garden cleanup: targeting mice and voles
ANDRE JORDAN’S DOODLE up top is funny, but I don’t have much sense of humor about mice (because of their strong link to the chain of Lyme disease transmission) or voles (who are relentless chewers of bark—as are mice). Lately readers in many areas have been telling me it’s the worst mouse year in recent memory, and yes, here, too. How I work aggressively in fall to reduce the garden’s population of mice and meadow voles.
As with any animal or insect pests, the work starts with reducing habitat—especially places they can overwinter. Close-cutting the entire lawn here is one of the final things I do in late fall, lowering the deck to 3 inches to reduce places to hide in general. I don’t let leaves remain piled up on the lawn or in beds, either.
For mice and meadow voles, it’s essential to install fine-gauge hardware-cloth collars (or heavy plastic ones) around young trees, in particular (though these and other rodents will chew wood young or old if hungry), and especially to make sure that the immediate area at the base of trees is clear. Mow low around woody plants that are planted in grassy areas, and remove weeds so there’s a ring of bare soil or at most a little mulch around the base.
Starting late August each year, I accelerate my trapping of these rodent pests. I have some tricks—including an idea for a box built to enclose mousetraps that I borrowed from the sustainable farming expert Eliot Coleman—who recommends baitless traps for voles. I use peanut butter. I never use poison bait; releasing that into the environment is anything but natural or organic.
The boxes are very simple, with a mouse hole in one or two sides, and a removable lid (above, the lid upturned shows how it has small pieces of wood screwed to each side to make it fit when set in place). Mine were made of scrap lumber. Coleman likes Intruder-brand traps; I’m a Snap-E fan (below). Both brands are reusable for a long time and can be washed, and you can find them at a great cost savings if you buy in bulk, as you will need a dozen or more even for a smallish garden (I buy a box of 24 every couple of years).
I prefer to put a couple of traps in each of these simple wooden boxes with removable lids, rather than out in the open, because it mostly keeps other animals out, and also keeps the traps fresh in foul weather. I have a very old house with a stone foundation, so I also place trap-filled boxes right beside its perimeter to catch would-be invaders thinking my basement might be a nice place to visit.
I found Coleman’s original design (details are in in this Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners story). It also included a long handle—a stake affixed to the box like a handle of a dustpan that you could use standing up would be attached. I use the traps year-round where I see activity, or in especially sensitive areas (such as where I might be growing potatoes or sweet potatoes, which rodents love to gnaw at, spoiling my hoped-for harvest).