We have fought voles for three years now and I thought I might pass on what we have learned. Not to be confused with moles, Voles with a "V" eat roots and Vegetable matter. Moles with an "M" eat Meat, meaning grubs and worms. Some gardens have both, but know what you have before deciding on a remedy. It is useless to try to deter the moles without removing their source of food and that is another subject.
It is very discouraging after all our efforts but we think we may have overlooked the obvious solution. See http://davesgarden.com/forums/t/705508/ for the history and progress reports. We have tried the following: (1) 8 foot fence buried 2 feet. That kept out deer and other larger animals, but not chipmunks who ate our strawberries and tomatoes. (2) We thought maybe raccoons were getting in so we added 2 feet of 1/2" hardware cloth to the bottom of the fence. Raccoons go right up to a fence before starting to dig, so bending 2 feet of the hardware cloth outward 90 degrees and putting dirt over it keeps them from digging under the fence. Still we had disappearing food. Apparently chipmunks can climb up metal fences and crows like tomatoes. (3) So we put heavy plastic netting over the entire garden which is 30 x 20 feet. That seemed to help, but we had not yet dealt with the voles.
Our vegetable garden is in the middle of a thicket if wild roses. We cleared the middle section for that purpose, so we put wood chips outside the fence to keep the weeds down. Mistake No.4 & 5. Voles don't like to cross open areas because they are targets for birds that eat them, so a garden in an enclosed space invites voles. Mulch around the outside of the garden is a protective covering that is very welcome for the voles as they can tunnel to the garden without being seen. The mulch has been removed.
Mistake No.6 - We used concrete blocks for the raised beds because we thought wood would deteriorate too quickly and bring unwanted bugs to the garden. However, last year we found that wasps were making nests in the holes in the blocks and they attacked us when we started picking the blueberries. All holes are now filled wth concrete - no small task!
On to the voles - We then tried MoleMax outside the garden, supposedly deters them with caster oil base. Expensive and of no use. Then we tried Stalite (also called PermaTill, and VoleBlock), http://www.permatill.com/. It is supposed to deter the voles because it is sharp and they don't like to dig through it. We dug a four inch wide channel (as directed) in a selected area, but it did not seem to have an effect. Digging a channel around the entire garden would be prohibitively expensive as an 11lb bag costs around $12. The good part of Stalite is that it is a great soil conditioner so we didn't lose our money and will buy more for the rest of the garden.
What next??? We just can't find a non-chemical remedy. After trying almost everything, we heard that Juicy-fruit gum would solve the problem. Out of desperation we bought out the local store that was having a 1/2 price sale - $5.00 for 20 packs of gum. Apparently they eat the gum and can not digest it. Sounds cruel and I hate killing things, but having seen our strawberries, beans, and peas dying and being eaten before they can get going, there seems to be nothing as cheap, non-toxic, and effective as this gum. You need to handle it with gloves and we have been using 4 packs a day. The gum disappears and the damage is less, but voles reproduce when they are only 3 weeks old so it is almost a losing battle.
HOWEVER, there is still hope for next year as it appears that we overlooked the obvious. When we added the hardware cloth for the raccoons we didn't think about the voles. So in the fall we will dig down inside the perimeter of the garden and bury 1/4" hardware cloth 3 feet below ground level. Since we have raised beds, this will be about 4 feet down.
SUMMARY - For a vegetable garden that is mole/vole/chipmunk proof, deer proof, crow proof and racoon proof: 6-8 foot fence. Cover with plastic netting, and bury 1/4" hardware cloth 3-4 feet underground. Wish us luck or we will have to move to another house next year if we want a vegetable garden.
Mid-July update - We decided to install 1/4" hardware cloth two feet down around the outside now and not to wait until fall because there is still time to have some fall crops. Will report any success or failure of this last venture.
Just think of the savings we have made in MD bills and fitness clubs with all the exercise we have had digging and installing all the variety of fences etc. around the garden!!! If we are successful with the 1/4" hardware cloth, and if we live long enough to recoop our expenses, it will be cheaper to grow our own food. But it is not the savings as much as it is the taste and pleasure of growing our own, fresh, organic food.
