September 20th, 2012
They are seemingly everywhere these days. Seldom seen in the flesh, evidence of their presence is 1-inch perfectly round holes with no excavated dirt, and plants in decline or sporting suddenly severed roots. What are they? The current bane of Connecticut gardeners, the meadow vole.
In my travels as a garden lecturer, I’ve heard many a tragic tale concerning these short-tailed, mouse-like critters. Gardeners have related inspecting their gardens in early spring and finding nary a plant, or greatly a diminished perennial bed. Others have told me of watching their plants tremble and disappear into the ground.
Voles, which do their dirty work close to the soil surface, are not moles, which dwell completely underground. Voles are vegetarian rodents, dining on the roots of food and flowers, while moles are carnivorous, preferring earthworms, grubs and insects, all the while creating raised tunnels in your lawn.
Voles do not hibernate, and thus are unfortunately are active all year round. In winter or early spring this is evidenced by raggedy trails under snow and on top of the ground. Reproductive capacities are prodigious; a female may give birth to multiple litters per year of 4-6 offspring each.
How to control these fiends? As an organic gardener, I know I’m not going to poison; attempt to drown, or employ other violent means of domination. After all, voles and many other creatures of the woods were here first. I just want them to move back to the wild and out of my garden!
After several years of combating the critters, here’s my list of organic, non-toxic controls, with notes on efficacy:
The very best control is a cat. But since I don’t allow my old feline pal, Ralph outdoors anymore, this one’s not an option for me.
Other natural predators include fox, coyote, owl, hawk and crow. Encourage them if you are so inclined. For instance, I purchased an owl nesting box at Wild Birds Unlimited and hung it in a mature White pine.
Repellents boast a mixed report card in my garden. Pelletized products such as Repellex and MoleMax are based on castor oil and available at nurseries. They are expensive, however, and must be replied periodically. I’m not convinced they’re worth the money.
Planting in small sharp gravel, or crushed oyster shell serves as a definite deterrent, as voles dislike chewing through such material. Surround each new plant or bulb with the gritty stuff and pour it over the plant site. This works well, but is a bother.
Stuffing used kitty litter down vole holes and placing it around plants works like a charm. Use clay litter, it keeps together better and lasts longer. The drawback is obtaining such nasty stuff if you don’t have a resident feline, and the necessity of handling it. Wear gloves!
Wire baskets constructed from ¼ inch chicken mesh work well if new plants are placed within. Two drawbacks; it’s not an easy task to make these containers, and it’s important to manufacture large enough structures to support the growth of decent-sized plants.
My gardening philosophy is essentially one of live and let live. I know I’m going to have to share some of what I grow with the wilder denizens of Connecticut, and I also know that I’m going to lose some 15% of all I raise each year to disease, weather, and yes, voles. That’s why I grow a multitude of plants of different species which bloom and produce at different times. It’s why I keep a watchful daily eye on the garden. Voles can be discouraged, and your garden can be saved. Choose one or more of the suggestions above and get to work!