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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Summer news is here

20170617_125330Summer CoverWhat’s that all about, you say?

Click on the cover to the right for your very own copy of The Quarry Farm Summer 2017 Newsletter. Read about the busy season that was Spring 2017, mark your calendar for all that’s to come this summer, and register for The Quarry Farm 2017 5K.

Hope to see you on the trails.

Look what came in the post

Picture yourself running at a clip along your favorite route, or walking, comfortably but at a pace brisk enough to get the blood moving aerobically through your veins.IMG_2372

And with each footfall you are supporting the educational programming, trail maintenance, invasive bush honeysuckle control and care and feeding of the farm animal sanctuary residents on The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm. The great blue heron medallion that swings across your chest/at your belt loop/from your rearview mirror reminds you of this.

The medals have arrived for The Quarry Farm 5K, with t-shirts just behind them. REGISTER NOW to run in your own space at your own pace or join us in person on October 1 in Northwest Ohio.

If you opt for the virtual event, please send in a photo of yourself wearing The Quarry Farm 5K t-shirt (and the medal, if you like) as you participate in your neck of the world. What a photo gallery that will be!