty and horrible, it's about the only thing that has us getting out the poison.

The enemy this time is Star Thistle — an invasive so nasty and horrible, it’s about the only thing that has us getting out the poison.

Star Thistle can survive almost anything. You can’t dig it out and it’s fire resistant so you can’t use the weed torcher, unless you get it in the young stage. If you let it take hold, you’ll have a pasture full of it. A pasture that will be death to horses and cows. Goats will eat it down with no effect, but then they’ll eat everything else as well. Nope, this is one time you may have to break down and use poison.

We don't spray often -- but when we do, we employ pinpoint accuracy so nothing but Star Thistle is harmed.

We don’t spray often — but when we do, we employ pinpoint accuracy so nothing but Star Thistle is harmed.

In the interest of public information, we use Monterey’s Remuda Post-Emergence Herbicide. I tried to find out why. Yes, Remuda has added surfactant which smothers the plant while using less poison, it’s also premixed so there is less chance the guys will get splashed with it, but the real reason for his choice, according to Louis: “It’s not made by Monsanto.”

The next chore was to tear out the messy remains of my summer garden and prep it for Fall planting. That involved setting up barriers for the rabbits who have lately discovered the garden and have been feasting on my produce. Louis has devised an ingenious rabbit proof fence that will certainly be the subject of a future post. But in the meantime, we had a jungle to mow down. A jungle inside and outside the fence.

I tackled tomatoes while DJ attacked huge stands of Monkey Flower that were threatening to storm the fence.

I tackled tomatoes while DJ attacked huge stands of Monkey Flower that were threatening to storm the fence.

I was cleaning out my tomato beds by harvesting all the ripe tomatoes before we cleared. I’d been working one corner of one bed for at least ten minutes when I pulled on the tomato plant to yank it out. That’s when I saw the coiled rattler that had been inches from my hands.

Here's Mr. Rattler coiled and dug down in the dirt, seconds after my hands were mere inches from him.

Here’s Mr. Rattler coiled and dug down in the dirt, seconds after my hands were mere inches from him.

Here's Mr. Rattler pinned with a 2x4 while we argue about what to do with him.

Here’s Mr. Rattler pinned with a 2×4 while we argue about what to do with him.

Here's Mr. Rattler on top of the 2x4 just before he was flung over the fence and into the chaparral.

Here’s Mr. Rattler on top of the 2×4 just before he was flung over the fence and into the chaparral.

That was enough close encounters with varmints for me. I cleaned up and took myself off to the National Heirloom Seed Exposition at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Stumbling around in 100 degree heat, I finally nipped into one of the presentations, if only to get out of the hot sun. It was fortuitous as I’d stumbled on Deborah Koons Garcia previewing raw footage from her latest documentary in the making: The Agrarian Elders.

There I learned, as I already know, that Monsanto is the biggest varmint of all.

Note: If you are wondering about the little fellow in the measuring cup, he’s the mouse I got drunk.

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