I've been tracking the nighttime temperatures closely recently, and early last Tuesday, for less than two hours, the mercury dipped below freezing. That means that time has run out and this is the final cottage weekend. It's not that we'll really be staying at the cottage for the fun of it, mind you, we'll just be closing it up for the year.
The most important part of the winter shutdown is, of course, disconnecting the pump and getting all the water out of the plumbing system. Failing at this task can have expensive repercussions, as Neighbour Dan can attest to. He was a little too slow to shutdown last year and ended up with a destroyed water pump, as it froze up inside and shattered the steel outer shell.
Slightly less severe, and slightly more unpleasant, are the repercussions of not mouseproofing the cottage for the winter months. We haven't seen too many of the little critters, but we've found truly appalling quantities of...evidence that they dropped by. And they'll leave their droppings everywhere: in kitchen and bedroom drawers, cupboards, table and desk tops, coffee cups and soup bowls. Although I doubt we'll ever completely eliminate this particularly unpleasant facet of the spring opening, there are a number of actions you can take to minimize the damage.
- Firstly, and of incalculable importance, get rid of all food. You might think that canisters or Tupperware will suffice, but anything short of a sealed can is suspect. Rodents, properly motivated, can gnaw through darn near anything in time, including aluminum siding and cinder blocks...and hunger is a pretty powerful motivator.
- Place piles of dishes in the cupboards in plastic grocery bags for the winter. Not that the mice wouldn't be able to get through the bags if they wanted to, but with any luck they'll just walk right over them, and you won't have to wash every dish in the place come spring.
- Remove as much clothing and linen from the cottage as possible, especially anything that's not hung up. Mice love to nest in warm, soft, dark places, so the best thing you can do to discourage them is to clean out your all drawers and leave them all open for the winter.
The most effective pest control campaigns use a variety of different products and techniques to control the population, in particular traps and poisoned baits. In our case, with a three-season cottage that we rarely visit during the winter months, trapping wasn't an appealing option since we wouldn't be able to empty and reset he traps. So we decided to go with a baiting strategy. There are a number of different types of poison used in these baits, and a popular choice contains an anticoagulant, which essentially causes the mouse to bleed to death internally. Although this type of bait can be very effective, disposal of the carcass is still an issue, so this again is a poor choice for an unoccupied dwelling.
My personal choice are baits that use strychnine. In addition to being an extremely lethal poison, these baits will also dehydrate the mice. This results not only in a desiccated carcass (meaning less decomposition, and as a result, no foul odour), but will also cause the mice to leave their nest in search of water. This means, always assuming that you've left no source of water available to them, that the mice will leave your cabin, and you won't have to even worry about disposing of the body.
As idyllic as this solution might sound, you do need to be sure to eliminate absolutely all sources of water, keeping in mind that mice can fit through holes as small as a quarter inch in diameter. One Canadian Tire employee I consulted told me of one cottager who thought that closing the lid on the toilet would suffice, only to return and find dozens of previously thirsty dead mice filling the toilet bowl...
Regardless of which method you decide to adopt, please be careful with all baits. These poisons are just as effective on children, pets and inoffensive wildlife as they are against rodents, and must always be carefully placed and controlled.