[NAFEX] hungry voles and tasty trees

tin man magneticanomaly at yahoo.com
Thu May 5 12:00:07 EDT 2005

I have been building an orchard here at 3000', 'way back in the hills of Pocahontas County, West Virginia , a few trees a year.
Each fall I wander around tasting apples and making notes on locations of trees I like.  Seldom do the owners know the names; many I suppose are seedlings.
Come Spring, I go back, beg a twig, bring it home and graft it on one or more more or less wild seedling rootstocks that the deer have planted in my meadow.
I keep six-foot-square and six-foot-tall fences around each tree, since I'm simultaneously (insanely?) keeping milk goats, who approve heartily of my efforts at tree planting (yum)
I have some forty trees now.  Three bore last year (very exciting).
My biggest trouble is with what I'm pretty certain is MEADOW VOLES.  They tunnel through the dead grass under the snow and eat the bark off the trees. Girdled seven last Winter. (I grafted tips from them onto new stocks, so I think I've saved most of them, but lost several years' growth)
I've had tree wraps suggested to me, and clean cultivation.The latter is out for me both because the orchard is steep, and because I don't want to lose the grazing around the trees.
Tree wraps would be difficult, because many of the stocks I use are many sprouts close together or many low branches on a stock, and I graft them all, to increase the probability of at least one "take" (I probably don't need to do this, because my percentage is quite high, but it's hard for me to use two inches off a 18" scion-twig and throw away the rest) Also, these voles burrow, and I couldn't get a tree-wrap below the soil line without injuring roots.
(I do plan to prune back to single trunks and high first branches eventually, when and if the trees are vigorous...then a goat gets her head through the fence, and does the pruning for me, leaving the low branches and taking off my promising leader...)
I'd like to try a deep conical mulch of gravel, to keep the snow cover thin right next to the tree, create an environment uninviting to the voles immediately around the tree, and discourage burrowing (sometimes they burrow down around the roots and gnaw the tree completely off 3" below grade)
But has anyone tried it abd found it to work? How about whitewashing the trunks?  Does anyone know how to stop goats from stripping bark off apple trees (they'll do it even to old ones)
John Leyzorek

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