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Lettuce, Cold Frames, and Voles. (Don't Read if You're Squeamish!)

February 22

Yesterday was beautiful!  My first day out for more than 10 minutes at a time since all the snows.

Removed the cold frames from my lettuce and spinach.  They’ve been on for 20 days which is longer than I feel is good. (Topic for a future post.) The last few snows were wet and covered my garden with what seemed to me a one foot blanket of ice so the frames were frozen in place.  Chipped away a lot of the ice a few days ago but yesterday was the first day they were thawed enough to move the frames.

Lettuce and spinach looked good, but even though I had trapped voles in those beds just before the snows, the voles in neighboring beds found the protected areas to surface during the snow and severe cold. Not particularly good for my lettuce since the creatures undermine it when they tunnel under it and then surface.

If you don’t know what voles are (lucky you!), they are mouse-like rodents that when grown can measure 5 to 8 inches long, including the tail.  Sometimes grey, sometimes brown.  They are active all year long and extremely prolific.  I read somewhere that females mature in 40 days and have 5 to 10 litters per year; each litter from 3 to 6 young.  Do the math.  Staggering!

I trap mostly in the winter when their above ground runways that connect burrow openings are easier to see in my garden than at other times when vegetation is so dense. If I trap 1 or 2 dozen a winter, it goes a long way towards keeping the numbers down.  I never get rid of them totally though.

In growing season I watch for tell tale signs of vole activity that is harmful to my plants.  Most especially my onion beds.  I know first hand that some voles have a taste for onions!

They will also undermine lots of other plants like tomatoes, peas, beans, cukes, peppers etc. so I keep watch and trap when I suspect a lot of vole activity.

My trapping method requires one mouse trap, one good size flower pot that will fit over the trap, and a rock or something to weight the pot so it will not blow away or fall over.  For bait I use a piece of apple and tie it onto the trap. (Otherwise the vole may be able to take the apple without getting caught.)  If I don’t have apple I’ll sometimes use peanut butter.

With my gloved hand at the burrow opening I pull out the dirt to make a level landing on which to place the trap.  Then cover it with the pot and place the weight on top.  By the way, voles usually won’t take the bait unless it is seemingly protected.  Thus: the pot to cover it.

When I have traps set (maybe 15 to 30 days out of the year) I like to check them twice a day, although sometimes once a day has to do. I’ve caught as many as 5 from the same burrow opening and occasionally will catch a shrew as well. (A shrew has the appearance of a long-nosed mouse, but does not have the familiar gnawing front incisor teeth of rodents.) I’ve also caught voles at burrow openings that looked as if they were abandoned long ago. When caught they are immediately buried outside the garden.

Trapping voles is a task that I don’t enjoy, but I do it from time to time to keep them at bay and to be able to enjoy more of the fruits of my labor. Besides, its part of tending my garden.

Picture # 1 Snow and ice has thawed enough to take cold frames off.  (Notice the black pot to the right; trap is underneath.)

Picture #2 I am removing the biggest of the cold frames. (Notice the black pot with a weight on top.)

Picture #3 Various lettuces that have been under the cold frame.

Picture #4  I have just finished picking spinach for a salad.

9 comments to Lettuce, Cold Frames, and Voles. (Don’t Read if You’re Squeamish!)

  • diane

    if I put the spinach in a pot, can voles climb up a pot to eat it or will they pass it by?

  • Theresa

    Hi Diane,
    You’d have to be overrun with voles for them to climb your pot and eat your spinach.

    Even in the garden, they don’t usually eat the spinach leaf itself. What really damages the plants is having their roots undermined by the tunnels the voles make.

    If you have more questions you are welcome to email me at theresa@tendingmygarden.com.

    Good luck with your spinach.
    Theresa

  • Connie

    Last summer I had a terrible problem with mice eating my plants in my garden. I would not have believed it, if I had not seen it my self. I came out to my garden about mid day and found a mouse gnawing on my pepper plants. Before this my green bean plants had been disappearing. I thought I had a possum or raccoon, not mice.

    They also ate my peppers. They did not seem to be interested in my tomatoes.

    I did put out mouse traps and caught two different size mice.

    Is there anything I can do about these mice?

  • Theresa

    Connie, you do indeed have problem! Sounds like you have an infestation of them. Definitely a problem not pleasant to deal with.

    As you probably know, I am organic in my approach and would never use poisons in my garden. Thus, I would buy 2 dozen mouse traps. Bait them with either peanut butter or apple. In this case try peanut butter first since it is so much easier to bait the traps. (You have to tie a piece of apple on —–and that gets to be job especially if you have a lot of traps.)

    Check the traps at least 2 or 3 times a day if you can, or more if possible. Keep at it, because diligence will be your best strength in this situation. It might not be just what you want to be doing, but it will get the numbers down and save your vegetables for you rather than mices, voles or whatever.

    After you do that —- keep an eye out for any tell tale signs and take action again the minute anything indicates a possible problem.

    I won’t go into it in detail here — but at our previous residence — which was primitive at best — we dealt with a problem of being overrun with crickets — inside the house. And I mean 100s of them. By the time we moved — we rarely had a cricket get inside. Our method: flyswatters and diligence.

    Best of luck to you Connie. Let me know how you do.

    Theresa

  • Bon

    We have lettuce and they are pulling the lettuce down the hole in which it grows out of..no exit holes…no snow I am in Georgia. But aggrevating all the same….any other suggestions?

  • Theresa

    Hi Bon,
    I’ve had that happen to me in the past. My crop was onions at the time. I went to reach for one and it was pulled into the ground. You can imagine my surprise!

    The only way you will get rid of them is to take action and trap. This won’t get rid of them forever and ever — but it will save your lettuce for now anyway.

    Obviously their tunnel or run was close to the lettuce. If you had put your finger down in there you may have been able to feel the hole and which way it went.

    If you don’t see any hole — poke around the lettuce bed with your fingers. You’ll find some hollow spots. Close them all in and then wait for the rodents to open a hole —- or come up under another lettuce.

    Once you find the hole — or the run — pull away some dirt and made a level space in front of the hole.

    Use an old fashioned mouse trap. Bait it with a little peanut butter or use apple (If you use apple you should tie it on with thread) Place the trap with the bait facing the hole.

    Put a large flower pot over the trap and put a brick or something on top to keep the wind from overturning it.

    Check the trap everyday. Keep trapping until you think you’ve caught them all.

    Fill in the runs. And wait to see if more holes open. Then repeat.
    Theresa

  • Do you have to cut an entrance hole in the cover……for the vole to get in?
    Thanks……..

  • Theresa

    By “cover” I assume you mean the pot. There is no need for hole in the pot. The voles come to the trap through their tunnels and the pot covers an “opening” to their tunnel.

  • Betty Dotson

    I’m a visual learner & your instructions were so precise that I can see the trap baited & placed exactly in the position to trap the pests!
    What a Blessing you are to us!
    Betty

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