For the past two years voles have devastated most of my restoration plantings and gardens at Money Island, New Jersey. The damage this past month (April 2016) was even worst than ever. It appears to me that we now have an epidemic problem. As a result, I’ve spent some time learning about voles. This is what I’ve learned in no particular order. I’ve cut and paste some portions of the content below without citation and modified it based on my own observations.
In short, voles have been the most destructive challenge I’ve faced in 40+ years of gardening. The most devastating effects include chewing green crops down to the stem, eating every planted bean seed and onion set, chewing a hole in a mature tomato plant to kill it, chewing up entire flower plants, etc. It took a long time for me to determine the cause of the problem with certainty but now I am resolved to control the problem.
Voles, also called meadow mice, are small, ground-dwelling rodents that range from about 3-8 inches long with a body that is more robust than a mouse. I first misidentified them as baby muskrats. They have relatively short legs and tails, and their body fur is brownish and black. Our voles have a long snout and long claws. Since voles are often mistaken for mice, one of the best ways to differentiate these two rodents is by tail length. Mice have long tails that are equal to about half their body length, while voles have shorter tails that are less than half their body length.
Vole species and behavior vary dramatically depending on location. The voles we here at Money Island have don’t seem to look or act exactly like any of the descriptions online.
My planting of living shorelines, landscaping, dunes, and various types of gardens and grassy areas has apparently promotes their expansion by increasing favorable habitat (as opposed tot he sand and mud that was there before). There is no sign that they swim or live in submerged areas (as opposed to muskrats).
Voles are prolific reproducers that can quickly colonize an area. To make up for a short life span of 16 months or less, voles can go from impregnation to baby-delivery in 21 days – cranking out three to six young at a time and up to 30 offspring per year. Nests are most often found underneath a larger piece of wood left on a grassy area.
The best online article I saw about voles is http://icwdm.org/handbook/rodents/voles.asp
One of the best ways reported to control voles is to have an outdoor cat. I prefer that, but I’m not always on site and Bruce doesn’t want to take care of a cat. Other communities near us have ferel cat populations but we do not.
Controls that did not work for me:
Mouse traps and rat traps (I tested at 6 different types and baits and caught a total of 1 vole, 1 mouse and one sparrow over two years)
Urine (this is a rural area and I tried peeing in the flower garden for a while)
Pepper – I tried red pepper seeds sprinkled liberally in the garden and ground up dried hot peppers
Raptor perch – Our area is heavily populated by eagles, osprey, hawks and owls. Installing raptor perches near the garden had no noticeable effect
MoleMax from Home Depot
Various types of small gauge fencing both above and below ground level.
a life-like plastic owl
Controls I plan to try this year (in this order):
Mouse traps baited with apple
Castor oil-based repellent.
Vole traps – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ifq91dAQXIg for ones that seem to be most highly recommended. A local person suggested that minnow traps can also be used.
I ruled out using Zinc phosphide baits. Zinc phosphide is highly toxic to birds, fish, and other wildlife if it is eaten. It will break down when it is exposed to water or moist soil in the environment. Residual phosphine given off will be broken down by air. There is no indication of residual fish or groundwater effect.