Varmint Control: Tips and Techniques

Garden members Nina Rumely, Lora Cain, Les Hairrell and Dean Cleverdon presented an OVF Education panel on May 14, 2022 dealing with crows, squirrels, rats, mice and gophers.

NINA began with the issue of birds, especially CROWS, who eat tender seedlings and dig in gardens/paths for grubs such as the Fig (green) beetle larvae. She demonstrated the use of bird netting and a variety of plastic and metal mesh fencing barriers for protecting tender plants. As a reminder, it is prohibited to line the bottom of plots or the walls with metal barriers, such as boxing underneath with wire mesh or chicken wire, since those can later break down and create a future hazard. However, the use of wire baskets around the root-ball of individual plants is acceptable.

LORA displayed multiple devices and strategies to deal with RODENTS and PESTS of various sizes (mice, rats, squirrels, etc.) that nibble or chew our plants and crops. Among the devices demonstrated were cloches (plastic domes), pre-made mesh plant covers, support stands for elevating ground crops like strawberries, a realistic rubber snake (a deterrent many gardeners swear by) and multiple varieties of Victor traps for mice and rodents. One strategy LORA highly recommended was the use of strong-smelling Irish Spring soap shavings in pierced Ziploc baggies laid/clipped close to the plants for protection. She then distributed samples to attendees to try in their plots. During the discussion, one attendee described how she deters mice by placing small clumps of human hair (gathered from her hairbrush) among her ground crops.

LES circulated several pest publications for attendees to consider for pest research. He briefly discussed the large Victor rat trap (about 3x6 inches)—good for use in outside structures/homes but too large and dangerous for use at OVF (cats could also be victims). His main topic of focus was that of GOPHERS who have tunnel systems between 2-5 inches in diameter which can run under multiple plots. They hate light, and are constantly on patrol underground, enlarging and repairing their tunnels, pushing excess soil to the surface. LES demonstrated how to probe for tunnels and place two steel Victor gopher traps staked with twine to hold them in place after catching the gopher. TIP: If the traps are not tripped within 48 hours of placement, then try elsewhere. LES later led attendees to a nearby vacant plot to see several gopher holes and further demonstrate where/how to place gopher traps.

DEAN, expanding on LES’ information, spoke about gopher behavior and habitat: they are herbaceous and only eat plants; are extremely territorial and will expel all other gophers including their own young; their tunnel systems (burrow) can be as large as nine contiguous OVF garden plots (2,000 square feet); they patrol the entire burrow every 24 hours to expel intruders and repair damage. DEAN demonstrated the GopherHawk, a kit with a probe (find the tunnel), wedge (bore hole into tunnel), and the wire looped trap which is inserted into the tunnel. As with other traps, if it’s not tripped within 48 hours of placement, it’s time to try elsewhere. NOTE: All traps can be dangerous to use, especially the GopherHawk. Do NOT fiddle with the metal straps when activated; they might take off your finger. Deactivate/unset the trap by striking the tube on something hard. For instructions you can read the GopherHawk guide here.

All of the materials and devices discussed at the event can be found at local gardening or hardware stores (Ace, Home Depot, etc.) or ordered online. FOR ALL VARMINTS, please remember to protect yourself from diseases they might carry which may include hantavirus, leptospirosis, tularemia, rabies, and Yersinia pestis (plague) among others. Keep a few plastic grocery bags handy to dispose of them. Slip your hand into a bag like a glove, pick up the dead critter (who might carry fleas), pull the bag back over your hand to encase the body, knot it securely, then immediately walk it to the dumpster outside the gates.