Voles in Vegetable Gardens

Overview

Voles, which are prolific breeders, are the most common mammal on earth. Pine voles (Microtus pinetorum) and meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) can both infect vegetable gardens. Pine voles, which do the most damage to vegetable plants, live year-round in a series of connecting underground tunnels that protect them from predators. These tunnel networks are family territories.

Basics

Pine voles are from 3-4 inches long with a soft, smooth chestnut brown fur. Their tail is less than an inch long, shorter than their rear leg. They have small eyes and inconspicuous ears. Meadow voles are 3 1/2 to 5 inches long. Their coarse, dark brown fur is mixed with black. They have larger eyes and ears than pine voles. Their tails are 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches long, exceeding the length of their rear legs. Both pine and meadow female voles produce up to 17 litters of three to four babies each year, usually from March to November. The young are out of the nest and foraging in less than two weeks, and they're ready to breed in two to three months.

Where They Live

Pine vole tunnels are about 1 foot under the surface, with entrances that are 1-2 inches wide. Meadow voles live on the surface or in shallow tunnels. They make nests where they store their foot. You can see their runways in your garden or in the snow.

What They Eat

Pine voles eat bulbs, roots and tubers, including potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, turnips as well as above-ground seeds and fruits such as beans and corn and other vegetables. Plants may wilt, lean or fall over because voles have eaten their roots. Voles can pull a plant partly or entirely underground. Meadow voles eat sedges, seeds, grain and grasses in addition to other garden vegetables.

Managing Voles

Voles need cover in order to survive. Leave as much bare soil in your garden as possible. Till your garden deeply and often. This will help break up their tunnels. Dig a trench around your garden about 1 foot deep. When moles tunnel toward your garden, they will hit the empty space of the trench and go no farther. You can deal with the population in your garden without having to worry about more tunneling in from the outside. Another way to block voles from tunneling into your garden is to bury a rust-proof screen around your garden; the mesh should be less than ¼ inch wide.

Eliminating Voles

To find out if there are voles in an area, put pieces of apples or carrots into vole holes and tunnels a day before you set a snap-back mouse trap. Bait the traps with peanut butter and place them in tunnel entrances or in runways. You can also dig into a tunnel and put a baited trap there. Trapping is best from late October through November. Immediately after the snow melts in spring is also good. A can or jar buried with the lip flush to a mole tunnel can serve as a pitfall trap. There are several varieties of commercial vole traps made of aluminum or stainless steel on the market. Also, registered baits for moles and gophers applied to underground tunnels can kill voles. Only licensed professionals can buy and apply rodenticides registered to kill voles. Commercial preparations also exist, using the scent of coyote or fox urine or blood, which will repel voles.

Keywords: voles garden, controlling voles, fighting voles

About this Author

Richard Hoyt, an internationally published author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.