up front By Bryden Winsby

Yikes! There are runways on my lawn I

’ve known for several years that my property has moles. I’ve chosen to tolerate the little varmints rather than poison, trap or otherwise exterminate them.

The evidence of mole presence was the little piles of dirt their tunnel digging leaves behind. This year, something new. Where I live, snow covers the ground for at least a couple of months annually, and when it melted in mid-March, I noticed strange fissures all though the lawn, which is on quite a slope, so my first reaction was that the whole place was slipping away.

A little research determined this to not be the case. What I was seeing were the ‘runways’ created by voles. Not moles, voles.

This had been one of those winters with lasting snow cover that provides voles with protection from predators, allowing them to construct elaborate and frequently-used runway systems within the turf.

I learned that voles are frequently

confused with moles. These two species are in fact completely

unrelated. Moles spend nearly all of their time beneath the surface of the soil, excavating and navigating a network of tunnels that can be very disruptive to the turf

surface. Aside from time spent in

underground burrows, voles do much of their feeding above ground. They eat plants, while carnivorous moles seek out insects, worms and grubs. Although vole damage can appear to be dramatic, use of chemical or trapping control on residential lawns isn’t usually recommended. Very often, grass plants will regrow in the damaged areas as the weather warms. Recovery methods include thorough raking, a light application of fertilizer, and for areas that need extra help, overseeding. My lawn could be xeriscaped, which I suspect would not be popular with its

vole population. But that can also be a rather expensive undertaking, and certainly not something your average farmer would entertain. Enter the barn owl.

As our cover story explains, they’re a great natural control measure and their use is being encouraged in the Lower Mainland through placement of nest boxes on berry farms.

The program’s coordinator, Sofi Hindmarch, is hoping it will be expanded, and there’s one important caveat — there must be no use of poison (rodenticide) on the benefiting farm because it can prove fatal to owls and other raptors who feed on pesty rodents.

I’m not sure nighttime air raids would solve my runway problem, but you never know... Read on.


British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2018

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