May I say how impressed I am with your determination? I've spent the summer battling a mysterious varmint eating my tomatoes. Finally decided it was most likely ground squirrels, but by that point most of my tomato crop was either picked or gone. The last few out there seem to be doing much better after the installation of the inflatable snake and the application of powdered coyote urine (ah, the things we will buy in desperation!), but we'll have to wait and see what happens with my second fall crop to know if I've got it solved, or if they've just moved on to temporarily greener gardens. Anyhow, I've been close to giving up many times, buoyed only by my new DG friends, and I haven't been anywhere near as resourceful as you have been!
My sincerest admiration goes your way for all you've done!
Encouragement like yours strengthens our determination. Many people think that gardens involve just two steps - plant and eat. Not so and that's why it is very discouraging to watch the damage on a daily basis. I suspect that some areas are easier than others for growing things, but this has pushed us to the extreme. Take a look at our pathetic garden. Luckily we plant enough so that we do get some produce on the weakened plants, but not what one would expect from a 20 x 30 garden and certainly nothing to freeze for the winter. Some of the earlier plants have had some results, but as the vole population has grown, succession planting has been a waste. They eat the seeds as they germinate. But just wait until next year!!!!
Cats? I wouldn't lock one in a garden in this heat.
I have a vole killing machine cat. Her personal best is 5 in one day. She doesn't eat them - just kills them dead, very neatly, and drops them by the back door. Her trick is to roll in the dirt until she is coated and "invisible" to voles. LOL She's never caught a bird and we don't have chipmunks in the yard.
I have found cats extremely effective at catching gophers. And if you have a dog in the yard, gophers won't come in. You could put a fence around your yard with your fenced garden inside and get a dog. My dogs have never caught a gopher but they are always digging at their holes and trying to catch them so the gophers get stressed out and move. I have literally seen gophers moving next door to get away from my wimpy dogs. The cats I have had over the years eat them.
Yep, I guess so - if ya have or can get a discriminating cat, or your neighbors have one, or a stray/ferral cat comes into the neighborhood and/or your yarden. Heck, may can even rent one or two these days .. (lol)
A snake! < Now, there's an instant fix. Of course, he'd not be discriminating either! He'd just as joyfully indulge a dine on the cat .. as well as a small dog, birds, chipmunks, mice, and moles, the rabbits, rats, squirrels, toads, shrews, and the most awful voles.
Just recently, we discovered that a vole or two had taken up residence here, and had a real strong hankering for some of the Hostas. The absolute, only plants ever bothered! Talk about discriminating 'tastes' .. (hee)
At any rate, mygardens ..
It sounds like you guys've just about got your vole problem 'nipped-in-the-bud' now also. Your sheer determination is heartily applauded, and envied ..
I don't know if it was moles or voles - I've read that Townsend's mole in the NW does eat vegetables, and there are moles all through our yard. But regardless, after years of pulling up carrot tops with the bottoms gnawed off, I went with the hardware cloth a year ago spring. It was a major project and not inexpensive. But it has worked so far.
We trenched all around the veggie garden and buried 4' hardware cloth about 3 1/2 feet deep. I had read that moles rarely dig deeper than 2 1/2 feet. However, while trenching we encountered a major mole hole at the 3 foot level, coming up from lower down. That was a depressing moment. We went down another half foot and crossed our fingers. Advice on the web was to bend the lower edge of the wire (maybe 4 inches) out sideways at the bottom of the trench, away from the garden, to make it harder for the critters to dig down and under when they hit the barrier. That meant a wider trench, but we did that too. With 4' hardware cloth, that left another few inches to stick up above ground and attach to the rabbit wire.
In 2 gardening seasons we've had lots of moles on the outside but none on the inside. As my SO says, "I'm immortal. So far, so good." Had I known this would really work, I would have sprung for aluminum sheeting (also recommended on the web) instead of hardware cloth for its longer life, given that the major pain and expense was in the digging. Yes, we turned the digging over to the professionals. My SO now announces to dinner guests that each carrot they are eating cost about $300. I say it was worth it!
