Posts Tagged ‘voles’

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Summer Crop 2011: Part III

August 10, 2011

While a vole invaded my vegetable garden, mild weather and expanding shade hopped aboard the bothersome season. And why not, trouble always comes in threes. But I’m not alone.

Commercial growers throughout California’s Central Valley, where I live, are facing weather-related challenges, writes Steve Adler, associate editor of Ag Alert. Lingering spring rains pushed planting back by two weeks. In addition, it has been a cool summer. Yield is down. Fruits and vegetables are ripening later than usual. Temperatures can boost or inhibit crops. It’s one of the downsides of horticulture. Whether one is a weekend gardener, farmer, or consumer, Mother Nature’s mood—whatever it may be—is unavoidable.

Choosing the right garden location is just as important as the weather. I’ve had three vegetable plots, each at different sites. Two of the gardens soaked up the sun’s rays from sunup to sundown. My current garden is two years old. It sits a few feet from a row of redwoods (This also provides protection for voles to access the garden.) Sunlight doesn’t come through until 10 or 10:30 a.m. with filtered shade here and there throughout the day. I knew the nearby redwoods would eventually tower over the garden. But it was the only site available at the time, and I didn’t think the shade would expand so quickly.

Vegetable plants need six to eight hours of full sun to produce a substantial crop. In extreme hot climates, filtered, late afternoon shade is helpful in protecting foliage from burning or wilting and crops like peppers and tomatoes from sunscald. But too much shade decreases yield, prolongs leaf moisture which increases the chances of disease, mold, rot or mildew.

Microclimates, due to elements such as elevations and structures, can vary from spot to spot. To take the guesswork out of existing or new garden sites (including ornamental beds) accurate readings can be acquired from products like A Sun Stick Sunlight Meter for less than $10.00.

To Sum It All Up:

Problem #1:  Voles

Solution: Choose a garden site with a 15-foot wide open space around the perimeter. (Voles don’t usually go into the open.)

Problem #2:  Cool weather

Solution:  Be prepared. Plant more than needed, just in case the weather is mild and yield is down. If this doesn’t happen, what you can’t consume or preserve, donate to a local food bank.

Problem #3:  Expanding Shade

Solution:  Before choosing a garden site, note sun and shade exposure at different times of the day, and any immature trees or shrubs that will create too much shade in the near future. Choose a site that gets six to eight hours of full sun.

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Summer Crop 2011: Part I

August 3, 2011

This year, my veggie garden is nothing to be proud of. Here’s what I’ve harvested so far.:

  1. Three small zucchini.
  2. Green beans for only two evening meals.
  3. Barely enough tomatoes for two adults.
  4. Plenty of lettuce and crook neck squash– ah, success here.
  5. Seven undersized orange sugar pumpkins.
  6. Lemon cucumbers and melons being consumed by something other than humans. (I harvest one watermelon. It was 18 pounds! There are at least a dozen smaller ones–success here–but some have been eaten into.)

Every day, since planting the summer garden, I nudge Ralphie into the early morning light. He does his business while I head for the chicken pen and open the hatch door so the hens can free range. I replenish the feed and clean out the coop and water dishes then meet up with Ralphie on the front lawn to walk the gardens.

Much of this summer has been cool. Before 7 a.m., when we venture outdoors, the air is crisp. By the time we stroll through the perennial garden then approach the vegetable grounds, my eyelids have opened wide. Ralphie wanders past the raised beds to stand at the pasture’s edge and twitch his nose for unusual scents. Unless a jacket rabbit or low flying bird lures him to break loose, he opts to stay out of the foxtail infested pasture. On occasion he’ll lose all common sense and bolt into the field crazed with fire and vigor. Eventually he returns decorated with irritating foxtails from head to foot. So this time of year, Ralphie imagines most of his doggie adventures on the sidelines.

While he dreams of a wild chase, I look over the veggie plants and vines. I imagine my own possibilities, those of daily harvests full and abundant. I am visualizing instead of harvesting because the garden is a flop. This is my second year cultivating from raised beds and the first of many gardens to produce so little.

A wimpy garden doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not my style, but it happens.

There are several reasons for the poor crop production. Some problems can be adjusted before next summer and others are out of my control. Next week I will explore the causes, share my mistakes, and nature’s influence so that, hopefully, we will learn together how to produce a sizable yield.

Stayed tuned for Part II of Summer Crop 2011.

