When dealing with a pest the best idea, I think, is to learn more about the animal itself. While we had a good idea who was to blame for the destruction in our yard it wasn't until late spring that we got a good look at the culprit. This little guy was actually hiding out in our basement.
And he was surprisingly easy to catch. Not very bright it seems and rather slow so I was able to slip a yogurt container over his head with relative ease. A look at him from the side reveals a very short tail, a somewhat pointed face and rather large back feet. A distinctly brown coat with perhaps some lighter fur on his chest and belly.
It might not sound like a lot of information but it explained a lot. The bulk of the damage was in the meadow area and next to the hedgerow. Obviously the voles were living in these grassy areas and any trees or shrubs planted in those areas were more likely to get damaged.
|The meadow provides the perfect habitat for voles|
I researched a bit on the internet and this paper from the Ontario Government was extremely helpful laying out the various solutions to dealing with voles. The first suggestion of repellants or poisons really didn't suit me. I want a garden that works with nature, not against it, so poisons are out of the question. I've tried deer repellants in the past and they are expensive, a lot of work and of little value. Anything you put on a plant will wash off easily and it is difficult at best in winter for us to reach some of our trees so keeping up with repellants would be back breaking.
A second suggestion is to provide an alternative food source to tree bark. Not a bad idea really but somehow the idea of feeding the vole population their favourite foods so they'll leave my trees alone just seems slightly kooky. How much would I have to spend on sunflower seed to keep the critters away? and how often would I have to spread seed? it also seems a bit cruel, luring them to the surface to eat seeds would make easy pickings for our feral cats.
I think the obvious solution is to mow down the meadow. With no grassy areas to live in and no grass seeds to feast off of the vole population will simply die down. But wasn't that the purpose of the meadow to start with? The lawn was so sterile, nothing lived there, no insects, no animals. Just a vast emptiness. Despite the fact that the meadow has brought a pest with it I can see how it's bringing life back to this area. Voles are natures creatures too, and we need to figure out a natural way to live with them.
In fact, when I think about the natural cycle I realize that predators are something that is missing. That is until this fall when we've suddenly noticed an influx of red furry critters making themselves at home.
|Mouse catcher in the lower garden|
Although I would like to trust the foxes to guard my trees I think a back up form of protection is advisable. Ultimately we decided to use tree guards this year. Essentially these are plastic tubes that fit around the tree's trunk. The plastic keeps the voles away from the bark so they can't nibble. We searched round town and found these plastic white twirly guards for sale. They were easy to place around different sized trunks and allow light and air in.
We attempted to bury them slightly in the soil so the voles could not scoot up from the bottom and feast. In addition we tried a different type of guard, we bought black plastic plumbing tubes.
These were quite stiff and difficult to maneuver but I liked how they covered multiple stems with one pipe. We could also cut them to whatever height we wanted since the tubes came in lengths 10 feet long. That was handy to bury the bottom of the pipe and make sure it still was high enough to reach a high snow line.
Now we just have to wait for spring and see who fared better, the trees or the voles?