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Vole Patrol

February 2, 2015
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Will speak for carrots!

Long before I dug the weekly wheelbarrow of roots for the milk cow, I had to put some systems in place to make sure I had something to harvest.  Everyone loves sweet roots.  Especially the voles come winter.  Many times you’ll hear someone say a mole has eaten their vegetables, but they are mistaken, moles are a pain with their tunnels and molehills disrupting things but they are just after worms and other insects, not veggies.  Voles, or field mice as we call them, that’s a different story.

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Voles love cover, their natural habitat is fields.  Especially with tall vegetation, hence the handle, field mice.  They serve an important purpose I’m sure besides feeding the coyotes and raptors that inhabit our farm.  It’s just frustrating when they eat my food.  Habitat is the key, you can make most things go away by making their life uncomfortable.

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Main garden

Clean weed-free paths in my garden help to discourage the voles in during the summer.  I try to keep the headlands mown or grazed short as well.  The photo above is just before cutting.  Voles really don’t like being exposed, so the short grass and open areas in the garden help a great deal.  You would not believe how many live in our pastures, when we cut hay, the coyotes follow the mower to either eat the casualties or lie in wait for the voles as they scurry from the jaws of mechanical death.

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We also employ cats and dogs for vole hunting.  Both are voracious hunters of voles and other rodents around the farm.  Especially our mama cats.  While the tomcats spend a lot of time catting around, the mamas hunt to feed their kittens, and then teach their kittens to hunt at first in the barns, then gardens and then further afield.

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Come summers end, deer become an issue in the garden for many vegetables and the dogs keep them at bay.  But, the dogs absolutely love carrots.

deer netting on carrot row

deer netting on carrot row – Staple Garden

Do you know how to tell when your carrots are ripe?  Send out my dogs.  I’ve seen them walk through the garden for days on end during the summer, and one day they will saunter past the carrots and abruptly stop and sniff.  If I’m lucky enough to see this I apply the deer netting over the carrot rows, but many times I see carrot tops in the yard first unfortunately.  So the ebb and flow of vole habitat starts to favor the voles again.  Deer and dogs cannot easily access the carrots with the netting in place, and the cats don’t care to hide under the netting either, so I cross my fingers and hope that all my efforts have made the summer hard on the voles, and easy on their predators.

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Once the root crop vegetation dies down from frost, I hill the tender roots, carrots, beets, and rutabagas with soil to protect them from freezing.  Straw mulch sounds like a no-brainer, but gosh the voles sure like that cozy setup.  I found that out the hard way.  But now the dogs are more determined to “hunt” for carrots while they sniff around for voles.  As the carrots get sweeter the dogs are relentless in their search for a breach in the armor keeping the carrots safe.

My other dilemma besides homegrown voles and dogs, is that yep, it’s winter, and the deer are as determined as the dogs to get at those delectable carrots.  The simplest solution I have found is to either put a single hot wire around carrot rows or to use electric netting if I have any spares not in use.  One net placed directly on the carrot bed works like a charm.  The dogs avoid electric fence like the plague, keeping the carrots safe from digging dogs.  Because we have broken up our carrot beds to make it hard(er) for the voles to find them, we have three long carrot beds in various places in the two gardens broken up by vegetables not as attractive to the voles.  Doing this means we also have to employ several different methods of barriers for the dogs.  It’s definitely a play it by ear type of situation depending on fence supplies on hand.

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I don’t really want to deter the dogs from their garden patrols, just certain areas, since they are excellent at modifying the behavior of the deer.  I’m hoping the dog deterrent is enough to imprint on the fawns each year to steer clear of our orchard and gardens.  Just placing a few strategic temporary electric fences to keep the dogs away from a crop or two is the simplest.  So far, so good.

Parsnips 1-31-2015

Parsnips 1-31-2015

parsnips

parsnips

Parsnips require no protection from anyone, so they are easy to dig.