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Gardening with Critters

September 13, 2010

It was the end of the day, just before the eggs are gathered and the hens secured for the night, when I began watering the potted plants around the outside of the house. Ralphie was with me, sniffing the bushes and the air. The faucet, and hose with an adjustable nozzle on the end is next to marigolds in a tall, wrought iron wall stand, so I water them first. Feeling the fall air against my back, I was in deep thought about fall annuals when a vole suddenly ran up the wall and under the fascia board. I quickly turned the nozzle to ‘jet’ to flush out the vole. For some reason, I thought I was fast enough to drop the hose (should he reappear), grab the nearby shovel, and whack him flat. I aimed the jet spray into the narrow crack along the length of the fascia board. Coming to the end of a small opening, he flew out and landed on the porch wall, several feet away.

That was when I thought, “Hey, voles don’t have wings. Bats do!”

Ralphie was at my side by then; his head tilted wondering why I was moving so fast. I put the hose down and ran for the camera. As I tried to get a good photo, some distance away (I need a better camera for long-range photography), the poor bat was desperately searching for a crack between the ceiling and the wall, for another safe haven. Once I clicked the camera, I let the bat alone, and watered the large ivy topiaries a couple of feet away. It takes a few minutes for the water to run out of the bottom of the pots, so I sat on the bench when out jumped a dozen tiny frogs. They congregated around my shoes—also looking for a safe haven. Not a bad idea.

I’m not afraid of frogs, voles, or bats. They’re harmless, especially the frogs who in their own way are adorable. I just don’t like to openly engage in the company of voles and bats. Gardening is more pleasurable when critters of certain types remain concealed underground, or tucked beneath a bush. They can live on my land, in the gardens and potted plants as long as they stay out-of-sight and leave my plants and me alone.

I’m grateful for the benefits critters bring to nature and the garden. Nevertheless, there is something edgy about gardening beside visible voles and bats. This isn’t a child’s storybook with talking animals. With the bat overhead, frogs at my feet, and a vole playing hide-and-seek, it was time to tend to the hens, and then call it a day. The watering could wait until morning.

Bats Facts:

  • Bats are mammals. They have hair and are warm-blooded. Their pups are fed milk.
  • Bats have only one or two young per year and often live 10 years or more.
  • Their wings are made of thin layers of skin supported by bones like those in our arms and hands. The bones are long and thin, especially the hand and finger bones that support the end of the wing.
  • Bats are beneficial to gardens. Their favorite foods include garden pests such as beetles, mosquitoes, caterpillars, gnats, moths, and midges. (They also eat fruit.)
  • They consume 50 to 100 percent of their body weight each day.
  • Bat waste material, called guano, is high in nitrogen, and is an excellent organic fertilizer.

 Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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Managing Pests in the Garden

August 18, 2010

Lately, there’s been more action in and around my garden than I care to have. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy activity, positive changes, and the challenging journeys that gardening and country life sometimes take me on. It’s the damages and losses (even near losses) that I don’t cotton too. Here’s what’s been happening.

In the vegetable bed, voles have devoured two cantaloupes, one ready to harvest and the other green as grass. Voles run above ground on the paths they’ve created between holes. I placed two mousetraps and four glue traps on the running trails. If you place two traps back-to-back on the paths, you’re bound to capture one. So far, I’ve caught four. I plunked a blend of peanut butter and oatmeal on each, although a small piece of spearmint gum seems to attract them better. Ralphie, however, is also attracted to the gum, not the peanut butter, so I have to go with the latter.

The vole number is low so far. When hundreds of voles invade a garden or raised bed like my neighbor (or as I’ve experienced before), there’s not much you can do. I’m hoping this year’s vole litter in my garden isn’t a prelude to next year’s over breeding.

I’ve heard some master gardeners say pouring a mix of plaster of Paris and oatmeal down the opening works well. The voles, supposedly, eat it and die.

In addition to voles, it seems that I now have to be watchful of coyotes. Around 3:30 in the afternoon, a coyote tried to take my hens hostage. Ralphie and I just happened to be in the hammock, a few feet away, when we heard the ladies squawking frightfully. Between Ralphie’s barking and my yelling, the coyote fled silently without bloodshed, not even a nugget of country chicken. Thank heaven. (I also have to stay extra close to Ralphie now when he’s outside.)

A lot of dust and feathers flew overhead as the ladies ran for cover. I counted hens (all present, unharmed) and consoled them with a reassuring voice. The next morning, when I checked the mousetraps, one was gone. If triggered, mousetraps can fly a distance. This one, however, had vanished. I imagine it tangling on the nose of a sore loser, the coyote.

Here are some tips to help you decide who’s tunneling in your beds:

Vole:  Diet consists of vegetation, roots, and grass. Creates several open holes within a small area with above-ground trails between them.

Mole:  Diet consists mainly of earthworms and insects. Creates horseshoe-shape mound around the hole.

Gopher: Destroys roots while digging for food. Uproots and eats vegetation including tree roots, flower roots, and bulbs. Creates a round mount with hole in center.

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