[permaculture] moles, voles, gophers, and deer, oh my

Rain Tenaqiya raincascadia at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 1 16:00:41 EDT 2010

The first permaculture principle that comes to mind here is to turn a problem into a solution: eat them.  If you can't bring yourself to do that than my experience with each of these is the following:
1.  Moles- aren't much of a problem except where they mess up foundations, paths, or greywater pipes, etc.  They are carnivores and pretty much leave plants alone.  If necessary, underground mole traps or a cat work pretty well.
2.  Voles- the bane of my existence, making it very difficult to establish trees and impossible to have an annual garden.  Trapping is the only guaranteed solution for an annual garden, but a cat can be good enough for perennials.  Vole population and behavior vary widely by climate, vegetation, population dynamics, etc.  I am in a Mediterranean climate with oak savannah.  Simply observe where voles are currently active and put regular mouse traps in their tunnels and paths, covered with buckets or pots to keep out cats and to make a safer-feeling environment for the voles.  The traps with the wide plastic ramp-triggers work best.  Trees and other perennials must be planted with aviary wire all the way around their roots and the upper six inches of trunk to be totally safe, though I often just use plastic bottles with their bottoms cut out around small plants, with three or more inches sticking above the ground for small or cheap plants that
 voles seem less interested in.  During dips in the vole population, you can sometimes get trees or shrubs established without much trouble, but this is very risky and voles have been known to topple mature trees like figs.
3.  Gophers- similar to voles, though fewer in number, thus making them easier to trap.  Traps usually must be specifically made for voles and all tunnels are underground, making the setting of traps trickier and more laborious.  
4.  Deer- fencing deer is the only long-term solution, other than killing them.  Depending on the topography and population density, fencing must be more or less elaborate.  I've used two inch mesh chicken wire on posts set 15 ft apart with the fencing only six feet high with few problems.  The plastic fencing also works great, though degrades faster if in the sun.  Eight ft is recommended in more densely populated areas, though you can get away with shorter fencing by putting lines of twine above the fencing, spaced every ft or so.  White flagging helps the deer see the twine.  Two four foot high barriers spaced four feet apart also works, and one or both of these can be hedges, so fencing can be reduced by live barriers over time.  Dense bamboo can work, for example.  Fencing with ground receding on the outside works better than the opposite.  Less sturdy fencing requires more observation and maintenance.  Trained dogs can also keep deer
For trees out in the open, I've used five ft high fencing cut in seven ft pieces to make rounds that are secured on one or more stakes.  This is the minimum protection trees need to grow above the browse level, and most branches within the fence will eventually get chewed off by the deer.  I often have to use sticks to direct the branches up and away from the fencing.  Wider fencing would be better, but would require more stakes.  Eventually, the fencing can be removed, but you need to watch for deer destroying the trunks by rubbing their antlers on them during the rutting season (Fall).  This is more common in open country, and may require basically permanent wire mesh or other barriers on the trunks.
Keep in mind that everything I've said is from my experience on the US West Coast, and conditions may be different elsewhere.  Also beware of gimmicky recommendations like putting scents out to deter beasts, or those silly solar vibrator things (which may work on a limited scale when move around frequently).  For real subsistence food growing situations, "easy" solutions will not work over time, in my experience.
Good luck,


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