Holy Moley

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

A mole has taken up residence in my yard and, seemingly overnight, disrupted a couple of landscaped ornamental beds and killed two biennials. Well, it’s time to send that critter an eviction notice!

I immediately installed a spike as I’ve experienced good results with them in the past. These low-tech devices periodically emit a sonic vibration that supposedly moles find irritating. It worked, somewhat; The critter vacated the one bed, waddled (I imagine) across the walkway leading to my front door and dove into the next nearest bed to begin again. Aargh.

So, I poked another spike into the soil thinking, “can’t hurt, might help.”  True enough–no moles were hurt. Extension resources say my go-to solution has not been scientifically proven effective.

Know thy enemy
Solving a problem is more difficult when you know next to nothing about its cause. It was time for me to do some reading and uncover a few facts about moles:

  • Moles are solitary animals and, since they live underground, have few predators (snakes and foxes are two). Three to five moles per acre are considered a high population for most areas.
  • Moles are carnivores; they prefer to eat insects and grubs. They eat 70% or more of their body weight each day. With an appetite like that it is no wonder they cover so much (under)ground.
  • Moles are very efficient at tunneling. Observe their front feet in the accompanying photo and you can see why. The feet are broad and flat with long, protruding claws to help toss soil aside. They “swim” through the soil. They can tunnel forwards or backwards. Their deep (10 to 18 inches) and wide tunnels can destroy plant roots in their path, which is likely what happened to my biennials. get-rid-of-moles
  • Moles do not eat plants. If you notice plants or their roots suddenly vanishing, that is the work of white-footed mice or voles who are opportunistic herbivores – they make use of a mole tunnel to reach their food source.
  • In addition to grubs and insects, moles eat earthworms, spiders and other beneficial soil microorganisms. Moles like shaded, moist, cool loamy soil. No one warned me that a reward for improving my clayey soil would be moles. They also enjoy mulched areas and compost piles.
  • North Carolina is home to two species of mole: the Eastern mole and the star-nosed mole. The latter is a rare species and thus, moles are a protected species in this state.


Actions that may solve a mole problem
A 24-inch square piece of hardware cloth, bent in half and buried in the soil may work to protect a small area or a treasured plant. This option is hardly practical for my larger landscape and besides, I treasure all my plants.

Chemical repellents, toxicants and fumigants are not recommended as their effectiveness is limited at best and potentially dangerous to humans, pets and other wildlife. Extension also recommends not planting Euphorbia latharis (mole plant) nor Ricinus communis (castor bean plant) for similar reasons.

The most effective way to control moles is to trap them. Since moles are a protected species in N.C., you need a depredation permit to trap them. Depredation refers to wildlife causing property damage.

Benefits moles bring to nature
I am highly unlikely to experiment with trapping a mole, permit or not. And the problem would have to get pretty bad before I paid someone to trap a mole for me. So, it is time to consider what benefits moles bring to nature. Maybe we can coexist.

  • For starters, moles eat white grubs and the larvae of pest insects. Grubs become Japanese beetles so hooray for moles.
  • Tunneling loosens and aerates the soil. It also mixes the soil near the ground surface with deeper subsoil.
  • Borders of marigolds may repel moles from gardens. This method has not been scientifically tested but who would object to planting marigolds? Thus, I am counting it as a benefit.

Alas, there are just too few benefits of moles in the landscape. Sigh.

640px-Marigold_Flower

Drawing a conclusion
I might have won the battle, after all. One source noted that spring floods are probably the greatest danger to adult moles and their young. I know it’s not spring, but Hurricane Flo just dropped several inches of rain on Durham. Maybe the two inches of water that seeped from the over-saturated soil into my basement was also enough to wash away the smorgasbord that my resident mole was enjoying and he will soon pack up for new digs. Wishful thinking? Can’t hurt, might help me feel better.

