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! 🙂

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Disclaimer (sort of):  I am not being compensated by www.groworganic.com 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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Winter Homestead

We recently took the last weekend trip up to our future homestead for this year, to put everything to bed for the winter.  Since we don’t live up there yet, and especially since we don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle to travel over deep snow or muddy roads, we will only venture up there a few more times (weather permitting), until early next spring. It has rained up there a little and our water storage tank is starting to collect a bit of water.  The mushrooms are springing up all over the place and some kind of critter is enjoying them as a snack!  Partially eaten mushroom

The artichoke plants got a heavy blanket of leafy mulch.  First, I placed a scaffolding of branches around the artichokes, so the oak leaf and pine needle mulch won’t crush the tender artichoke leaves.  Then, I raked up wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of oak leaves and pine needles and tossed them over and around the plants, about 1-1/2 to 2 feet thick. That should hold them until next spring.  An added bonus is that artichokes like slightly acidic soil, and as the mulch breaks down it will add a slight acidity and other nutrients to the soil!Mulching artichokes for winter

The gazebo had to come down also.  The gazebo is one of the first things up in the spring and one of the last items to come down in late fall.  We love sitting in the gazebo on our anti-gravity chairs, reading books or magazines after a hard day of working on the future homestead.  The entire gazebo is screened to keep us safe from the hungry mosquitoes or nasty wasps!

The fruit and nut trees in the orchard have lost their leaves, so it was time to spray them with a dormant spray.  I have a hard time trying to figure out a balance with sustainability and organic issues when it comes to my fruit trees. To spray, or not to spray, that is the question!  You see, the cherry trees got attacked by a voracious caterpillar last year, the apricots got spider mites and the peaches got leaf curl.  So what would you do?  I decided to go ahead and apply dormant spray – especially since there aren’t any leaves or fruit on the trees at this time.  It’s either do that, or have the trees suffer and perhaps not produce any fruit at all or, worse yet, die.  I prefer to eat fruit from live trees.  Of course, anything sprayed on the trees when they have leaves, blossoms or fruit will be eco-friendly and organic!  If anyone out there has a better solution, please tell me!  Any opinion or advice on this subject is always welcome!Dormant spraying fruit orchard

The soda can heater was reattached to the trailer.  This device prevents the trailer from freezing inside fairly well.  Of course, if there isn’t any sun for a few days the soda can heater will not work.  However, as soon as the sun cracks through the clouds, this puppy cranks up the heat!  If you would like to see how we made our soda can heater, click HERE.  We did drain the water pipes in the trailer – just in case!  It’s easier that way.Soda Can Heater

The windows in the outhouse, trailer and shed were locked down and doors were bolted.  We also loaded the truck with more firewood to take down to our current home in the valley.  We love wood heat as it heats to the core!  We don’t have much firewood left in this pile, but we will need to get another truckload of it in January when we come up to burn a brush pile and work some more on our back road.  This is the wood left over from an incident that happened to us a few years back when our entire 30′ x 330′ easement was harvested of all trees so that electrical lines could come down our private road, past us  and to the house at the end of the road, through a grant given by and executed by the USDA.  Unfortunately, that house was not built with permits and was also not up to code (even though I had advised the USDA of this fact long before the logging was done), so the power poles or lines never went in!  If this ever happens to you, just know that it is impossible to fight our government for negligence unless you have a lot of money!  I refuse to be bitter about this, but a lot of valuable timber was cut from our property against our wishes and unfortunately no one will take responsibility!  At least we were able to keep some of the wood for firewood!Stacked Firewood

Another year has passed on our future homestead and we are happy with the projects we tackled this year. Next spring we will put the finishing touches on the outhouse, finish our new back road to complete the loop on our property, and begin clearing for our garden and chicken coop!  And maybe, quite possibly, start building our house!

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Artichokes and a Yummy Recipe

When it comes to vegetables, I would have to say that artichokes are among my favorites.  This weekend Ray and I were up on our soon to be homestead property and planted some artichokes.  I think we found the perfect spot next to the retaining wall in the orchard where they will get morning and early afternoon sun, but will have shade for the late afternoon heat.  We started with just a few plants for a couple of reasons, the first and most important being that we need more dirt in the area where the artichokes will reside.  So we robbed Peter to pay Paul – or should I say we took dirt from one side of the artichoke bed and put on the other.  That way we can go ahead and get a few plants into the ground now while we add soil to the other side.  We can plant the rest of the artichokes next year when the area has enough soil to make it fairly level.  Also, we didn’t plant in front of the big log retaining wall because we need to replace that log.  Munching insects (termites and carpenter ants) are already making it break down.  Does anyone know any way to organically control these wood eating pests?

Artichokes

Hopefully when this area of the orchard is completely level and filled in with dirt, we will have 24+ artichoke plants!    Mmmmmmm……….  chicken and artichoke pizza, ground turkey and artichoke heart stuffed shells, steamed artichokes dipped in olive oil…… my mouth is watering as I think of these.

So for those of you who have artichokes (and even those who don’t) and were wondering what new and yummy way to use them, I would like to share with you my favorite artichoke heart recipe.  I developed it from several other recipes, adding a little of this and taking away a little of that, until I got it to where I think it is just right!

GROUND TURKEY AND ARTICHOKE HEART STUFFED SHELLS

4 cups of Arrabbiata Sauce.  Make this first:

Brown 4 slices of bacon, which has been chopped or cut into small pieces.  Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and sauté until tender, about 1 minute.  Add 4 cups of marinara sauce.  You can use either jarred or fresh.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes – 1 teaspoon for milder sauce or 2 teaspoons for a bolder and spicy sauce.  By the way; arrabbiato means angry in Italian—the name of the sauce is due to the heat of the chili peppers.  Let the sauce cool down a bit while you continue on with the recipe.

Cook large pasta shells as package directs, until tender but still firm.  Drain shells and let cool a bit.

While pasta is cooking, brown 1 pound of ground turkey in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic and 1/2 small yellow onion and cook, stirring, until garlic and onions are softened.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit.

By now you should have your sauce made, your shells cooling and your ground turkey cooling.

Add 1 package (10 ounces) of artichoke hearts or one 15 ounce can of artichoke hearts (drained) to the ground turkey. If you use fresh artichoke hearts, steam or boil them first until they are fairly tender, then chop them into small bite sized pieces. Then add one 15 ounce container of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  The addition of the cheese and eggs helps to cool down the mixture and it should be cool enough to handle at this point.

To assemble the whole dish, lightly spray with oil the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish and add about 1 cup of the arrabbiata sauce – spreading it around to just cover the bottom.  Now, holding a shell in your hand, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the filling with a spoon and stuff it into the shell.  The filling should mound come just to the top of the shell.  Place the shell into the dish, then repeat until all the shells are filled up and in the dish.  You should get about 20-24 shells stuffed, depending on how much filling you put into each shell.  Cover the top of the shells with the rest of the arrabbiata sauce and then sprinkle with some mozzarella cheese (however much you like – we like a lot of cheese!).

Bake at about 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the center of the shells are hot and the cheese is just starting to brown.

Instead of making one whole 9 x 13 dish of these shells, I like to freeze them in smaller portions of 6 shells – just right for dinner for my husband and I with a green or fruit salad.  This way I get four meals out of one afternoon of cooking, which works out great for those days when we have been working hard on the future homestead and I don’t have the energy to cook!  They freeze very well, just remember to either thaw them before you cook, or double the cooking time if still frozen.

Enjoy!
Shared at: Home and Garden Thursday Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways; The Homeacre Hop #20Transformation Thursday #205; Simple Lives Thursday 

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