iversity in the garden is something we hear about quite a bit. But usually you don’t hear domestic in conjunction with wild or natural. Nor do you hear domestic ideas paired with thoughts about diversity too often. One thing I happen to think is a little too natural in my gardens are voles. But, I know as a long time gardener that the voles are just part of the ecosystem that is our farmstead. I also know that every carrot seed I plant will not necessarily turn into a carrot that will grown up enough to make it to the kitchen.
So rather than declare war and spend a lot of time thinking about how to eradicate the voles (won’t happen anyway), I try to lessen their impact on me and my foodshed. I actually need them, like I need the deer and elk, the voles provide feed for others on the predator chain like the coyotes and keep the coyotes from feeding on our cats as much. We have cats to keep the rodent population down. Likewise, if I don’t hunt the deer, the cougars have something to feed on instead of calves. There is no free lunch, if we take something away in one place, someone pays for it somewhere else… . I have a freezer full of beef, so I don’t need to hunt.
Voles thrive in tall grass because cover is so important to them. They also like hardpan with a nice sod cover, so I have no sod walkways in my garden, and I keep the areas between the rows open and weed-free during the growing season. No mulch or living cover crops either. I also keep the headlands mowed or grazed short year round. Not having a permanent fence helps with this part of the equation – temporary electric fence allows me to graze the sheep right up to the cultivated areas, or mow with the tractor if I need to.
Another line of attack that I use is trap cropping, or planting vegetables that the voles don’t really care for at the edges of the garden where the voles are the most likely to enter. In my garden the voles aren’t too keen on things like brassicas so this year rutabagas are planted along this edge to slow down the migration of voles from the sod headlands to the garden. Last year I planted mangels here knowing that they liked them and would be not be very likely to go through the mangels then to the rutabagas and onto the carrot or winter beet rows.
One thing to keep in mind for new gardeners is that if you break sod for a new garden spot, you are likely moving into the voles habitat. It takes a number of growing seasons with a multi-pronged approach to slow down the impact of the voles. By planting more than you think you need, and employing a variety of techniques you can keep your blood pressure a little lower when thinking about voles. Maybe ;)