Back at the beginning of the winter, we posted about our mini hoop houses (the ones we’d built inside the larger hoop house), and reported that the seedlings were starting to take off. We were hopeful that this system would enable us to grow leafy greens over the winter. We planted spinach, kale, lettuce, and mustard greens in the five raised beds in the house.
Without electricity or actual insulation, we were dependent upon sunshine to warm the space and provide the light necessary for productive growth. The plants were very slow to start due to the shorter days and sporadic sunshine, but once they got going, things seemed promising. Within no time at all, however, field mice started burrowing in from underground at night and would eat a plant or two (or three or four) under the cover of darkness.
We lost an entire bed of kale before we decided to rescue some cats from a local shelter to help us do battle. We had rescued two cats a few months previously and one had died within a month due to some disease it had when we got it (really! It wasn’t our fault!). The remaining cat was a fantastic mouser, but we felt like we had a job on our hands that was bigger than one cat could handle alone. Besides, we like rescuing animals from cages, so it wasn’t hard to convince ourselves to go get a couple more.
This particular shelter really loves their cats. They are based in Hudson, New York (www.all-creatures.org/ak/), and they have no adoption fee. They gratefully accept donations of food, money, and equipment, but if you want one cat or 12, you are welcome to just show up and take them home. We stopped by and took two. One of these was a beautiful female tabby whom the girls named Mouse. Mouse could not hate people more. The entire ride home, her pupils were dilated like saucers and, once we got home, we practically had to shake her out of the cat carrier. It was like she’d grown opposable thumbs and was holding on from the inside. That was pretty much the last time we saw her. To this day, she lurks around corners and hides behind things. We know that she’s there and doing alright and we’ve made a silent pact with her never to mess with her or attempt to do anything but provide food and shelter and then get the hell away from her.
The other cat was just the opposite. In the spirit of humor, the girls named her Cat. Cat is tiny and sweet and a lover, but Cat has Manx disease and doesn’t have a tail and doesn’t always know whether she’s using the “bathroom” or not. This makes her a great candidate for being a full-time outdoor cat; her mousing skills seal the deal. Cat may be little, but she’s a tiny little mouse-killing hurricane.
Both cats lived for the first two weeks they were with us full-time in the hoop house. Since it was the middle of winter at that point, it was a good place to keep them warm and contained, while they learned that our home was now their new home. We saw absolutely no evidence of mice from the moment Cat and Mouse arrived. We moved them out after a bit, however, and set them up in the garage. This gave them more freedom and we felt like the problem in the hoop house had been solved.
After not having checked on the progress of the greens for a couple of weeks, we decided to look in on them today. We were amazed at the size of the kale. The shot to the left is how the plants looked.
Nothing eats mustard greens. They’re like herbs and alliums; you can plant them in an unprotected spot and they’ll be fine because no other creature enjoys them. That includes mice. So, our third growth of mustard greens was still untouched and faring beautifully. Those plants looked like this:
So, we were feeling pretty great. Our theoretical greenhouse was a success. We had come up with a system that worked and had beautiful, leafy greens to show for it! Just as we were starting to feel like… dare we say… farmers(!), we lifted the plastic on the last bed. Underneath, our previously robust and lush spinach plants looked like this:
Obviously, our absence over the past couple of weeks did not go unnoticed by our little rodent friends. For fear that the next stop would be kale-town, we enlisted the help of the one woman we know is up to the task at hand:
If all goes well, we should have a wonderful delivery of kale and mustard greens for applewood this coming Tuesday. Make us proud, Cat!