I've successfully fended off moles/voles for 2 seasons now..they were eating everything in the lawn. The first step is spreading used cat litter around the area...they don't like the scent at all and works similarly to other urine deterrents. If you don't have a cat yourself..try finding a neighbor, family, or friend with one...they'll probably have no problem setting the bags of used litter out for you to get...provided you do it in a timely fashion.
The second phase of the mole/vole irradication has to do with vibration/sound. For this effort I used my John Deere tractor regularly and just did massive circles and patterns over the area. This does two things..first it will hopefully collapse some of their tunnels...but they hate the vibration and the sound as well. So far I've kept the yard going and the back section where they devastated it so badly is greening up nicely again this year..even with major drought.
One other note...I've decided not to try and fight them in the ground...and also due to the hard clay soil around here...I'm just going with raised beds..and using 1/4" hardware cloth on the bottoms of the beds. Replacing a few feet of hardware cloth every few years in a raised bed is far easier than digging that deep in the ground. My garden area is about 30 x 60...which I am putting up chicken wire fencing to keep the neighbor dogs and bunnies out..and so far nothing has bothered my bed...despite possums, deer, dogs, bunnies, racoons, squirrels and tons of birds.
Oh..and one other note...on the bunnies...if they get to be too much of a problem...have you tried fried rabbit? It's absolutely awesome..and no..it doesn't taste like chicken!!
We had a terrible problem with voles also. They ate more of the garden than we did. So discouraging.
This year I've noticed there are more stray cats in the area. Funny, the vole population seems to be fewer. Also, I found a big yellow and black 'rat snake' near the garden. Instinctively, I went and got the hoe and promptly killed him. What was I thinking ! ! ! ? Rat snakes are not poisionous, and they eat voles and mice. I was sorry after it was done. But I just get too excited at the sight of a snake. I wasn't thinking about the voles at all at that moment.
Also, I've started gardening vertically. Trying to run all my cukes, melons and things like that up trellises to keep the voles from eating them before we can pick them.
Good luck, I hope you're able to get them under control. I understand completely.
Voles & Juicy Fruit Gum -- how did you apply the gum? I have voles and we are in the process of digging up our beds and lining them with hardware cloth but I'm interested in how the gum works.
Interesting vole stories. There are plenty of voles here in my area. For years I unknowingly invited them into my garden by layering a thick blanket of wheat straw mulch over everything. Still plenty of wheat kernels in it, so the voles had cover and well as food and a winter blanket. I also had a bird feeder set up near the garden! Talk about a bonus feeding station. The voles continue to thrive. Whenever I see a plant or tree, (yes, tree! I lost a one year old cherry tree to them), wilting, I can be sure when I go over, there will be tunneling around the roots and the voles are responsible. I can sometimes save a plant by pressing the soil back down and giving it a good soaking, but very often, I pull it up and the roots are chewed to a pitiful stub and there's no hope of regeneration. I've resorted to earthboxes on my deck, eliminated the bird feeder permanently. (That's another bear/raccoon story.) And had a neighbor with a tractor plow up part of my meadow field to start over in a new location. No mulch being used there. I have cats. but only one is a real hunter. He does kill quit a few but there's always more. I will try the juicy fruit gum method. Gardening is such an adventure!
Forget the Juicy Fruit. I have a feeling the Juicy Fruit company started this myth. The voles were supposed to eat it but not be able to digest it or excrete it so they were supposed to die a slow death. We bought out the store thinking it was a cheap organic method. You are told not to get a human smell on the gum but take off the wrapper with gloves on and then throw whole or half pieces around the garden. As mentioned in the beginning of this thread, our garden is fenced all around, two feet below ground, and covered with bird netting, so it keeps out both the natural predators and the unwanted rodents. At any rate, we put down 1-3 packs of gum a day and every day it was all almost gone. At the end of the summer we caught 24 voles in traps and thought we had solved the problem, but this spring, more holes, so we put out more traps. No voles this time, but we found a creature that is not known to be in our area. Continued at http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/857879/