Red Cored Chantenay 1-31-2015

Red Cored Chantenay 1-31-2015

When it’s time to dig carrots, I must remember to shut off my fence, remove the netting or just step over the single wire fence.  Note to self:  Turn the fence back on when I’m done.  The dogs patrol it pretty frequently.

Last but not least, I overplant and plan for abundance in case the voles are having a good year.  A good year for voles is a bad year for my garden.  I only have a home garden, not a market garden, so these simple methods I have relied on may not be enough for larger gardens, and you may have to resort to trapping.  I haven’t had to yet, but I have heard voles aren’t that hard to trap.

This has been a good year for the gardener, and a been a bad year for voles!

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2015 5:11 pm

    We’ve lots of grain here – hence nine cats. They’re all fat from mousing – we very seldom buy cat food 🙂 I wish I could over winter crops in the ground – but our frost line is four feet down. I can overwinter parsnips in the raised beds if I mulch with a ton of straw – but that doesn’t work for carrots – as you say, the mice like the carrots, and the warm straw, and I keep wire over the beds to keep the cats from using them for a litter box.

    • February 2, 2015 5:38 pm

      No such freeze line here in the banana belt 😉

      • A.A. permalink
        February 3, 2015 2:07 am

        I thought I’d heard it all, but you also have bananas on your belt? How does that help with your peculiar style of farming?

        • February 3, 2015 5:29 am

          A quick fix of potassium if needed?

        • A.A. permalink
          February 3, 2015 5:59 am

          Of course! But how can you tell which plants or which pastures are deficient by a banana’s worth at any given time?

          Beautiful pictures of Grady and the cats by the way. 🙂

        • February 3, 2015 6:47 am

          Like dowsing of course 😉

  2. Bee permalink
    February 2, 2015 7:06 pm

    The biggest attractions on our place are the grain hay (although this year we have grass hay and several hundred fewer mice) and the grain screenings we get from the local mill. The grandkids’ cat considers the screenings bag his personal hunting ground and I frequently find him under the edge of the tarp I use when it’s raining. The hunting is obviously good, as he’s getting a little chubby…

  3. February 3, 2015 7:27 am

    My dog loves to hunt for voles and gophers, but she ends up digging holes all over the pasture. She will dig until she can fit her whole head in. Although it’s amusing to see her head completely buried in the ground and her tail sticking straight up wagging to beat the band, I’m not sure which is worse – the vermin or the holes. I’ve got to figure how to deter her from the digging without deterring the hunting.
    Do you lay the electronet fencing flat on the ground over the carrot beds?

    • February 3, 2015 8:03 am

      Le Femme Farmer, here the dogs are confined to zone 1, so they have very little pasture access, but what they do have access to, yeah holes 😦 So we kind of allow some digging and make sure we fill those holes because they are ankle breakers for sure.

      I do lay it flat in some cases, just because I can use one section that way instead of two to keep the dogs out of that row. Usually just a single hot wire works but I was using all my spools for the cows and didn’t have any to spare at the time. My main concern is that I don’t want the dogs to avoid the garden because the deer and elk pressure is actually worse than the voles in the winter and the dogs are the best way to stop that.

  4. February 3, 2015 8:24 am

    absolutely stunning photos. Teal eyed cats, wowser! I like to hear about your crazy techniques, but who would have thought dogs would be such carrot lovers! Haaa! Look at that adorable carrot eater grin! I woefully had to reduce my Ruth Stout ambitions of a giant pure mulch garden after having voles and slugs move in and take over so much of the harvest right before I’d get it. Boo.

    • February 3, 2015 9:19 am

      Thank you those kitty eyes get me every time.

      Yeah, when it comes down to it we gotta eat too. Or mulch and and buy our food at the store. Me I pick feeding myself.

  5. freshsqueezedeggs permalink
    February 3, 2015 9:50 am

    I really like this post! Very informative. I plan on using some or all of the techniques you have used in your garden. Love the photos, especially the ones of your animals! So adorable! Thanks so much for sharing!

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