Moles, Moles and More Moles
My dozen or so barn cats are good hunters. Every morning I find a neat line of little mice laid out for me in front of the milk house. At this time of the year, mice are not as exciting to the cats as the moles. About a week before the moles attack the front of the barnyard, the cats are busy bringing me little moles. Next week it will be back to the mice.
Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the farmer’s friend: the mole. People who maintain well manicured lawns, usually living adjacent to the farmer’s field, have great difficulty in the spring stamping down raised mole tunnels. In their anger they are often heard to offer great sums of wealth for a fool-proof mole repellent. Save your money. This article is dedicated to those souls who want to eliminate the mole problem. I think it will improve their chances.
The mole is the most voracious of all animals–perhaps save the shrew. If it were a larger animal, such as a lion, it would be the most terrible creature we could imagine. The mole is constantly driven by its appetite, and is an extremely efficient predator of insects and earthworms. In an experiment by Mr. Fred Brooks of the West Virginia University Agricultural Experiment Station, the common mole was found to consume within a 24 hour period of time: “Fifty large white grubs, one ‘chestnut worm’, one wire worm, one cicada nymph, forty-five larvae of ‘rose bugs’ and thirteen earthworms. The insects.. .and earthworms weighed a total of sixty-six grams. The mole weighed fifty grams, or about four-fifths as much as food taken.. .a single mole would eat in the course of a year something like 40,000 insects and worms, which would weigh over fifty pounds.” Another experiment was conducted feeding the moles vegetation, vegetables and potatoes. The moles starved. Moles only eat insects and earthworms. What causes damage to the roots of plants is that mice often get into the tunnels and chew the tubers.
The little mounds and ridges of upturned earth seen on our lawns are not true mole hills, but merely soil thrown up by the moles digging their shallow surface tunnels. The distance that a mole can tunnel is incredible. The late Dr. Hornaday observed the work of a mole in a clover field. In a span of seven hours it had tunneled twenty-three feet. At the end of twenty six hours it had tunneled sixty-eight feet of main line, and thirty-six and half feet of branch tunnels. That is a lot of work for food.
Sometimes the tunnels are (on the average) five or six inches below the surface, but they have been found four feet deep in drought conditions. The common mole seldom leaves the tunnels, of which there are usually two lines, one above the other. The top tunnel, the one lawn keepers keep stamping down and setting traps in that do not often catch anything, is used only once for the hunt of food. The deeper tunnel is used frequently. This is usually in the spring for mating. The brief mating results in the young being born in May or June, with the adults going their separate ways, always in search of food.
By now it is obvious, to eliminate moles you must eliminate their food source. The application of commercial poisons that kill grubs in the lawn is to be avoided. The poisoned grubs work their way to the surface where the birds eat them, sicken, and die. They in turn are eaten by the family dog, whose owner wonders who would be so evil as to kill a dog. The most efficient grub eater, besides the mole, is the Robin, and other insect eaters. Encourage these beneficial birds with store bought, or home made bird houses. If your lawn is adjacent to a field, consider digging a trench and laying in fiberglass panels at least 18″ deep. This will stop most moles, who will return to the field. Most plumbers or rental services offer a narrow width “Ditch Witch”. This device will quickly lay in a narrow trench for your purpose without a lot of labor and injury to the lawn.
Many gardeners and lawn keepers ask me about the old time mole plant (Euphorbia lathysis) and the castor bean plant. I do not like to recommend these plants because they are very poisonous, and have injured far too many gardeners, and killed children. They are pretty plants, but too hazardous. However, the correct use of them will discourage moles. It requires an Inter-planting; a spacing of several of these plants around the perimeter of the garden, or lawn, to effect enough root growth to repel the mole. Again, beware, they are deadly to children. Another application of this toxic plant is to take the leaves and juice them up in a blender (never use the blender for human use after this), and add a bit of detergent, water, and mineral oil. Place in a sprinkling can, and water the lawn site. With a good rain, the juice will leach down into the soil and make the whole yard terrible tasting to the moles, and they will go away, if entering at all. One last warning, even touching the leaves can cause an adverse reaction to some people. Yet these beans and plants are always offered to the unknowing in garden catalogs.
Perhaps the best method, besides a barrier and birds is to apply beneficial nematodes to the site. There are many different types of nematodes, some harmful to the garden, some beneficial. The beneficial ones kill grubs and other insects. If you purchase a supply of beneficial nematodes and apply to the site with your watering can you will kill off all the emerging grubs. Birds, who eat the nematode infested grubs, will thrive, nematodes being part of a balanced ecological landscape.
COPYRIGHT: 2009 Back2theLand.com, Mark Steel