Vole/Moles -- do they bother vegetable beds?

prairiemoon2 z6 MAApril 5, 2014

I have read conflicting reports on whether I have to be concerned about voles/moles in my raised vegetable beds. Some people staple hardware cloth to the bottom of their frames to keep them out. I just saw a post from someone who has clearly evident tunneling in the grass but hasn't had a problem in their vegetable beds.

I am just starting to notice bulbs missing in the garden and tracks in the snow the last couple of years. But I haven't seen a problem in my vegetable beds. If the hardware cloth didn't cost $50 for a 25ft roll which means I need three of them, I would just add it, but if I'm going to go to that expense, I'd really like to know if it is a serious issue and if adding the hardware cloth will solve the problem.

Any thoughts?

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Voles yes, moles no. But a few missing bulbs doesn't mean you have either. That is far more likely to be squirrels. The hardware cloth is justified when you know for a fact that you have a vole problem. Otherwise it isn't.

So you need to research both underground dwelling pests to learn what signs to look for.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 9:47AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Well, my husband saw one last fall. And described it as having no eyes and I showed him a photo of a mole and he said that was it. And I saw tracks in the snow as it was melting this winter. But so far no tunnels visible in the lawn. I am going to do a good search this weekend to see if I find tunnels or burrows under my thick shredded leaf mulch in my main perennial bed.

I just thought moles don't eat bulbs, but something is eating them. And I planted 25 leucojum last fall and not one is coming up so far, despite crocus blooming and daffodil foliage being up about 3 inches. I read that voles often follow moles in their tunnels and they do eat bulbs.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:17AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Here is a photo of the tracks in the snowâ¦.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:19AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

I think you probably do have both. That looks like a classic vole trail in the snow there. Perhaps thehardware cloth will work? I'm assuming that when you say vegetable beds you're talking raised beds. From what I read, voles are poor climbers and won't scale the outside of your beds, so their access should be via the mole tunnels. Do you have a light and sandy soil? I do and I see much indication that voles make their own tunnels as well as using mole tunnels, but very shallow. I'm back to trapping as many as I can, but it's work. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:37AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks sunnibel, for that info. Yes, I am building raised beds that will have 12 inch high sides. No, I have loamy clay soil. Have you tried that castor oil application that I've heard others have had success with?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:41AM
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shermthewerm(8 PNW)

I really wish I had put the hardware cloth in my 6' x 20' raised beds! It'd be very difficult to do it now, but I have moles tearing up one of my beds probably as I'm typing this. So frustrating & difficult to get carrots to germinate when they keep pushing them out of the soil. I go out every morning & firm the soil around the plants that have been lifted. Unfortunately my cat has decided to retire from mole hunting. She used to take care of them for me, sitting patiently next to the mounds, ready to pounce at the first sight of any movement.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 12:04PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks shermthewermâ¦.I am thinking I will add the hardware cloth to the beds. I definitely don't want to regret not doing it. You know with a little help from a friend you could get those beds lifted and add the hardware cloth before next winter. Do it one bed a week and it won't be so bad. It's just a lot of shoveling to empty and fill the bed again I guess. With a little helpâ¦.a piece of cake. :-)

And here's a link to an article I found informative this morning.

Here is a link that might be useful: Moles - Living with Wildlife

This post was edited by prairiemoon2 on Sat, Apr 5, 14 at 19:48

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 7:44PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Moles are just looking fro grubs and similar larva. I have been fighting them in the front yard where the grass is. I have been feeding them Mole Baits for the last two seasons. It seems that they are vanished.
There are 3 treatments: (1) Kill the grubs (2) Kill the moles (3) Repel the moles.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:16PM
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shermthewerm(8 PNW)

