Moles, voles and gophers

We have a problem.  We aren’t making a mountain out of a molehill, either.  Nope.  The problem IS the molehill.  Or, actually, it’s the volehill!

California Vole

Isn’t he (or she?) cute? Too bad these little varmints are so destructive!

Several years ago, while sitting quietly on our folding chairs, we noticed this furry little creature ambling up to my hubby’s foot.  It was like the furry little thing was oblivious to our human presence!  It was brownish, maybe 6-8 inches long, a cute pinkish-brown button nose and little itty-bitty beady eyes. At first we thought it was a deer mouse, but no.  It’s body was a little longer, ears a little smaller, and deer mice don’t get quite that big. (thank goodness) Immediately we figured it was a mole or a vole.  As soon as the little scoundrel saw movement, however, it scurried off quick as a wink into tall grass and was not seen again.

After a bit of research, we decided it was, indeed, a vole. Microtus Californicus, to be exact. Voles are critters that live for the most part in underground tunnels, eating the roots of various grasse, plants and trees.  Moles, on the other hand, eat mostly grubs, worms and insects.  Voles are excellent diggers and can destroy a garden quickly.  One day you see beautiful plants – the next day they are wilted over completely.  When you pull them up – NO ROOTS!

Nasty little schmucks!

Moles, voles and gophers

Gopher (and vole) cage ready for a bare-root fruit tree.

Because of this encounter, and our discovery afterward of the tell-tale tunnels – everywhere – we knew that when we planted trees in our orchard, we would have to put metal basket guards around the roots.  This wasn’t a problem – where we bought the trees (Peaceful Valley Nursery), they also had the 15 gallon baskets just for this purpose.  The baskets have worked very well!  We haven’t lost a tree yet because of the baskets.  At first we were worried that the baskets might girdle the roots, but apparently they are made to disintegrate within about 5 years, so that the tree, once established, can grow bigger roots.  By that time the vole isn’t going to nibble enough of the tree roots to do significant harm.

Unfortunately, we didn’t think about doing this for our artichoke patch, and it looks like voles like to eat artichokes. 🙁  When I removed the heavy mulch from our artichoke plants, we could see that the vole ate three of our five plants this past winter.  How do I know the vole did it?  Well, just look at the tunnel where one of the artichoke plants used to be!  I think it’s an open and shut case, don’t you?  You can click on the picture to see it larger.

When I pulled back the winter mulch, I could see the damage was already done.  :(

When I pulled back the winter mulch, I could see the damage was already done. 🙁

You can see in the picture on the right where our friendly neighborhood dog tried to dispense with the problem for us. vole 4 At least we think it was the dog.  It could have been a bear, a fox, a raccoon or any number of predators. Apparently the dog could smell the vole and knew he was in the tunnel, so he started digging up the tunnel to find the vole.  Good dog!  I wish I could have been there to see that – it must have been epic!  I was hoping that the dog won, but, alas, a new tunnel popped up last night, so the critter (or it’s mate) is still around.  Or it’s babies.  Or grandbabies.  Voles are very prolific, reach sexual maturity at about 21 days of age, and have three to six litters in a year of 4-6 young on average.

Now we know with absolute certainty that we will use raised beds for our vegetable garden, laying metal wire under the dirt first so they can’t tunnel up into the garden.

I searched online for ways to eradicate the voles and found quite a few different methods.  Of course, I prefer to be as organic as possible (no poisons or gas, please), and don’t want to use any method that might be dangerous to the “good” animals.  My brother-in-law, Tom, suggested Bubble Gum or some other good smelling gum, as they apparently will eat it because of the smell but can’t digest it and will die.  Hmmmmm, that sounds like a slow, painful death and might be considered cruel – but hey – those critters ate my artichokes!  It’s worth a try.  At least, if it doesn’t work, our voles will have the freshest breath around! 🙂



Disclaimer (sort of):  I am not being compensated by or Peaceful Valley Nursery.  I just like to mention them because they are my very favorite nursery.  They have an awesome on-line catalog and their customer service can’t be beat.  I have never had a complaint with them.  Take a look at their website.  They have informative videos of everything from making cheese to planting berries to pruning trees!


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48 thoughts on “Moles, voles and gophers

  1. Soooo…I have squirrels and apparently many rodents are the same when it comes to repelling them. I’m currently using peppermint essential oil on cottonballs in all of my containers of veggies. It seems to be working for now, but it is expensive. I have also heard of making a “tea” that you spray on the ground (and plant if it’s a root veggie since you won’t be eating the greens). You boil cayenne (or any spicy) pepper and garlic for a while (cover it or the fumes will irritate your respiratory system), strain it, put it in a spray bottle and spray the perimeter of dirt around the plants. Supposedly, it will repel things that can smell it, and irritate little paws to keep them away without genuinely hurting them.

