Friday, April 14, 2006

War of the Voles

War of the Voles

No this is not a title from a B sci-fi movie, nor some tale which includes Hobbits, Gnomes and Dragons. Bad simile there, note below* Voles are small rodents, larger than mice at five to eight inches long with short stubby tails. I had never had any kind of run-in with these critters, except a fleeting glimpse of one as it scurried into a hole. I didn’t expect to have a problem with them!

We started to get some damage to the plants in the garden. On inspection, the plants were eaten, yet there was no sign of what it could be causing the damage so I assumed it is some kind of insect – despite the fact there are no insects evident. So we dusted everything with diatomaceous earth, a natural substance which is the shell-remains of single celled oceanic animals. The tiny sharp shells are utterly harmless to pets and wildlife, but are lethal to all types of insects as it punctures their exoskeletons and they “bleed” to death relatively quickly. I hated to use such a broad spectrum insect killer but felt we had to do something.

I was a bit surprised the next day to see even more damage. The struggling remains of the frosted strawberries were eaten down to the dirt, the beets which had come up and were looking to thrive were wiped out, even a potato plant TOP was chewed down to a stump. This stump was large enough to show the teeth marks, which proved that it was no insect – this was the work of rodents. Squiget the psychotic dog had caught a rat a few days earlier and I thought perhaps this was the suspect, but the rat had been caught near the horse pen where it was probably eating fallen bits of grain. So Beth and I started looking the area over more carefully and found quite a number of small holes, with runways running out from them to areas of our garden. The holes were too small to be gophers, plus (I think) gophers are largely active in daytime which would be extremely risky behavior with dogs running loose and actively hunting for any rodents. The culprits were Voles, a type of rodent 5 to 8 inches long with round-ish ears and a stub for a tail. Lobo (as in the comic strip, “Lobo the arctic wolf”) managed to corner one in a pipe and called me over to help him catch it. I tipped the pipe up and shook it, but the little critter ran out just at the moment that Lobo looked away and it was gone. So there was no more doubt, we have voles, eating their way through our garden with devastating results.

The diatomaceous earth can be fed to animals as an effective worm medicine, so the voles got a good worming. We looked up what sorts of methods can be used to combat or at least repel the hungry little rodents, and found that we had no good poisons to use, but a web site recommended putting out mouse traps. Other suggested methods were to use repellents like bobcat or coyote urine (I read an article that stated tests showed bobcat urine to be even more effective than any chemical repellent on the market) garden sulfur, combined with mothballs – cayenne pepper, and orange peels. So we dutifully dusted everything with sulfur, set mouse traps in pipes close to the runways (they are said not to be easily lured any distance from their runways) as well as mothballs and cayenne pepper – even had some dried orange peel which was put out too.

The next morning, it seemed that the repellents had worked somewhat as no new damage was to be seen, however they had managed to eat the peanut butter off of the mousetraps without apparently even getting a headache out of the deal! This called for more drastic measures – they can be fenced out with quarter inch mesh, so long as you bury the fence at least a foot down or they will tunnel under it, the fence doesn’t need to be terribly high just a couple of feet as they are poor climbers. Well it would require over 300 feet of fence, which is priced at $2 per foot at the local hardware store so can’t afford to do that just now, however one last ditch method works well and is economical – gas! We picked up a couple of packs of gas bombs and set to work gassing the colonies. We gassed four colonies (all within the area of the garden) before it got too dark to continue, and found at least two more with active runs leading into our garden but just outside of it. These will get the treatment tomorrow, not to be mean but these little rodents are just too prolific and too destructive to have in close proximity to the garden. The funny thing is that it appears I picked the spot for the garden with the greatest concentration of voles on the entire property, no where else on the 100 acres has so many vole colonies packed close together!

Beth put in tomato plants to replace those destroyed by frost, some peppers and I put in a Bing cherry tree (required for pollinating the Black Tartarian cherry) so things are shaping up again. The sweet corn is coming up well, and strange to say more potatoes came up – these have been in the ground for two months! Even the beans are coming up, however the summer squash shows no indication of germination. We have a few summer squash plants to put out, so will have at least a few. Also ordered some bobcat urine to spray around the garden too, which ought to make the place less attractive for roaming rodents.

Had another strange incident the other night. I heard some sort of animal calling over by our old campsite, and the cry was strange to me so I grabbed a flashlight to go see what type of animal makes such a weird sound. The moonlight was very bright (almost full moon with clear skies) so the flashlight was un-needed. The animal kept calling, a cry sort of like a seal call but slower and drawn out. Thinking it was some kind of rodent I whistled, as some rodents will whistle in answer (groundhogs and prairie dogs for example) but this made the critter stop calling. A few moments later it started calling again, and when I whistled again it answered immediately but repeating that strange call. I tried approaching closer but as I did, the animal seemed to be working away from me, finally sounded like it was going over the ridge so I gave it up – it was 3:45 am anyway. No idea what the animal was, never heard anything quite like it.

Our piece of land appears to have been a spot where ancient Indians came to make arrowheads. Quite a number of large rocks (boulders really) show signs of having been beaten on, some have large pieces missing, and hammer stones lay around the boulders. There are shards all round them that look like they were “almost” arrowheads but were rejected for one reason or another. Only a certain type of rock they chose to make tools out of, not sure why (it is a dark type of lava rock) as there is plenty of red lava rock which also breaks into razor sharp shards just as well. I found an arrowhead up on the western hill, literally sticking out of the ground. It is a green stone unlike any stone around, and I thought it to be a piece of green felt when I saw it.

After a bit of research I learned that it is a Rose Springs culture point, dates to between 600 and 1300 AD! This is thought by some historians to be the point which indicated the arrival of the bow as a hunting tool in the southwest. I hope to find more of these, will have to do some artifact hunting.

That is it for this edition, could gripe about some people in our circle but that would serve no purpose; weather has been excellent, like summer so hopefully will have some new adventures to write about soon.


“We must find a way, or we will make one.” –Hannibal Barca


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