Yeah, prairiemoon, I think about emptying the beds to add hardware cloth every spring when the moles seem to be especially active tunneling. But I usually always have something started or overwintering in them. It really would be a huge job as at one end of the beds is 2' deep. I'm pretty live and let live, so I don't take any active measures to eradicate them (although I do miss my cat's hunting them!). I just stomp down the damage & hope they'll tunnel on into someone else's yard, and replant as needed. But, if I was planning another raised bed most definitely hardware cloth would be put down.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:24PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I get it Sherm. I have been that way about some issues. I had seen a chipmunk or two for a couple of years, and last year no chipmunks. Have no idea why. Used to get a few rabbits in the yard, but all they'd eat was the clover in the lawn. Haven't seen them in a couple of years. Sometimes it works in your favor.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 3:52AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

PM2, I definitely have voles and they have not disturbed the veggie garden. I don't have raised beds per se, but I do have boards around the beds. I don't think I have moles in the yard, so I really can't comment on that.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:30AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

I'm about to start using some castor oil to see how it works. First I need to clear the rest of the mulch from winter-it's a big garden so that takes a while. Meanwhile I have a couple of trapline traps set, one mole so far, no voles. I also have a couple of hawks and signs of an owl helping, but we may be spitting in the ocean as far as making a dent in the local population.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:32AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I think the fact that I'm building my soil up all the time with shredded leaves, compost and cover cropping, I end up with a lot of worms and moles eat a lot of earthworms, as I understand it and would probably be attracted to my beds. So in the end, I just don't want to take the chance that it will become a problem that would be a lot harder to fix after the fact.

So what kind of damage do the voles do in your garden?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:33AM
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(I thought I had responded to this, but I don't see it, so my apologies if I wrote this elsewhere.)

I don't currently have raised bed, and I do get some occasional munching on my potatoes. I don't grow other root veggies (except alliums which nothing except cutworms eats IME), and they don't bother any other veggies that I grow, even ones with appealing greens.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:52AM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

I had a huge problem last year with voles. Any where I used straw as a mulch, I had mice/voles...not sure which. All I know is that my rat-dog (Pomeranian is a better mouser than any cat I've ever had) went crazy all summer trying to catch all the 'ratz' in my garden. I lost most of my potatoes and melons. Solution?? I didn't have one except to use bait stations (the ones that pets can't get into) but by the time I used them the damage had been done. I think using straw is what attracted them, but because I garden in the North straw is almost a necessity...June is still very chilly at night.

As an experiment I grew castor bean plants on the perimeter of the garden. Looked nice and tropical but didn't deter the rodents one bit! I even had one planted smack dab in the middle of my potato bed.

This year I'm going to try using shredded leaves that I saved from last fall instead of straw. Maybe it will break down and be too soggy for mice.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 4:29PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

Voles will eat the bottoms out of your tomatoes. Also field mice will do that. I set up bait stations in my market garden.Voles and field mice will both eat standard mouse poisons. You can also catch voles with peanut butter on a snap trap, we caught several on the back porch. They look different than your typical mouse, having a very pointed nose and very plushy looking short gray fur. If you have pets, put your snap traps in a bucket or box with a hole cut into it and the voles will go right in there for it. They love peanut butter!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 4:34PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Sandy, it's funny your voles like peanut butter and standard mouse baits, mine seem to ignore them! Well, at least the bait doesn't seem to go fast but the little runs keep growing. But others have said what you say, so I'm sure you've caught plenty.

They do like mulch, but also any large and shady set of plants seems to attract them-potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, melons, squash, a dense planting of beans, corn, all those can create wonderful vole cover. The most problem I have had with them is that they ruin many potatoes and absolutely destroy all sweet potato tubers. I find that the tomatoes don't get bothered as much is I leave a pan of water out during the really hot spells. That keeps the birds from getting too rowdy on the tomatoes too. Otherwise their tunnels can severely interfer with the growth of some plants- tunnels that kept getting re-opened after I filled them killed a few peppers, an artichoke, several large squash vines, a few bean plants last summer. Oh and they love to eat the roots of artichokes. If I didn't love potatoes and sweet potatoes so much I probably would just accept the other damage but I love potatoes and I'm going to grow and harvest them, darn it! :)

I don't know about the castor plant thing, what I read was that it was the beans that were repellant, and people have been known to put the beans in the runs and apparently drive away (or poison?) the little buggers.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 11:24AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

We've decided to add hardware cloth to the bottom of the raised beds. Quite expensive. Plus I've had a hard time finding the 4ft wide size and when I did, it is in the 1/4 inch size mesh. I am considering if that is a good size or not. Will that size mesh impede the roots of the vegetables or the earthworms from moving from the subsoil?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 5:04AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

RATS and mice run around on the ground . The only place they use underground is their home.