    • Aha! Good ideas! Believe it or not, I have also heard (could just be an old tale) that squirrels just hate Old Spice (the cologne) and that if you soak some cotton fabric in it and tie it to a tree, squirrels will run away like it’s the plague! Thanks for stopping by, Tara, and giving me your suggestions! I think I just might use the peppermint essential oil trick first and see if that does anything!

  2. I had troubles with them a few years ago. My yard and adjacent neighbors were developing these huge holes, in late summer after a drought. Next spring / summer / fall / found me trying many solutions ( poison, running water down the holes, giving up and planting daffodils in the holes..anything! ) Ditto for my neighbor. Bottom line, in the end, a feral cat came around and started catching them one by one. Love that stray black cat! 🙂

    • Sounds like nature took care of the problem for you! I am hoping our local dogs will take care of it for us also! At least, I’m hoping it’s a dog and not a bear or mountain lion! I do like your suggestion, however, to plant daffodils in the holes. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Deb.

  3. Hi Vickie,
    We fight these critters all the time and you have some get ideas that we will sure try. Stopping by from The Gathering Spot today and thanks so much for sharing.
    Miz Helen

    • Let me know if you find anything that works! During my investigations, however, I found out that I probably will never get rid of them entirely, and should just work toward control of the little varmints! Between the 5 inch long banana slugs we have and these voles, I’m a little worried that my vegetable garden might struggle a bit!

  4. My brother has moles or voles, he hasn’t seen anything except the tunnels. Whatever they are, they were eating/killing the flowers/plants/bushes he had planted out front of his house so he put in one of the sonic deterrent things and he said it worked. Of course, they just left the front for the back but it’s a start.

    • Good cats! Unfortunately, the cats in our neighborhood are bobcats and mountain lions and I would rather not see those so close to the house! 🙂 In doing further research, I found that the urine of the voles is actually fluorescent, and this can be seen by predator birds! So, I would guess that’s why we have seen a couple of hawks near the orchard and artichoke area! I guess voles have a lot of predators – that’s why they have so many babies! Interesting how mother nature works! Thank you for your comment, Pam!

  5. Thank you for these ideas! We have moles/voles not sure which but they are troublemakers. After the tons of snow melted we discovered the hills in the yard, looks like they were still up to no good this winter. We have some major landscaping to do in the back yard and a garden is included. I will be arm with Double Bubble, Peppermint Oil, Eucalyptus and Old Spice! Thanks again.

    • I hope you have good luck getting rid of your little varmints! We are also going to try a variety of these methods and see which works best! On the bright side – apparently voles are really good for aerating the soil! 🙂

  6. WE don’t have moles or voles over here. But I love to hear (read?) about your wildlife.
    Here in town we don’t have much to bother the garden. Slugs, snails, cabbage moth, birds that will eat the seeds if you don’t have a dog that won’t allow such things…. but that’s pretty much it.
    I should try to teach the dog to eat cabbage moths….

    • I agree! You should try to teach the dog to eat cabbage moths! 🙂 Then you will have one less thing to worry about!

  7. Hello Vickie
    this with your voles is really a Problem.Wir have with us some who haben.Nicht eaten our parsnips all, but some do.
    I find it very good, you want to use no chemicals and no gas.
    Maybe there is another way …. and although the mice with bait to catch in live traps, and then relocate, where they can no longer harm you. I would try it.
    The idea with the chewing gum I do not like that, because I also think this is the a slow death for the animals.
    On the other hand, one must also understand the animals they get there, the food, where to find what.

    Planted just to new …. so we do it in such a case, even if something happens to us.


    • Hello again, Uwe. I just visited your blog and saw the new sign you made – it’s beautiful! I know that you and Angi are trying to be organic and sustainable, as we are, and I agree that live traps may work for us. However, I have read that once a person gets rid of the voles, more just move in, so we will always be battling them since we live in the forest. That’s okay, we will just have to deal with them. Have a great day!

  8. Well, good luck with your battle against the voles. I have tried everything you mentioned and then some, NOTHING WORKS!!!! I am surrounded by woods, so they just keep coming. The basket is a great idea, but you should also put some mesh on the top, I lost several young trees which were in the baskets, but the voles tunneled down at the top and ate the roots. I came home to find ten trees leaning to one side. When I pulled on them, they came right out of the ground with no roots – and their trunks looked like a tiny beaver had chewed on them. I even have an area we refer to as The Vole Hill, the only plants which grow on it are daylillies, they don’t seem to like them. I have finally given up and will not waste any more money on perennials, shrubs or trees – it is a losing battle and the voles are the winners!

    • Oh no. Seriously? Whoa – I guess I need to get some more chicken wire – and fast! I have read that I will never actually get rid of them, just control them. Perhaps if we put wire around everything, it won’t be so bad! Otherwise, we are gonna starve because we plan to grow most of our own food! Hmmm… I wonder if humans can eat daylillies? 🙂

  9. Knock on wood – we don’t have mole/vole issues. Just deer. 🙁

    I remember having moles in our yard when I was growing up. We would walk on the mole hills to collapse them. Fortunately, they never went into our garden.

