The underground war

If there were money in herding voles, I’d be wealthy. Instead, I’m developing a poor attitude toward these little varmints that pull entire gardens into their underground domain and chew them like salad. Eviction notice for voles

My stand of gorgeous red hollyhocks, which grew thick enough to be a summertime landmark for more than 25 years, is down to a single remaining hock. Voles, not gophers or moles, are definitely the culprits. Twice now, a vole has poked its whisker-fringed rat-like head out of a hole in the ground near a hollyhock root, popping back down after glimpsing me with its beady eyes. Then it popped back out, in, out, in as if we were playing Whack-a-Vole.

In fact, my next-door neighbor confessed last week that she did play Whack-a-Vole of a sort with one in her yard. Cayenne didn’t stop it, and garlic didn’t scare it. It turned up its twitchy little nose at Juicy Fruit Gum. Frustrated, my neighbor took a shovel and – oh, yes, she did. When she peeled back the earth, the critter was really most sincerely dead. For all she knows, the whole vole posse will arrive any minute to avenge the crime.

I’d prefer to discourage them by making a No Voles Land of my property. I’ve tried cayenne, garlic and Juicy Fruit; watering with minty and soapy water; spreading a bagged repellent from the hardware store; and stomping down the tunnels. Nothing has worked.

Torment, however, brings out the inner barbarian, and so it was that I reached for the Giant Destroyer. You screw a wick into it, so that it resembles a stick of dynamite; light the wick to produce a gratifying bunch of sparks; stuff it all down the varmint hole; and cover the opening with dirt. The sulfur-laden smoke wafts through the tunnels, sending burrowing creatures to their dirty graves.

Except voles.

Two days later, a brown, whiskery head with beady eyes watched me from a hole near a hollyhock root. I pretended not to notice and headed straight to the computer to see how the Giant Destroyer could have missed.

It turns out that voles are such shrewd diggers, they can shut off tunnels at the first whiff of danger. The sulfur gas never reached them.

I am tempted to surrender the Battle for the Last Hollyhock – let them polish off their salad, find no more and move on. Then I might start my revenge: digging a new flowerbed lined with hardware cloth that’s impervious to voles. Next year, they’d have to look through the mesh and drool.

 Have you tangled with a tough varmint? Who won? If it was you, how did you do it? Please share!

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