Further Reading:

Find lots more detail about moles and trapping them at this resource from Penn State Extension:  https://extension.psu.edu/moles

https://wayne.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/12/moles-or-voles/

https://extension2.missouri.edu/G9440

https://www.ncwildlife.org/Licensing/Regulations/Nongame-and-Other-Regulations/Wildlife-Depredation

http://www.metromastergardeners.org/faq/index.php?action=artikel&cat=9&id=20&artlang=en

Photo credits:
Mole: https://www.almanac.com/pest/moles
Marigold:  Sarbast.T.Hameed [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

 

New Dates Announced for Master Gardener Information Sessions

Storm conditions last week caused us to cancel two information sessions which are the first step in the application process for becoming an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Durham County. The sessions have been rescheduled for Monday, September 24 at 2 p.m., and Tuesday, September 25 at 6 p.m.

Applicants must attend one information session. Remaining sessions are as follows:

September 18th, 10-11 am
September 20th, 6-7 pm
September 24th, 2 pm
September 25th, 6 pm

All sessions take place at the Durham County Extension office at 721 Foster Street in Durham.  Advance registration is required. Call 919-560-0521 to register for a session.

Durham County Extension has nearly 100 volunteers in the Extension Master Gardener program. We help county residents learn more about a myriad of gardening topics, answer questions, conduct demonstrations and workshops, and help maintain a community garden at Briggs Avenue.

Once interns have completed their initial training, they volunteer 40 hours of their time to the community every year. Beyond their initial training experience, they are able to attend lectures and workshops offered by state and national experts. To find out more about the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program visit http://www.ncstategardening.org.

 

Learn With Us, week of September 16

Sept. 18, 2018, 6:30 – 8pm Arboricultural Tree Climbing Demo –
Durham Garden Forum
Sarah P Duke Gardens, Durham, NC
Leaf & Limb Arboriculture Company will present a climbing and roping demonstration and discussion of the value of proper tree care. This session will be both indoors and out to see the tree roping and climbing demonstration.

Free for members, $10 General Public. No charge for parking.

 

Sept. 23, 2018, 3-4pm Raised Beds – South Regional Library
South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Avenue, Durham, North Carolina 27713
Join EMGV Charles Murphy for a presentation about raised bed gardening.

Class is free. Registration is required.
Register with Pana Jones (panajones2@ncsu.edu) or call 919-560-0521
OR
Register online at the Durham County Library website durhamcountylibrary.org. Click on “Events” to find the full calendar of events. Go to the date of the class and sign up.
You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register: 919-560-7410.

How to Prepare for a Hurricane

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Florence is forecast to be a very powerful, major hurricane on its path to the coast of the southeastern U.S. Wednesday and Thursday. Central North Carolina is at increasing risk for damaging wind, tornadoes, and prolonged, extremely heavy rainfall. Residents are urged to prepare now.

Here are some general tips on preparing for a hurricane and its aftermath. Links to additional resources appear below:

  • Keep the radio and television tuned for the latest information, or follow storm forecasts online.
  • If you have a home garden, harvest all the vegetables that are ripe or close to being ready. (The crop may be destroyed by wind. Vegetables exposed to floodwaters must be discarded.)
  • Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit. Include first aid and emergency supplies.
  • Locate flashlights, battery-powered lanterns and radios. Purchase a supply of batteries for each.
  • Fill necessary prescriptions.
  • Get cash from your bank account.
  • Prepare a three-day supply of water; Include one gallon per person per day.
  • Check your food supply. Make sure you have some packaged foods that can be prepared without cooking.
  • Fill your bathtub with water for cleaning and flushing.
  • Look around your house and yard. Is there anything that might become airborne in strong winds (container plants, hanging baskets, tools, lawn furniture, toys, bicycles, bird feeders, playhouses and doghouses, etc.) Bring unsecured items indoors or tie them down.
  • Plan how to communicate with family members if you lose power. For example, you can call, text, email or use social media. (Keep your devices charged!)
  • Fill your car’s gas tank.
  • Review your evacuation plan with your family. You may have to leave quickly so plan ahead.
  • Never drive through flooded streets. Water may be deeper than you expect.

September is National Preparedness Month; Now seems like a good time to practice getting ready for a hurricane. Please be safe.

