Sub Arctic Garden Vole Prevention

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One of the absolutely great things about gardening in the sub arctic is that most garden pests are really not a major problem.  You can grow giant, near perfect leafy greens and you won’t have various bugs eating your leaves.  Compared to other places we’ve gardened, this is a huge relief and makes for a better product.

Our biggest threat here in the Interior of Alaska is usually from moose.  They love to munch on fresh greens and your garden is a delicious alternative to their normal diet.  The only effective solution for this is large fencing.  While we haven’t tested it personally, it is generally recommended to have at least eight foot high fencing here.  Also, substantial fencing is necessary.  A moose will just knock down something that isn’t well-built so a bit of plastic garden fence won’t do much to keep them out!

We are not without other garden troubles, though.  One of the greatest issues we face is usually from voles.  Voles are a small rodent that typically tunnel or scurry along the ground.  They are a relative of the mouse and are quite common in our area.  In the sub arctic, they don’t face much in the way of natural predators so populations can get quite large.  They can devastate your plants in a hurry, too.

There are several ways you can deal with voles, but we tend to favor simple, preventative methods.  Some of the methods you can use to prevent voles from destroying your hard work include:

  • Active traps and relocation of live voles.  These usually involve bait and an inescapable trap you will have to empty once a vole has been trapped.  For best results, you will need to move the vole far away from your garden.  This is also one of the most expensive methods overall.
  • Passive traps.  These usually intend to kill the vole.  A common method is to bury a cup and fill it with about 4 inches of water.  As the vole is scurrying around your garden, it will fall into the trap and drown.  You will then have to fish out the vole’s body and dispose of it properly.  Yuck!
  • Preventative measures.  This method involves a bit of ingenuity and garden design concepts, but is very effective at preventing vole damage.  This is our preferred method because it’s very clean and doesn’t negatively affect wild animals.

As mentioned, we try to use preventive measures and have found a few methods that work very well.

The first method we use attempts to thwart entry into the garden itself.  Voles that tunnel and scurry along the ground do not like to cross open spaces.  They instinctively know that this is how they can become trapped.  You can use this instinct against them by surrounding your entire garden with a 6 inch wide by 12 inch deep gap.  When a vole approaches, either under or over ground, they will notice this gap and turn around.

This is a very easy and free method to deploy and will thwart most of the voles that want to munch on your garden.  It is best developed with the use of a narrow tiller and shovel, but could be done with a trowel or shovel alone.  This design tends to bring about an area that welcomes ankles to get twisted.  It’s important to be careful when entering your garden and working around the edges with this method.

The second method we use employs an ingenious design we learned right here in Fairbanks.  For plants that the voles find most attractive, you transplant into a plastic solo cup with the bottom cut out.  The cup sticks up an inch or three from the ground, surrounding the stock.  This will not interfere with the plant’s growth at all.  It also helps water to funnel towards the plants roots, a beneficial side effect.

This will primarily defeat the vole that is scurrying above ground looking for its next meal.  The vole will effectively approach a “wall” (the Solo cup) and will turn around.  They’re not very smart animals, you won’t see behavior of them constantly trying to thwart your protections.  They survive primarily on easy meals and will go elsewhere with a little suggestion.

You can see that we plant most of our broccoli, cabbage, kale and other plants in a Solo cup with the bottom cut out. This is a very effective vole deterrent.

You can see that we plant most of our broccoli, cabbage, kale and other plants in a Solo cup with the bottom cut out. This is a very effective vole deterrent.

It is not necessary to use this treatment for every plant, but it’s beneficial for some more than others.  Plants such as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, kale and collard greens will highly benefit from vole prevention.  Peas are also recommended, but we haven’t had much trouble without using solo cups on ours.  Squashes are also quite easy to provide this treatment for.

Another good preventive measure is to eliminate potential ground cover.  Voles are vulnerable when exposed and they know it.  Keeping your garden clear of long grass and other ground cover will make it more risky for them to enter your garden.  Keeping up on your weeding and trimming nearby grasses will help reduce the attractiveness of your garden to the common vole.

We’ve seen great success in our gardens by employing these techniques.  This is in an area where voles are known to be problematic and in high population.  And we’re quite happy not having to lug vole bodies everywhere.

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