19. MOLES AND VOLES

A mole is a mouse-like creature that causes subterranean damage and does not hibernate in the winter. Moles are not rodents like gophers, but rodents do exploit mole tunnels to wage subterranean war on plants, thereby making the mole an accessory to the crime. Moles are carnivores who love earthworms, grubs, and adult insects.

Voles by contrast are rodents and are commonly known as field mice, which are smaller than mice. Like moles, they don't hibernate, and can live above or below the ground.

Voles are classified as a pest species because they dig up lawns and gardens and set up a network of surface tunnels. A vole will gnaw at the base of a tree or shrub, especially in winter; young trees are particularly vulnerable. Plastic and metal guards can be helpful in preventing vole damage to trees. They will also eat the stems of blades of grass, making for an unsightly lawn. Voles do much more damage than moles.

Voles also feed on roots and bulbs, including the beets and carrots in my community garden plots. In 2015, they got into my sweet potatoes, which by the way aren’t in the potato family. What’s weird is that I grew three rows of sweet potatoes, and they only ate one half of one of the rows. They just headed down the row and then stopped. Go figure!

You can purchase vole traps and use peanut butter as bait. That won't work with moles as they are carnivores, not vegetarians like voles.

Both moles and voles are looking for a place to live in the winter, so don't mulch too early in the fall as this will give them the perfect place to hide. It's best to wait until November before mulching.

Tunnels created by moles are close to the top of the dirt, and when people walk directly over them, the soil feels fragile rather than sturdy. These tunnels are where the moles search for food. Voles create tiny holes in the ground, a little tinier than those made by moles. You can tell the entry and exit points of mole tunnels by the piles of freshly dug dirt on top of the grass. In other words, moles live close to the surface whereas voles live farther down, being subterranean creatures.

Some gardeners spray castor oil to repel moles. This will deter them for a while, but when a good rain washes the scent away from rain, they'll be back. I had a friend who lived in the country and had two dogs that loved to hunt for moles and voles in the garden and it worked as well to keep the critters away as it does for keeping deer at bay.

One trick to find a vole hole is to remove the sod over a tunnel, then place a piece of apple and in the hole. Cover the hole with a little sod and come back the next day to see if the apple is there. If it’s gone, you know why. The cheapest method of getting rid of voles is to flood their burrows (holes) by sticking a hose down the holes and flooding them out. You can also use hot red pepper powder to get rid of these buggers. Make sure and clean up as much of the garden as you can to discourage voles as they like to make their holes in the thatch. Please let me know what your experiences are with them. What worked for you?