Additional Resources:

NC Disaster Information Center
https://ncdisaster.ces.ncsu.edu/

Ready.gov https://readync.org/EN/index.html

Foods that require no cooking
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/foods-that-require-no-cooking

Meal preparation and food safety after a power failure
https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/meal-preparation-and-food-safety-after-a-power-failure

Link  to 50+ fact sheets on the subject. Obtain information specific to your interest and situation.  https://ncdisaster.ces.ncsu.edu/publications/

Struggling with Lettuce: Germination

by Kathryn Hamilton, EMGV

By rights, I should never have to buy lettuce. I own heat pads and grow lamps. I have both a patio and a covered porch that face south and are warm in winter. I have exposures east and north. I buy every lettuce seed packet that waves at me. By any stretch of the imagination I should have at least one pot of lettuce growing some place at any time of the year. But, my nemesis has been getting seeds to sprout.

Lettuce needs light and water to germinate. It is supposed to germinate in seven to 10 days. In my experience a generous sprinkling of seeds on top of soil-starting medium might generate two or three weak sprouts after weeks of tender care and gentle spritzing to keep the seeds moist.

Over the last several years, I’ve started all my

After-6-days-little-forrest
Seeds sprinkled on top of a sponge covered with a dome. Germination in three days; within five days a little forest of sprouts.

other seedlings in a domed enclosure that relies on sponges as growing medium. Knowing that the seeds need light to sprout, I never considered dropping the tiny lettuce seeds into the little sponge holes. But after another frustrating failure with seed-starting medium, I decided to try placing the seeds on top of the sponge plugs. And within three days, sprouts. Within five days, a forest of healthy lettuce starts. By the two-week mark, sprouts healthy enough to transplant.

At the same time, I decided to experiment with a low-tech approach. I found an old low-tech-plasticsponge, cut it in half so it wouldn’t be too thick and sprinkled the seeds. A big advantage of sponge over plugs was that I could clearly see where the seeds were sprinkled and using the tip of a knife they could be spread out. I put the sponge in a clean plastic container from roasted take-out chicken. I poked holes in the top, wet the sponge and added water to the bottom of the container.

All seeds were grown indoors, in a temperate environment that was low-to mid seventies. I started four experiments: two high-tech (sponges and domes from a seed house) and two low-tech  (chicken take-out plastic and household sponges) at the same time.  All seeds were started under grow lights, but one of each set was placed on a heat pad.lineup-cropped

Within two days my heart sank. It looked as if the low-tech

After-2-days-not-mold
Not mold! Plants with furry stems breaking out of their seeds.

container without heat had turned into mold. But, on closer examination, my seeds had begun to sprout. The high-tech seeds took a little longer to sprout. In both cases, those without heat did better than those with heat, especially in the low-tech plastic. Those in the high-tech sponges got their second set of leaves a day or so before the low tech and in general, looked a little stronger. After they sprouted, I watered with a highly diluted fertilizer. Fifteen days after the seeds were planted I transplanted the high-tech sprouts into cell-packs.  Getting the tender sprouts out Roots-through-spongeof the sponges was at times a little tricky. Rather than pull the seedlings I had to cut around the sponge, and I often planted part of the sponge with the seedling, being sure to bury the sponge below the soil line. In the end I had 54 plants that I put back under grow lights until they could get over transplant shock.

 

36-hour-seedlings
Perking up 33 hours after transplant.

For this experiment I used Marvel of Four Seasons (Lactuca sativa), a butter-head lettuce described as “delicious and tender, very easy to grow.”  Once these are strong enough and I can reclaim my grow lights I am planning to try several other varieties including iceberg, which is difficult to grow in North Carolina, and Tennis, a small-head heirloom variety I couldn’t resist.

Best lesson learned: The optimum temperature for lettuce germination is 75 degrees. The low-tech chicken container was less-insulated than the high-tech dome and none of the seeds emerged, but germination in the high-tech container was high with or without heat.

Here’s where you can find some additional information on growing lettuce:

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/lettuce

https://extension.psu.edu/seed-and-seedling-biology

http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1061/ANR-1061.pdf

http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ho/ho56/ho56.htm