mice or moles eating my potatoes

vaherbmomAugust 8, 2011

I tried the "lasagna" method of planting potatoes and then layering mulches over top. Seemed to do wonderfully--the plants were very vigorous and healthy all season (we have no potato beetles here). I started to dig up the tubers and am finding many if not most are chewed. On top of that, yellow jackets have built a nest in the straw.

Are rodents a common problem with potatoes? What can I do to avoid this happening next year? This was a very disappointing (and expensive) crop failure. Thankfully almost everything else in my garden has done exceptionally well this year.

thanks for any advice or sympathy!

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bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

Most likely, you have vole damage. Moles do not eat vegetables. You can keep voles away from you potatoes and sweet potatoes by applying a castor-oil product like Mole-be-gone or MoleMax (it works on voles, too). I usually circle my beds with it, or apply on top. I have not had a problem since I started using it.

Bellatrix

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 12:36PM
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potterhead2(z5b NY)

The same thing happened to me last year when I hilled up with straw, I lost about a third of my crop. I did the first hilling up with dirt, then did subsequent hillings with straw. When I moved aside the straw to harvest, I found holes chewed in all the potaotes near the surface. The potatoes lower down, which were covered in dirt were untouched. There were even 4 vole nests under the straw of my 25 foot row.

I won't use straw again, going back to the old-fashioned hilling up with dirt.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 12:52PM
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glib(5.5)

Voles are a common problem with heavy mulch. I try to minimize the problem by applying mulch late (around July 15), and by keeping a big mulch pile well away from the garden, so they congregate there. I will have to try try MoleMax.

Keep in mind that, as it is, you have a major infestation now, with hundreds of voles under there. If you thrust a finger in the mulch, just inside of the bed, you will easily find their tunnels, running parallel to the bed sides (they won't bite you). You may consider dropping rat poison through the finger hole, and closing the hole the best you can. it will help.

Wasps in mulch are a much lesser concern. I have had them only 2 or 3 times, though VA may have more wasps than MI.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 12:56PM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

I mulched late, like glib, and haven't had any vole problems so far (knock wood). But the trade-off was this did leave the soil exposed during a couple of heat waves, which caused it to be baked hot and dry and may have reduced yields.

I'm also planning to check regularly under the mulch. If I see any tunnels, I'll either set traps or remove the straw.

You can catch voles easily with snap-type mousetraps baited with almond butter or peanut butter and laid across their tunnels. This will reduce their numbers but won't clean them out. Once you complete your harvest and expose the beds, predators may take care of the rest.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 1:11PM
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ltilton

I mulch with straw but the cats keep down the vole population. I did have the rabbit nesting in the straw, though.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 1:37PM
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vaherbmom

thanks everyone.

I do have cats and one is a particularly good mouser, however she hasn't been interested in hanging around the potato patch. I suspect I have mice rather than voles but maybe I'm wrong . . .

With the method I used, I can't wait to mulch until later. You mulch heavily when you lay out the sets in March or April. I chose the mulch method because I don't know where I'd get all the dirt for the hilling in the traditional method. Next year though I'm going to find out a way as this was a huge flop.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 7:13PM
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glib(5.5)

You have voles, which are field mice. It is recoverable though (with rat poison in every tunnel, followed a week later by tunnel collapsing, placing a hose into the tunnel). I have had 3 infestations over the years. My mulch goes in June 15, not July. Note that in the infested beds I had buried chicken wire when I built them, but either it corrodes or the constant addition of organic matter makes the soil so high there is room for the voles to live above the chicken wire.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 10:18AM
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tedgrowsit(6b PA)

Mice are actually pretty benign little critters. They feed on grain, seeds, etc. Voles eat your root crops, strip the bark off fruit trees, even debark roots of fruit trees under the ground. Voles are your problem. We have been fighting them for years. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are their favorites. We use traps, poison blocks, Mole Max, and a very watchful eye to deter them. If you catch them early, they can be controlled. After they have a chance to reproduce a few generations, say good bye to your potatoes. Aggressive control and harvesting early yielded a decent potato crop for us with very little damage from voles. Our present concern is the protection of a beautiful crop of sweet potatoes.
Check out the link below for an effective method of trapping voles. Hope this helps.
Ted

Here is a link that might be useful: Trapline Products

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 12:23PM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

I personally wouldn't use rat poison in or near a vegetable garden. It could injure other wildlife, including vole predators, and some of it ends up in your soil.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 12:29PM
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vaherbmom

Today I braved the yellow jacket nest to harvest the rest of the potatoes (except the section right where the wasp nest is). It turned out that only about 30-40% of the potatoes had been chewed. I saw no evidence of rodents--no tunneling, nests, even droppings, anywhere. But based on the chew marks I have to believe y'all are right that I have voles. My harvest was either pretty poor or they ate some of the potatoes whole.

Will it help to plant the potatoes underground next year? I don't know if I have the energy to do major battle with the voles since there are so many other things I'm growing and many are also labor-intensive.

Thanks for further advice!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 2:38PM
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tedgrowsit(6b PA)

This year I forked the soil deeply, made a trench about 4 or so inches deep, laid seed potatoes in the trench, covered them with compost/mulch, and really didn't do any other hilling other than just sprinkling a little on the potatoes I noticed poking out. It seems that the flatter growing area wasn't as appealing to the voles. The potatoes responded well too.
Ted

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 4:42PM
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vaherbmom

Thanks, Ted. Do you feel like your yields are still pretty good? I would like to see alot of potatoes next year!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 1:53PM
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tedgrowsit(6b PA)

VaHerbMom,
I believe we had a fair yield of potatoes. We often lose a large percentage of our crop to the voles, so I am not sure what a great yield would be. We planted about 3# each of Red Norland, Red Pontiac, Kennebec, German Butterball, and Yukon Gold. We harvested about 185# of potatoes. We will be eating potatoes for awhile.
Ted

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 11:08AM
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tedgrowsit(6b PA)

Your yield was likely poor 1. Because the voles ate the potatoes whole after mature. 2. Because a potato eaten when small will never become a big one. Sorry for stating the obvious. If the voles have eaten the potatoes after mature and large, there is usually evidence left behind that there was a potato there. Often they will hollow out the inside and leave a shell, leave particles and bits uneaten, or a portion of the potato is still there with many teeth marks showing. All of these I have seen many times. It is a bit of a let down to find things like this. Digging potatoes is one of my favorite gardening pleasures. Hopefully next year will yield greater success for you. Ted

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 11:20AM
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bsntech(5b)

tedgrowsit -

How the heck did you get 185 pounds of potatoes out of that? You planted five varieties at 3 pounds each - that is only 15 pounds of seed potatoes.

We bought probably 30 pounds of seed potatoes this year and I just started digging ours out today (had to stop since it is so hot out again). After digging about half of them up, we've only netted around 20 pounds. Not at all happy; last year we had about 80 pounds of potatoes - but I am digging out the Yukon Golds right now which are smaller than the Kennebec variety.

The seed potatoes you purchased - were they large? I've read conflicting reports that indicate that if you use small seed potatoes (basically use the whole potato as the seed), you'll get smaller yields - but I don't know if that is true. That is what we did this year; we went through the bins at Rural King and got the small seed potatoes and planted them whole.Affordable Website Design

Here is a link that might be useful: BsnTech Gardening Blog

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 3:50PM
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winchesterva(6)

My first time growing potatoes, my first dig was great, potatoes were beautiful and very tasty....here is what I found when I went back for more.

voles I'm afraid!! Very disappointing.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 8:00AM
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