In the Northern California foothills, the varmint most discussed is deer. Bambi love on the part of the 99 percent of Americans who never see a wild animal means that those of us who live where they do are powerless to stop them from eating their landscaping. Deer are not the problem in my patch of suburbia dropped in to the mountain wilderness. Too many fences and dogs to make it worth their while. No, the big problem in my environs is voles.
What the heck is a vole?
Those were my exact words upon moving to Nocal and chatting with the local nursery man. It turns out I had seen them but had thought they were mice. Voles are related to lemmings and muskrats, I learn and are omnivores but as I am also learning this year, they love plants especially mine.
For some reason this year, the hills are alive with the scurrying of voles. I was oblivious to this population explosion until my bedding plants began to disappear the night after planting.. “Snails!” I thought and began baiting the next planting with no results. Next my green bean plants were cut off as they began to unfurl the first true leaves. My response was more snail bait but the results were unsatisfying. There were no snail trails and no dead snails in spite of the continuing damage. I tried a new snail bait with no better results. I was getting really cantankerous at being outsmarted by varmints that I couldn’t even identify.
Then it hit me. All summer, our cat had been bringing carcases to the back door. We thought this quite cute and bragged about our mouser. Then I began to notice that the backyard slope was an active rodent zone. There were so many voles that you could put yourself to sleep counting them as they ran from bush to bush. Now I knew my antagonist but what could I do. Mousetraps seemed unworkable. Poison would endanger our cats. Surely there was something that would protect my plants from these voracious varmints.
When in doubt ask Google
Google turned up a solution. Not only did it promise to keep the voles from my plants, it was ecologically friendly and wouldn’t even hurt them. It was too good to be true. This solution didn’t have the satisfying closure of dead bodies but at this point, my honor and my garden was at stake. I was willing to accept a compromise. I got some of the stuff and scattered the granules around my flowers and vegetables, hoping that it would at least allow some of the plants to recover.
It is like watching BP control the oil spill
Now, a few days later, I check every morning. The damage seems to have stopped in the treated areas but I can’t be sure. Maybe the voles are just waiting for the plants to grow a little more before finishing them off. Meanwhile the pest control guy left some sticky boards scattered around the yard. He said that the voles would stick to the sticky boards and die. I laughed at him but said to go ahead. This morning I found two corpses. I am exhilarated. My first victory. What difference can two dead voles make against the horde? It is a small victory but I will take it.