Speaking up for moles

Winter 2018 Newsletter cover

The article below (how appropriate, considering the subject, don’t you think?) appears in the latest issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Download your copy by clicking on the cover to the right.

Not long ago after autumn rains had softened the baked lawn around Red Fox Cabin, little volcano-shaped mounds erupted here and there, heralding the arrival of moles. Moles don’t alarm me because their burrowing hasn’t seemed to cause lasting damage in the garden. However, convinced that the humans on a nature preserve should be knowledgeable about their fellow inhabitants, I went online to learn more about moles.

Members of the family Talpidae, moles are found in most parts of North America, Europe and Asia. Seven species live in the U.S., the Eastern Mole being common in our region. They are 5 to 7 inches long, larger than shrews and voles. Males are called boars; females are sows; and the young are pups. A group is a labor (perhaps because they are so industrious?). They are carnivores, not herbivores. Their diet is primarily earthworms, grubs, and the occasional mouse, but not our garden plants. Once they have eaten the food in one area, they move on.

Moles are amazingly adapted to a subterranean life. They can distinguish light from dark but not colors. Although their eyesight is dim, their hearing and sense of smell are so acute that they can detect prey through many inches of soil. They have large, powerful, outward-pointing front legs and claws for pushing dirt aside as they “swim” through soft, moist earth. They are able to disappear from rare ventures to the surface in 10 seconds flat, to tunnel 1 foot in 3 minutes and to run through established tunnels at about 80 feet per minute. Their short, velvety fur is non-directional, causing little resistance as they move rapidly through tunnels. (Their soft, dense pelts once supported a thriving moleskin industry.) Moles can survive in their low-oxygen environment underground because they can tolerate the high carbon dioxide levels in the exhaled air they reuse. Their saliva paralyzes prey, which they store, still alive, in underground “larders” for future consumption. Moles can detect, capture, and eat their prey faster than the human eye can follow.

Moles make 2 types of tunnels: feeding runways close to the surface where the molehills pop up and permanent tunnels about a foot or more underground, leading to a nest about 2 feet deep. What might look like the work of many moles can be the product of one busy tunneler.

Moles are solitary and highly territorial, coming together only to mate. Breeding season runs from February to May. From 2 to 5 pups are born after a 1-month gestation, and leave the nest 30 to 45 days later in search of their own territories. Although tunnels may overlap, moles avoid each other and will attack and even fight to the death when they meet.

Many online gardening experts write about moles in terms of their being destructive pests that must be eradicated. They suggest many methods of doing so: poisons; traps that choke, spear, slice or confine for removal; buried repellants like broken glass, razor blades, or thorny branches; or natural, more humane repellants like plantings that smell bad to moles (daffodils, alliums, marigolds, castor beans, etc.), castor oil drenches; and reducing lawn watering that could force moles close to the surface.

However, I lean toward a smaller set of gardening experts represented online who believe that moles are more beneficial than destructive. Rather than taking offense at molehills, they point out that moles improve soil by loosening, aerating and fertilizing, and the cones subside quickly. Any soil that has been lifted off roots can be pressed down again with a foot. Moles receive the blame for plant damage caused by chipmunks, mice and voles, and generally receive little credit for destroying lawn grubs. I myself would rather let moles eat pesky soil-dwelling larvae than chase moles out by spreading harmful poisons to kill the grubs. In the view of one expert, Roger Mercer, “Moles aren’t all bad. In fact they’re 99% good.” As a 15th century saying goes: “Do not make a mountain out of a mole hill.”

—The Gardener at The Quarry Farm

That’s a run wrap, 2017

22228528_10210043864324925_7156834222902347581_nThe sun comes late now in Northwest Oho. On October days like today, heavy wet clouds mute sunshine even more. The youngest roosters crow at the very inkling of sunrise, causing more than a little discussion in the henhouse. Last Saturday began gray and sleepy, too, but it didn’t stay that way. Thanks be for that, because the 7th was the second time we held a Quarry Farm 5K walk/run on Roads 7L and M7.

Just two fat, cold drops hit my forehead as Phil Seitz gave participants the go at 10 a.m. As runners and walkers approached the first downhill, the clouds parted for blue. By the time the first-place finisher came back up that slope, a sweet breeze blew in from the southwest, just enough to dry sweat worked up after 3.2 miles out and back.

20171007_103010There was water for all, thanks to Ted’s Market, and to Paula Harper for making sure it was distributed at the turnaround and to Phyllis Seitz for passing more bottles out at the finish. Bananas and homemade cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip, cranberry white chocolate, molasses, granola—glutened and without) further refreshed as the event winners received their Knott-pottered mugs and medals.

Everyone got a pumpkin, courtesy of Mike Erchenbrecher. Ms. Beatrice is happy that not all of them found a home.22279407_10210034443489410_8078367306305513948_n

Thanks to everyone who participated in The Quarry Farm 5K 2017 onsite. The virtual race is still on and will be into November.

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Andy and Jennifer Seitz did this year’s 5K virtually, in South Carolina.

Top Male: Mark Hahn, with a time of 23:40

Top Female: Rachel Schroeder, with a time of  27:13 (just one—one!—second ahead of the person behind her)

Top Team:

Jeremy Haselman family

Joan Hahn captured the day in her camera and shared the contents. Between the two of us, you all have proof that you trekked 3.2 miles one gorgeous morning in October, for the love of butterflies, Beatrice, and the future of the environment in which they live.

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Who’s in this name?

