Dealing with Voles
Most people feel that voles are by far the worse of these creatures and responsible for most of the damage that new gardeners might attribute to moles or mice.
- Identification – They’re mouse like. Their faces are not quite as pointed. Sometimes grey, sometimes light brown or dark brown. For pictures do a Google search for “pictures of garden voles”.
- What They Eat – They are omnivores, and will eat anything. But they tend to like plants much better. They have favorite things that they can’t resist like all your tulip bulbs, asiatic lilies and hostas.
- Damage They Do – whatever they take a liking to they can wipe out quickly. Onions, lettuce, radishes, beets, squash, tomatoes, cukes — anything. They love potatoes and every year I end up with some loss to voles. Their tunnels and their chewing on roots can undermine any garden plants – even the largest.
- Other Habits of Voles – They are active both day and night but spend about 80% of their life underground. They can breed all year — but March through September is the time most of it takes place. Average litter is 4 to 6 and gestation is only 21 days! Any females birthed are ready to mate within 28 days!
- Some years won’t be as bad as others. Fortunately their population has lows and peaks in a cycle of about 3 to 5 years.
- The most effective method of control is trapping.
How to Trap Voles
Use regular mouse traps. Use peanut butter or apple for bait. (You can also use peanut butter rolled with oats.) If you use apple, you’ll have to tie it on. Otherwise, you’ll probably lose the bait and vole.
- When you see holes (tunnel exits) that indicate their presence, place the trap at the hole.
- Depending on the positioning of the hole you might have to pull away some soil to make a flat surface for the trap. Remove as much earth as you have to in order to set the trap properly.
- Turn a large plastic flower pot or bucket upside down and place it over the trap and hole so they’re in the dark. (Voles are said to only take the bait in the dark.)
- Then place a brick or rock on top of the pot or bucket to keep it from being knocked over by the wind or whatever.
- Many times you can catch one, two or several very quickly (within a few hours) depending on how many voles are living in that particular tunnel. Other times you might get one a day. Sometimes, you have to leave the trap for a few days. (Remember they use lots of holes.) If you don’t get anything after 3 days — stir up the soil so the tunnels collapse. If the area is active, they will resurface at another spot so you can set the trap again.
In the growing season especially, exit holes can be concealed by a plant or mulch. Just take time to look. You’ll find them.
In the winter they’re easier to find — and will more than likely show up in your cold frames or under your hoop tunnels —- usually right beside your best lettuce plant.
For maintenance trapping I usually set 3 traps. If I notice a lot of damage I sometimes set as many as 6 traps. If you have a major infestation, you can set 12 or 24 traps.
But REMEMBER: watching and resetting 3 traps consistently is better than setting 24 and then not being consistent with the duties involved.