Caring for a parent, in-home care, Self-care

Life in the Garden: Mole Wars

There’s a mole inside my deer-proof enclosure. The hill marking the tunnel under the fence appeared on the summer solstice; on the night of my birthday, for gawd sake. New hills have appeared each morning since, circling the three raised beds I brilliantly put mole-proof (knock wood) plastic mesh under. Max, my grandson who will be eight this month, expertly stapled it up the sides of the wood frames. So far the mole hasn’t penetrated it, but it is madly excavating its subway system underneath. If it weren’t so stupid it would come out of the dark, climb on top of its little mole mountain and scamper on over into the garden. Maybe there are plenty of grubs underneath the rotting logs in the bottom of the hugelkultur beds.

I tried negotiating. I found a recipe for castor oil and dish soap mole deterrent online that’s supposed to make the grubs taste bad and drive the moles to better feasting grounds. I didn’t have much faith in it, and I didn’t treat the whole enclosure; I probably doomed it to failure. Or maybe it was because I used generic blue detergent instead of Dawn; or maybe the other recipe with Joy was the one that works. I emptied the bottle of castor oil then gave it up.

IMG_3465When the mole gets into the unprotected wildflower bed at the end of the enclosure, though, I declare war. I’ve planted those packets of mixed wildflower seeds several times over the years. Nothing has ever come up. Mama scoffed when I told her I had tried again. “Good luck,” she mocked. But they did come up, and they were beginning to bloom—along with the sunflowers I started from seed in the window of the studio over the carport while winter was still lurking—when the mole found the bed. I’m not going to lose them to a damn rodent. (Moles are not technically rodents, but insectivore doesn’t pack the same wallop; so forgive me the misclassification.)

I had spent the day before pounding in edging along the interior side of the bed, knowing I couldn’t keep theIMG_3282m from coming under the enclosure fence, but hoping to keep the one already inside from getting into the flowers once it found the bed. It was a clarion call to the bastard. I read that moles aren’t social, but surely this one called in the troops. The inside soldier went under the edging and fellow warriors came in from outside. I imagine an entire army tunneling about now, leaving their telltale dirt forts scattered randomly across the war zone.

My friend Carol tells me she has had good luck with the Victor Out-o-Sight trap. I find two empty boxes for same in the shed, but the traps are, well, out o sight. Perhaps they were in the ground when Daddy died on another summer solstice, and got thrown out. He preferred the shotgun from the deck method, but the shotgun is locked up at Nicholas’s house in North Carolina. I buy a trap and Carol leaves her own war on English ivy (the war I fought in my North Carolina garden) and runs up the hill to lend help, instruction, and a second trap. “It’s illegal to kill them you know,” Mama says. Ask me if I give a damn.

I move the traps, carefully prodding for “clear two-way runways.” I text daily updates to Carol: “Two new hills.” “Good news is they’ve lost interest in the vegetable beds.” “Six new hills: in the flowers, by the boxes, and on both sides of the fence.” “None of the hills have two tunnel openings.” “This morning’s hill has four openings, a regular battle station.” “New hill next to the unsprung trap.” Carol says, “Be patient”; not my middle name.

As I explore the underworld with my trowel, my car is in the shop for removal of the “remarkably enormous” mouse nest from the ventilation fan housing. At least that eradication was successful and I have a fan and air conditioning in my car as the temperature hits 90 and it’s not even August.

On Wednesday this week, I concede the day’s battle to the mole(s) and go on R&R in my rodent-free car to the beach and the sedate starfish and round stones. I don’t even stop to check the traps as I drive by the garden on my way out. The war will resume tomorrow.

IMG_3314Sandwiched between days that are a mite too warm and days forecast to be much too hot, Wednesday morning dawns overcast and cool. I stop at Lake Quinault Lodge as a mist falls from the low-hanging gray sky and sit by the fire and write for an hour and a half, hoping it will warm a bit before I continue to Kalaloch. As I leave, the clouds are lifting over the Olympics and morphing into blue sky. I arrive at the Pacific just as the fog is giving way to high clouds. It’s IMG_3368plenty warm and bright nestled into the driftlogs next to the fresh water stream that flows gently into the crashing surf. I eat my lunch, read, write in my journal, watch the kites. After a walk on the beach, I return to Quinault and sit in an Adirondack chair by the lake in the sun for a few minutes before heading back home to get Mama’s dinner.

Three weeks after their arrival, the lowlife has, for now, abandoned the flower bed. I keep moving the traps, but the tunnels are deep. I’m making a bigger mess of the ground than they are, and I’m getting weary of the war. If they aren’t in the flowers and they can’t get into the vegetable beds, what are they hurting? I seek more information on the internet. “They make a significant contribution to the health of the landscape: mixing soil nutrients and improving aeration and drainage.” Not sure that matters underneath the mesh-lined raised beds, but whatever. Whoa! Wait! They eat slugs? That’s gotta be a good thing. There have been no slug sightings the past three weeks. I thought it was the slug bait, but maybe it’s the wonderous mole. “If they’re not causing a problem,” the article says, “consider them an asset.” Hmm. “The subterranean life your wild neighbor leads beneath your feet is there for your understanding and enjoyment if you so choose.” Hmm.

Maybe as I am learning to accept Mama for who she is, and to occupy the garden with her without doing battle against the constant irritations, I should do the same with the moles. If they return to the flowers, I’ll just stomp down the dirt to resecure plant to soil and let them live their “wild subterranean life.”

We had the first (and only) broccoli and the first small zucchini for dinner last night. The Brussels sprout plants are huge, but otherwise doing nothing, and the flowerless bean vines cover the trellis. The peppers are slow, the first planting of lettuce is bolting, the chard is still producing. There are pink tomatoes and tiny purple eggplants. Maybe there’s room in the garden for all of us.


4 thoughts on “Life in the Garden: Mole Wars”

  1. I’m so sorry to read of your mole incursions – I feel as though I jinxed you somehow by my complaints about the moles in my yard. Glad to see you getting to the point of being philosophical about it, though! The photos are gorgeous, as always…but the one of your garden makes me smile.


  2. Great yard adventure you’re having…my son-in-law has built a serious mole remover, and has been sharing his invention with neighbors! I just spread ground up dried peppers (batching them through the vitamix) at the edge of my yard hoping that the visiting dogs will ‘c— at home’! I haven’t seen proven results yet, but the next time I cut the grass I hope there is nothing to step around. In Texas we have tiny black nosiums and very tiny brown ants, both which bite…havent been able to re-direct their activity at this point! I don’t know what happened to this year’s june bugs…they hardly made an appearance. I don’t have a very comprehensive perspective of the critterworld, but this I know, we must have bees!


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