The vole truth: How a tiny rodent can create big problems for Summit County homeowners (column)
Special to the Daily
I keep hearing about how bad the vole problem is this year. Do you have any advice for keeping them at bay, and keeping them from eating my lawn and veggies? — Elizabeth, Silverthorne
Elizabeth, so many folks are worried about the vole problem this year. Vole populations fluctuate from year to year, and this year appears to be one where the population is very high. Voles can wreak havoc on lawns and gardens, and, with high population numbers, it could mean widespread destruction of the hard work that has gone into a home garden.
According to the Colorado State University Extension, voles are small rodents that measure between 4 and 8.5 inches long. The CSU Extension goes on to say that voles are pudgy with blunt faces, have small ears, round eyes, short legs and short tails. There are eight types of voles that dwell in Colorado, and the southern red-backed vole and pine vole are most prevalent in Summit County.
The population density of the vole populations range from 14 to 500 voles per one acre. Their habitat usually consists of developed coniferous forests and grassy areas that have a bit of moisture. Voles are animals that are comfortable underground, and typically burrow underground, and have a number of tunnels coming to and from that burrow. Each burrow can house several adults and young.
The diet of voles consists of a variety of different grasses, agricultural crops, small seedling trees, and, sometimes, bark of larger trees. Field crops and orchards can be completely destroyed by voles. Crops are destroyed by voles eating the crops themselves, but are also damaged by the extensive tunnel system that voles create. They ruin lawns and golf courses the same way, and also by eating the roots of grasses.
To protect your veggies and lawn from voles, multiple methods need to be incorporated. Begin with habitat modification. Mow down all tall grasses, eliminate weeds, and clear out all litter and ground cover in affected areas. Tilling the soil is also effective as it eliminates ground cover, and destroys established vole tunnels.
If you already have voles in your lawn or garden, you may need to alternate many different methods to keep them at bay. Capsaicin (hot pepper) spray will work as a repellent. This can be sprayed directly on plant stalks and small seedlings to deter them from gnawing on plants. The urine of some of the vole’s predators can be used as a deterrent, including bob cat, coyote and fox urine. However, these can be expensive to purchase, must be replaced often, and can be hard to find. Castor oil can also be mixed with water and sprayed around the affected area.
One of the most effective ways of combatting voles in a small area is to set traps. Snap traps are highly effective, can be baited with peanut butter or rolled oats, and can be set perpendicular to vole tunnels with the trigger end in the runway. Live traps are another option, but not for those who are squeamish about having to kill the small rodents after. One homemade trap that is effective involves setting a coffee can into the ground near a runway or tunnel, and fill the can with a small amount of water. The voles will fall into the trap and drown.
One new method we have tried at the Steward household is to incorporate a Giant Destroyer gas bomb. This bomb looks much like a cherry bomb, and can be lit and placed in a vole hole. It works by producing a gas that kills voles in their burrows while the bomb is ignited. The package recommends not lighting the Destroyers near a crop area, but claims that there is no trace of the gas after the product burns out.
Whatever method you choose to incorporate to keep voles at bay, be sure not to use poisons, and make sure the method is organic. Poisons can affect the predators that eat the rodents, and this mostly affects the raptor bird population, and can disrupt the food chain. While voles can wreak havoc on a garden, there are safe methods to keep them at bay, and those are the best ways to keep your garden healthy.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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