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

Winter 2017 News

winter-2017-newsletter-1Download the Winter 2017 newsletter by clicking on the cover on the left.

There are two big walks–one to count birds for the international effort and a winter walk under a sky full of stars. Hope to see you in the Seitz Family Pavilion before each program.

Fall 2016 newsletter

fall-2016-tqf-newsletter-coverOctober is underway–into double digits. But since that first digit isn’t a “2”, there are still almost three months to jump right onto the trails of The Quarry Farm before winter’s publication.

Start your journey by catching up with the fresh-off-the-camera-and-keyboard Fall 2016 newsletter. Just click on the cover to the left and read on.

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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Green-thumbed helping hands

The outdoor temperature dropped a good 30 degrees yesterday, from steamy shorts-and-tanks weather to jacket-required. That’s OK, since it’s northwest Ohio and still April.

The cooler air made for good gardening weather. Last evening, Tim and Phyllis Macke drove out to Red Fox Cabin to dig in and get the gardens in shape. The Putnam County Master Gardeners chose to support The Quarry Farm, and as the Mackes are both part of this program, they offered their services this afternoon to help get the grounds looking good for Saturday’s Family Day.

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20160429_145229-1And the beat went on, with Holly Huber stopping by to dig in.

The weather forecast is continued rain–good for the green that just keep getting more and more so. Words cannot express how grateful we are for the help to clear invasives to make way for those plants that bring in the bees, butterflies and other pollinators, once the sun does shine for an extended period.

Burdock, concrete, and brown butter icing (not all in the same bowl)

Thursday, it rained. Friday, it rained. Saturday, it didn’t rain.

At 10 a.m. on July 11, the clouds were scarce enough that some blue shown through, a good thing for many reasons not the least of which was that 10 people were involved in the annual leaf-making workshop in the Seitz Family Pavilion.

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Tim, Alex, Bob and Marilyn create their own leaves.

Brenda stirs concrete for her leaf.

Brenda stirs concrete for her leaf.

Because they are large with strong vein definition, burdock leaves are nurtured prior to each summer leaf casting. Two buckets held the giant cut leaves. After play sand was mounded to the shape desired by each leaf maker, the sand mold was covered with plastic cling wrap. The selected leaf topped that and concrete was layered on. Some added river stone or beach glass.

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Brenda and Elaine arrange burdock leaves for casting.

Although everyone walks away from these events with a lasting leaf with which to feed and/or water birds and other wildlife, to use as a garden stepper or to display on a coffee table, we on The Quarry Farm love watching the creative process. And on Saturday, we were the grateful recipients of apples and huge bags of peanuts for the farm animal sanctuary residents, as well as a generous check from the Putnam County Master Gardeners.

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The Putnam County Master Gardeners present a check to Board President Laura.

We won’t see the final leaves for a week or so, since the rain picked up again on Sunday and Monday to slow the drying process. But we experience the results of generous support everyday. In fact, I think everyone who shared in Saturday’s experience did as butterflies flitted in and out of the open-air classroom, damselflies and dragonflies nabbed mosquitoes and a little bullfrog sounded off in the full raingarden pond.

Oh, and here’s the recipe for those cookie bars that were on the snack table.

Frosted Butter Pecan Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 pkg. (3.4 oz. each) instant butterscotch pudding mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans

FROSTING
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup better, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
[Optional:  Use a frosting that doesn’t have to be refrigerated.  I use browned butter frosting.  See below.]

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk flour, pudding mix, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, whisk egg, melted butter, oil, water and vanilla until blended; stir into flour mixture.  Stir in pecans.  (Dough will be stiff.)
2.  Press dough into a greased 13 x 9-in. baking pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until edges begin to brown.  Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
3.  In a bowl, beat cream cheese, butter vanilla and salt until blended.  Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar.  Spread over top.  Sprinkle with more chopped pecans, if desired.
Cut into bars before serving.  Store in refrigerator.

BROWNED BUTTER FROSTING
1/4 cup butter
2 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tablespoons milk

1.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter turns a caramel-brown color.  Be careful not to burn.  Allow to cool.
2.  Combine all ingredients and beat until creamy.  Add a little milk, if necessary, to reach spreading consistency.