We live in a small, six-unit apartment complex that has been just dreamy ever since we moved in two years ago until a couple of months ago when the three-apartment unit across from us reported rat mites. Ick! The teenage daughter is suffering the most, breaking out in hives and taking pill after pill that just about knocks her completely out! Horrible. Another neighbor hasn't had it so bad, but she is itching like crazy. So, we called in a city inspector who informed us that their unit was completely infested with rats (living in the crawl space). Despite the fact that rats don't actually like to sleep outdoors (or in suspicious looking plants like juniper) our landlord called in the big guns and had all of our front yard plants removed and replace with sod. This process took a week and though I can't deny that it looks quite nice, it's slightly frustrating to think that the new sprinkler system will reflect on our water bill. So, as we and our neighbors kissed the dream of planting tomatoes, artichokes, beans, and pumpkins goodbye, we realized it wasn't going to end there. How had the rats been able to burrow under the units? Well, over time the foundation had shifted drastically and the actual buildings were no longer completely attached to it, leaving ample room for pesky critters to squeeze in and make a home for themselves. Maintenance workers were called in to install a small board connecting the apartment to the foundation.
Enter problem. Our backyard garden is situated right up against our apartment wall in wonderful southern exposure. The sun blazes down each day and our plants thrive. Year-round we're able to grow some food for ourselves, create havens for small birds, and provide plenty of pollen-rich blossoms for bees and other beneficial insects. We set up a trellis to coax up our grapes, nasturtiums, and jasmine, and last year I built a tepee for climbing plants like beans, nasturtiums, or flowering vines. Our large artichoke has multiplied into three large artichokes and our euphorbia is constantly bursting at the seams (we cut it back often and bring the loveliness inside to make a new temporary home in a vase on our dining table). So, when we received a note informing us that maintenance workers would need access to our backyard, both Birch and I became nervous. Birch found any troubling areas and put in some insulating foam, hoping this would keep the workers at bay at least until the biggest growing season was over. Nope. The morning came when the workers arrived and I showed them into the backyard. One of them said everything would need to go in order for them to get their work done. My heart raced then the other shook his head and said he thought they could get around the trellis fairly easily but that yes, most of the plants would need to be removed as there just was no space for them to get anywhere near the wall. So, in a fever (I had to go babysit in thirty minutes for a friend), I strapped Keats into his highchair and began pulling out and hacking away at my garden that had just come into its own with beautiful nasturtium blossoms and California poppies everywhere. I ripped out all the nasturtiums and poppies. Suddenly, the garden looked so bare and there was a huge pile of wilting plants in the center of our yard. I brushed off the aphids from my shirt and arms, washed my hands, grabbed Keats, and left, not knowing how many of my treasured plants would still be there when I returned later that day.
Luckily, nothing else was pulled out, but several plants were broken and stepped on. I fixed what I could and gave everything a good soaking. Here in Northern California, it's too late to replant any of what we lost, and after a sad day and plenty of thought, Birch and I pulled ourselves together and decided to look into the later season crops we could start up even in May's hot, sporadic weather.
So, with all the new ground space, we'll be planting melons and pumpkins and taking note on this latest apartment experience and planting more things in containers. It'll be sad to not take advantage of our wonderfully rich, clay soil that we've worked so hard on ever since moving in, but it's just one more lesson learned and yet another reason to think more on this whole moving where we can afford to buy thing...
All that being said, we're very grateful that we haven't experienced the rats or their mites personally, and hope that will remain the case. The loss of our garden was a blow, but we'll see our way through and there's always next year's spring to enjoy.