Toby - I have heard you say that the solution to an animal problem is an animal. Voles have been sharing my food for a few years now but now it has gotten to the point that they are not sharing with ME! I did bring a cat onto the property - she has a history of being a great mouser but she isn't getting the job done either. I would like to create snake habitats but have not been successful so far. I have a mound of magnolia leaves that a big black snake used to live in and I keep it undisturbed - still no snake. We have a couple of small water features to encourage other types of wildlife.
Each day that I go out it looks like a new set of cluster bombs has gone off in my yard. Is it hopeless? I have read that the vole problem runs in 5 year cycles. Is waiting out my only option or do you have another idea? Thanks - love your podcasts - Jeanine in South Carolina.
Sorry to hear that one cat hasn't helped, as that was the answer to our serious vole infestation in S Oregon. (we had 2 cats, though). Small rockpiles and brushpiles can be good snake habitat and owl habitat can help. Voles do go in cycles, and you have created a great food source for them, so it may just take an annoyingly long time for this system to settle down. But our cats were killing 2-3 per day sometimes (and it kept them away from the songbirds).
I would bet that a foraging breed of chicken would do the trick. I've never seen my gals actually eat a vole (I have seen them eat mice), but our minor vole problem hasn't returned since we started moving the chickens around the place a couple years back.
the chickens will also eat snakes, though, which could otherwise help you out. we do still have a substantial snake population despite the chickens' taste for them.
If cats, ferrets, snakes, weasels, or owls won't control them, you could always resort to setting mousetraps to put a dent in their population until it crashes as part of its cycle. Trap baited with peanut butter, placed next to an active vole hole with an inverted bucket set over trap and hole.
My neighbor planted several stakes in the ground, hung from these stakes were aluminum pie pans-the lightweight disposable kind. With a light breeze, the pie pans will lift, but will fall back to strike the stake causing a small vibration in the ground. In a couple of weeks, I inherited her vole problem, repeated her remedy and added some pinwheels. In a couple of weeks, our other neighbor's lawn started to turn brown.
We discussed setting a radio on the ground as another means of driving the critters off, but the pie pans worked wonders for us.
Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
Thanks for all of the suggestions. We are raptor heaven where I live - I only wish I could identify them all. Occasionally a hawk or two will nest right in my yard so I have to keep protection for my smaller birds. But I think Toby's suggestion of another cat might be the best we can do. And wait out the cycle. I don't want to do anything that will discourage snakes from coming back and I think I will do a few rock piles near the water features to encourage them. I think that the snakes would be the ultimate answer if I can just get them to come back.
Hi Jeanine. I'm a reluctant vole expert, and your piteous plea has dragged me out of "lurker" mode. Here's what I've learned.
You must deprive the voles of habitat and cover near the foods they like to eat, and that you don't want to share. No strawmulch on your carrots, for example. It supports itself and stays up over their tunnels, and provides cover as they can easily burrow under it. Instead use materials like shredded bark or wood chips. They can't tunnel under these because this material will collapse. Nor can they find cover in it as it lays down in a dense pack. The depredation I had the year I tried the whole "growing potatoes in straw" thing doesn't bear discussing - still too painful a memory. Suffice it to say they loved having me provide them with both a home and a full larder.
Leave a wide mulched path around their favorite foods that forces them to be exposed as they head out for a vegetable raid. They don't like crossing open spaces, it leaves them visible to predators - your cats, or local wildlife.
Keep the foods they like to eat that make their own vole cover, winter squash, for example, in the center of your garden, bounded by plants that don't provide them with cover, like trellised peas or cukes.
If your garden borders on lawn, the edge of your lawn where the grass turns to dirt tends to be their chosen highway. Deprive them of it with mulch.
This is a pain, but I'll be forced to do it myself this year. Move the compost pile(s) away from the vegetable garden. Your compost heap is their condominium. Considering that voles are weaned within 14 days of birth, you'd have to turn your compost weekly to prevent successful nesting in it.
I think I will do a few rock piles near the water features to encourage them. Unfortunately, voles will move in there. The snakes can take care of themselves, your job is to remove vole habitat.
And, following PC practice: observe. As soon as you see depredation, look for the places that give voles the cover they need to get to their target, and remove it. If you can't remove it this year, plan for it next year. Also ask folks who live in your area if they've found any materials that voles don't like. I live on the coast, and in addition to wood chips, my neighbors and I have found that voles don't like fresh seaweed mulch. I'm experimenting with literally tons of it this year as a perimeter mulch around my beds, to see what happens. So far, so good.
Hope this helps! And hope I didn't post this twice...
I've used expanded shale, which is a local product here, as a kind of mulch-below-the-real-mulch to prevent voles from digging hostas. Evidentally they don't care to chew on shale very much. I suspect small gravel to work similarly.
I thought I had chipmunks or field mice, but realized today it was pine voles. I built a chicken coop last summer, so they have easy access to spilled chicken feed and apparently built a nest under the pile of leftover building materials. I found a colony's nest and took 2 out of 4 out with my bb gun. I was going to clean up the wood pile. BUT I'm thinking if I leave it or make new cozy areas to nest, I can just flip them over in a couple weeks and hopefully dispatch the rest before my seedlings go out. I'm just glad I put my new fruittrees in containers instead of the ground back in fall! I wish there was a barn cat rescue here - I'd take a couple instead of having to hunt them myself. Scared I'm going to get collateral damage by a chicken wandering into my sights.
Just yesterday I thought to check the hyacinths at an old house site on our land and found them completely gone when I pulled back the leaf mulch that blows on to them every fall. I remember noticing they hadn't popped up when they usually do back in january or february...just the tips of the green leaves ordinarily show through the mulch. Yesterday there were depressions that led to small holes just below the surface of the soil. The hyacinths had been multiplying there for decades. I am pretty sure it was voles but am hoping it was another critter tha might have just rearranged them and not eatten them.
"We're all just walking each other home." -Ram Dass
"Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder."-Rumi
I just posted on another thread:
https://permies.com/forums/posts/list/40/1334 Our voles seem to do the most in winter, under snow- nothing I can do about that! I presume they must be around in summer, but see no sign of them, except in spring when the snow melts and their grass tunnels are everywhere (don't mind that as long as they stay off the beds)
As to gravel stopping them, a friend in the mountains in B.C. had them wreak havoc in his hardy cactus bed- a lot of gravel there! They didn't eat the plants but tunnelled under them causing them to collapse..
edge of the boreal mixed woods zone, just east of the Rocky Mtn Foothills, z 2/3
If you can stand it, try going a year or two without growing any root crops. I got my vole population explosion after I planted a big bed of potatoes. They ate about 1/3 of EVERY potato then the next year destroyed all of my root crops.
Forget the cat, the terriers bred for catching rats are the best weapon against voles. My cats didn't like voles and would sometimes catch them but never ate them. They ate birds, bunnies, etc. but left the voles whole. A dog will keep killing them as long as it can find any. With some encouragement it may spend most of its free time looking for more to kill.
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