War of the Voles

Triangle Gardener podcast logoWhat gardener hasn’t warred with critters?  Dan Mason brings us a tale of murder, mayhem, and war just in time for Halloween.


Garden Destinations logoThanks to our sponsor Garden Destinations Magazine for making this episode possible



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Welcome to the Triangle Gardener show.  We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina.

We are planting bulbs for beautiful spring displays.

Ever hopeful, gardeners ask the weather to be kind to our charges. But critters…. that’s and all together different issue.

Is there a gardener among us who hasn’t declared war on a four-legged species? The sight of a doe can strikes terror in my heart, while others turn into Mr. McGregor at the sight of a rabbit. And then there are the dreaded voles.


Garden Destinations made this story possible. It’s a new digital magazine for travelers who want to include public gardens in their travel plans. Their website is GardenDestinations.com.

Now here’s Dan Mason with his story of …war.


The story begins, this war of the voles, back in 2010 when we moved into our house. A cinder block house, built in 1957, it had a great corner lot with a garden under the oak trees. The garden added to the charm of the house and we both saw the potential, but it would require hard work as it involved pulling down lots of vines —not for the faint hearted.

We moved into the house during the summer—and I immediately noticed the castor bean plants, which bear big leaves, something I relish, and is totally, 100%, poisonous. I’m starting here because I’m hoping it’s the remedy to my war of the voles.

The next year we noticed we had a lot of moles. Feeling we had to do something about this, we would go out and start stomping on top of the tunnels. In our war with the moles we got one of those contraptions that sends signals out in an effort to drive them away—all to no avail. We then put out “Mole Away,” which is simply dried castor bean oil—and we merely succeeded in driving them to another part of the yard so that didn’t work.

This was the beginning of the war of the voles because voles love the tunnels made by the moles. In the spring of 2015 I went about my normal gardening practices, involving going to the garden store and buying everything. I also have a greenhouse where I start seedlings, especially valuable for my vegetable garden. I began putting out the seedlings only to have them go…poof! Where did they go? While walking around to the front yard where we had planted many tulips, I noticed a tulip wilting—reaching for it I realized it could have been a flower in a vase. Where was the bulb? Obviously an evil vole had come around to enjoy a tasty snack.

Then my chives—something deer won’t touch—began going down the vole hole. Pretty soon the holes were in five different locations in the garden. I stopped buying new plants: What was the point?

These voles had chased me to Google: One of the first suggestions is one I’m still using. Just set out mousetraps. The method is to bait the mousetraps with peanut butter, situating them next to the hole, as that is where the voles emerge at night. Cover the mousetrap and hole with a pot to imitate the darkness of night. This also prevents other critters from tripping the trap. Soon the number of my victims was numbering in the teens. However, sometime I would actually lose mousetraps, which were nowhere to be found. Where did they go? How can mousetraps simply walk away? A few I found down the hole and some were never located so they became the vanishing mousetraps in my mind.

To secure the mousetraps, I devised a method that I now began to use: I attach a long twist tie by stapling it to the mousetrap, while looping the other end and attaching it to a stick anchored to the ground. However, this wasn’t a full proof method as I found several scattered around the yard.

Because I’m a non-chemical thinker I didn’t resort to a method a friend had used which is putting rat poison down the holes.  My motto is this, I try to be as organic as I possibly can.

The war suddenly escalated. One day I was looking at the two camellias we had planted three years ago. They had finally begun to bloom but I noticed one was leaning strangely. When I went to try to straighten it up (who has ever had to straighten up a three year old camellia?), I realized it was leaning because it had no roots. Soon the other camellia pitched over as did a mahonia and some Aspidistra.

Meanwhile the traps were either disappearing or were losing their baits. Clearly, the voles were winning so it was back to Google again. That’s where I learned about gassing with carbon monoxide. Clearly, I was a gardener out for vengeance. Crafting an adapter out of aluminum foil, I attached one end to the truck and the other end to a garden hose. I then placed the hose down the vole hole and started up the truck. Voilà! Carbon monoxide entered the vole tunnels. Each hole would get fifteen minutes of carbon monoxide.

An important question was this: How many voles did I have? Research showed that one female vole could produce a litter of ten, ten times a year. This awful fact spurred me on with the gassing, which I estimate took three days to do the whole yard. Now vole tunnels typically have an exit escape, which provides for some ventilation and the quick thinking voles and moles simply dug more ventilation tunnels. Suddenly I had a twinge of conscience at running the truck so long.

So, I reverted back to using the traps, which kept on either moving or disappearing. One contained a vole partially eaten—did I have cannibal voles? At present I set out eight traps, which I check on daily. My guilt stopped the gassing but then I remembered the castor bean plants that had been at the house when we had bought it, at a time when there wasn’t a vole problem. “Why,” I thought, “don’t I reintroduce them?” Consequently, I ordered castor beans, planted them, and had 100% germination—and I have put them everywhere. ‘Okay, I’m planting poison everywhere, but its organic. If they’re going to die, they’re  going to do it organically.”


At last report Dan had trapped 40 voles. He has even established a vole graveyard but here’s another mystery: each morning the graveyard is empty again.

I’m Lise Jenkins. This is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. You can find our show on iTunes.  If you like what we’re doing give us a review. Thanks for listening.

Thanks to Kit Flynn for helping to develop this story.

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