I have found rats more damaging than rabbits. They love young seedlings, melons. They even chew the stems, probably for water. Trap and bait are the best combo. I have done that in the past, down in GA. I trapped maybe 20 of them and kill unknown number by bait and finally there were none noticeable.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 6:21AM
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Field mice ARE voles. At least around these parts that is the common name for voles. :-)

Since they spend quite a bit of time underground, building networks of tunnels called "vole runs", they gnaw on tree and shrub roots to keep their teeth from growing too large, just like other rodents. They also find tasty morsels that we plant, like root vegetables, that give them the opportunity to gnaw and have a tasty meal.

Voles seem to be particularly fond of potatoes and sweet potatoes. They completely devastated my small crop of sweet potatoes a couple of years ago. Not one single sweet potato was untouched by the time they were done.

After that, I decided the root veggies will be grown in fabric pots, not the ground.

If you have small beds, you could use hardware cloth around your garden. Voles can't climb very high so you only need about 12 inches above ground and 6 inches below ground. Most voles only burrow about 6 inches or less below ground level, unless you have pine voles, in which case the hardware cloth should go down about 12 inches below the ground at the garden perimeter.

Of course, this could be both expensive and time-consuming if you have huge gardens. I grow all of my root vegetables in fabric pots or containers now. I hate those little spawns of satan.

Moles, on the other hand, disrupt your ground but they eat grubs and worms, not plant matter. They certainly could disrupt young plants as they push through the soil looking for food, but they don't eat plants and won't eat your almost fully grown root vegetables.

If it doesn't have eyes, it's a mole. If it looks like a mouse and has eyes, it's a vole. You can have both at the same time. I certainly do. I don't mind moles all that much and tend to leave them alone.

Voles are rodents; moles are NOT rodents.

Appearance-wise, voles are a bit different from a mice, but it's not immediately obvious. Voles have smaller ears and shorter tails. However, I don't care - they are still destructive little mice to me. They give me the creeps, like all rodents.

So 1/4 inch hardware cloth, installed like a fence, except you put about 6 inches of it under the ground and the rest above ground. Make sure it surrounds the entire perimeter of the area where you want to grow root veggies.

If you have pine voles (and they seem to be more common in the west and midwest) then go down a foot. The idea is to block them from getting in via underground tunneling. Like all rodents, they can "collapse" their bodies and get through small holes. Since they are small, 1/2 inch holes probably won't stop them, so use the 1/4 inch.

Best of luck.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 6:45AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Wow, I can't believe they can manage to get through 1/2 inch mesh. When I bought the rolls of hardware cloth, I was thinking 1/4 inch would be better for keeping out the critters, but later had second thoughts that it might impeded the roots of the vegetables I'm growing, like Asparagus that go pretty deep or keep the earthworms from moving into the bed from the subsoil. Does anyone have any idea if that could happen or not?

I'm not going to be able to put fencing all around the vegetable plot, so the alternative was to install it to the bottom of the raised bed frames.

We have not yet seen voles, but have spotted a mole in the garden. I've read that voles show up after moles and use the tunnels that they've dug. I realize the moles eat the earthworms and not the plants, but I work hard at creating soil that has a lot of earthworms in it and I don't really want them snacking on them and reducing their numbers. [g]

So, since we are just building new beds, I'd rather bite the bullet and do it now and not regret not doing it later.

Thanks Seysonn and Lionheart!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 9:48AM
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