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). How I work aggressively year-round, but especially 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.
For mice and 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. It’s especially to make sure that the immediate area at the base of trees is clear. Friends with orchards do not allow turf to grow right up against their trees, for instance. Mow low around woody plants that are planted in grassy areas, or remove the immediate circle or strip of turf, and also remove weeds so there’s a ring of bare soil or at most a little mulch around the base.
I trap all year in areas around the house, and in spots where I see evidence of activity. Then starting late August each year, I accelerate my trapping of these rodent pests before everyone looks for winter digs. 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, known as rodenticides; releasing that into the environment is anything but natural or organic, and represent a danger to pets, children and also to wildlife.
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 design in this Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners story. I use the trap boxes 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).
more on voles (vs. moles) and ‘nuisance wildlife’
CAN’T TELL signs of a vole from a mole, or have other “nuisance wildlife” issues, from rabbits to woodchucks to who knows who? This interview with Marnie Titchenell from Ohio State University may help. (Above, photo of voles’ surface tunneling in turf from Missouri Botanical Garden, where they have more on voles and mice.)