Outside is frozen again.

waterThe morass of Boxing Day mud and not-mud is navigable on the farm animal sanctuary. We need some snow to make it all pretty again, and to keep Cranberry Run flowing. The little creek, reduced to sparse puddles during this dry summer, is on the move enough to water wildlife, but the old quarry is still much drier than it should be, with the wetland reduced to the southeast springs. Without precipitation in some form, bulbs of blue flags, dragon’s tongue and beard will become dormant again.

I know we’ve talked a lot about osage oranges here, and I’m going to again. Yesterday, we noted that the whole fruits are now reduced to trails of Chartreuse and ochre meal, leftovers from the forages of squirrels and other herbivores who are foraging for anything to raise their fat reserves.

For so many reasons, I wish they could eat bush honeysuckle and lots of it. We humans will have to keep chopping away at that…only fair, since our kind brought it here.

Inside artificially heated four walls, we welcome a new resident. Thanks to the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitation Association and the Stark Parks Wildlife Conservation Center, a Virginia opossum will venture into classrooms and programs as an educational ambassador with The Quarry Farm. Like Captain John Smith, another North American marsupial “he”, this Nature’s garbage collector will help people learn more about the vital role his kind plays in world health and balance.

Here’s the thing. We can continue to call him “he”, “the Virginia opossum”, “OP2” or other nonspecific things. As he is an adult, with a guesstimated age of one year, the short anticipated life expectancy of Virginia opossums means he may not be with us for more than a couple of years, max. But don’t you believe that he deserves more than that, whether he cares or not, as long as we keeps the scrambled eggs, cat and dog food, veggies and fruits coming?

So as with the Captain, we invite you to submit potential names for the new guy. Reasons behind your nomination are welcome. After all, we walked away from the last contest with a wonderful American History link as well as a memorable name for a memorable soul.

img_0088Here’s what we can tell you about this little man. He was found by a Stark Parks visitor. This animal was approachable (not normal), wasn’t thrilled about being picked up (normal) but allowed it (not normal.) The easy catch was probably because he had, sometime in his recent past, suffered from head trauma, likely hit by a car while scavenging on or along a road. Because of the injury, he doesn’t move quickly and has permanent head tilt. He does, however, like his grub and was able to find it long enough to allow him to heal in the wild. Luckily, a kind, potential predator found him before a determined actual predator did. On December 17, we drove to Hartsville, Ohio. He made the journey to Putnam County, Ohio with us that same day.

There’s a Quarry Farm apron or t-shirt (winner’s choice) in it for the winning entrant. Please submit names (and stories; who doesn’t love a good story?) to thequarryfarm@gmail.com by the time the ball drops on Jan. 1, 2017.

Return of the Finch’s

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Brenda Fawcett mixes papercrete

Despite the heat, only one paint mixer drill bit and mosquitos aside, three programs happened onsite this past week. Monday, Putnam County Master Gardener Brenda Fawcett led a make-and-take wherein participants created planters out of papercrete (a sort of papier mache combination of Portland cement and paper strips.) Tuesday saw the return of the Hardin County Herb Society.

On Saturday, “the hottest day of the year” according to local weather forecasters, Charlene Finch and the 2016 Continental Jr. Gardeners made the group’s annual trek from the northwest corner of Putnam County. If you scroll back through this blog, you’ll see that Finch’s crew have been here just about this time every summer for several years. After partaking in a scavenger hunt for pollinators, the young green thumbs posed on the front porch of Red Fox Cabin for their annual portrait (thanks to Miranda for sharing this snap.) They also visited with the farm animal sanctuary residents, helping to cheer up S’more as he’s been pretty withdrawn due to the loss of his brother this week.

That pollinator search led to quite a list of creatures. The team of Nathan and his mom Lindsay won the scavenger hunt with a list of 21, as follows:

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Nathan, Pollinator ID Champion

1. baby green grasshopper
2. people
3. wasps
4. cabbage moth
5. dragonfly
6. wood bee
7.big brown beetle
8. fly
9. bumblebee
10. flying ant
11. mosquito
12.ash bugs
13. sweat bee
14. black cricket
15. honey bee
16.black wasp
17. Japanese beetle
18. black beetle
19. big brown camo moth
20. gnat
21. red lightning bug with reddish brown black spots

Teams didn’t have to be specific with names as long as they could describe their finds. As a group, we corrected some names and identified others as described. For instance, #19 was a skipper butterfly.

You’ll also note that not all on the list are technically pollinators: hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. However, all of Saturday’s finds carry pollen, not to mention seeds and other insects, in their journey from place to place. That includes humans, whether we intend to or not.

You may also see that the notorious, voracious invader Japanese beetle made the list. They may spread pollen around as it clings to their scarab-like bodies, but they more than make up for this by decimating green goods. But there’s hope from the skies, control provided by a European transplant that’s been here so long that the New World is as much theirs as it is ours.

Eat up, European starlings. There’s ketchup in the shelterhouse.

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Name that Bird

There were undoubtedly many photos taken of this morning’s glorious sunrise over Northwest Ohio. I have seen a few already. However, none can compare to the west-to-east view of the Quarry Farm above the oxbow wetland. That’s the cut-off for those of you who are old friends and frequent wild raspberry scavengers.

November 19, 2012, from a vantage point west of the sun and east of the moon

Can you guess which silhouette is not like the other? Here are a couple of close-ups to assist.

Closer and closest

Caption This!

It was suggested to us that a photo in an earlier post was just begging for a caption. It was further suggested that we might offer up another little competition. So, here’s Caption This! Not only do you get the opportunity to win a set of ten Quarry Farm notecards, but I get to put off writing a lengthier piece for yet another day. What say we give it a deadline of Monday, June 11, 2012.