    • Oh yes, we have deer also. So, let me see: we have huge 5 inch long banana slugs, deer that eat foliage above ground and voles that eat roots below ground. Hmmmmm… makes me think our garden needs to be situated on a concrete slab with a 10 foot chain link fence around it, and then a beer moat for the slugs. Ppffttttt… no problem. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Barb.

  10. Good luck with your battle! We have tons of mole tunnels running through the yard. luckily they haven’t done damage to the garden but still very annoying! Our cat caught one and I am trying to encourage her to keep at it instead of going for the birds! 🙂

    • Thanks for the encouragement! Since I won’t be having a cat up there on our future homestead because they roll around in the poison oak, then want to snuggle, 🙁 I might be able to encourage our neighbor’s dogs to go after them! I suppose, as long as we keep cages around the orchard trees and under the vegetable garden, we shouldn’t have too much of a problem. I guess time will tell!

  11. I’ve never seen a vole before. Now, that I think of it…I don’t think I’ve seen a mole either…We have groundhogs around here, and they destroyed my garden a couple of years ago.

    • Hmmm… it seems like a lot of ground dwellers are garden destroyers! Except moles – apparently they eat mostly worms and grubs. Sorry about your garden, though. Hopefully it won’t happen again!

    • Hello, Shari – Glad to meet you! I already slipped over to your blog and saw that we have a lot of similar interests, so I am a new follower. Hope to see you back real soon!

  12. I feel your pain, Vickie! We did a video on this subject a few years ago – and we show how we lined the bottoms of our raised beds with wire to keep the dumb voles from eating our carrots and parsnips. The key is to use “hardware cloth” wire with smaller openings – the voles will go through the larger openings of regular chicken wire.

    They are wreaking havoc with the rest of the garden, though, that we don’t have planted as raised beds. It’s really discouraging. 🙁 We’re trying a trap soon, but we haven’t had much luck in keeping their population down. Hope you have better luck!

    • We may have to resort to some kind of trap also. Not sure how everything is going to work out, but we will do as much as we can do to keep the voles away from our gardens. I have heard that hardware cloth is a good idea, since voles are similar to mice in that they can squeeze into very small spaces! Hopefully you will have some luck getting rid of your voles soon!

  13. Yeah, these are real pests. 🙁 I didn’t have any problems in my urban homestead garden, but here we did see some tunnels. Thanks for sharing about this at the HomeAcre Hop!

  14. Great post. We’re thinking of putting in a small orchard at my mother-in-law’s house and those cages might be needed – i never would’ve thought of that.

    Congrats on being chosen as a featured post on this week’s Wildcrafting Wednesdays! I hope you’ll join us again and share more of your awesome posts.

    • Thank you for featuring the post, Kristin! I was surprised about the amount of attention this post got. Apparently lots of people have moles, voles, gophers and a lot of other ground critters! I really believe our trees have been saved by those cages, and I am positive we will do basically the same thing with our raised bed vegetable gardens. Have a wonderful week!

  15. Great tips – I’m thankful we don’t have trouble with these – for now 😉
    I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,

    • I’m glad you don’t have any of these! Knock on wood, keep your fingers crossed and say a little prayer that you never have them! They are cute little creatures but very destructive!

  16. Hi Vickie- This sounds like my backyard- mountain lions, voles and deer! And, an occasional bear gets into our neighbors’ garages! Thanks for linking this up!
    I loved reading the suggestions. I am following you on bloglovin!!!! laura Please link up again this Friday!!!

    • Raised beds help take care of this problem, but only if you put wire under the bed so the critters can’t tunnel up from underneath! Luckily when we move up to our future homestead we won’t have a lawn, so we won’t have to worry about moles, voles and gophers causing problems there, just in the orchard and vegetable beds. Thanks for stopping by, Carrie!

  17. I will try the gum and if it works, I will buy stock in it. These nasty little critters eat all of my plants in one flower bed. The chicken wire did not help either. Love your site and your post. I totally agree that if they ate the artichokes, they deserve revenge of this type.

    • Oh, I am so sorry to hear that chicken wire didn’t help!! From what I have been told, hardware cloth (whatever that is – supposedly thicker than chicken wire) is supposed to keep just about any critter away. I let you know how it works… or doesn’t! 😉 Thanks for the visit, Betsy!

  18. Hi, Vickie! I know several are against it but I have always used gum with great success. I only use Juicy Fruit gum, however, chewed only three or so times to release the flavor, open a run and drop it in. I know it isn’t the nicest way to take care of the problem but it is the only thing that I have found that works; and when it comes down to my family eating or them, well I guess you can decipher who wins that battle. Good luck!

    • Hello Sharon. Of course you are right, food for the humans or food for the voles, that’s a no brainer. I have heard several people say the gum really does work, so if the little varmints continue to terrorize my food, I just may have to offer them some Juicy Fruit!