September’s cooler and invigorating temperatures brought me renewed energy to complete one summer project – deconstructing what had been my primary vegetable growing bed. The healthy soil I worked years to build up attracted an unwelcome underground element. Voles found whatever I planted - peas, beans, cucumbers, summer squash, or tomato, pepper, and eggplant transplants – a convenient meal. What voles ate we could not.
My initial solution was to plant many of my seedlings – all tenderly started indoors and coddled until ready for outdoor life – into large plastic pots. I sunk the pots into the holes I created when I dug the rich garden soil out to use in the pots. Tomatoes went into the larger pots, peppers and eggplant into somewhat smaller ones. This worked for a while, until one of the more determined little varmints found a drainage hole and entered one of the pots from below. Can you imagine my consternation at finding one of my potted hot pepper plants wilted and tilted because it no longer had ample roots to support its top growth?
My pet name for any vole became little b*st*rd.
OK, I thought, make a mental note to block each drainage hole with a heavy rock before filling each pot with soil – I can be determined, too. So the following growing season I did just that. Since I became a hoarder of large plastic pots, I started more seedlings knowing I had ample plastic pots to protect their roots from becoming vole feed once planted in the outside vegetable bed. And, because I did not want to continue to lose my pea, bean, and cucumber vines, or my summer squash or lettuce, down the black holes voles create to pull plants into one of their underground dining halls, I planted these in pots as well. All this potting-up and potting-in required a lot of time and additional work. Isn’t it amazing the lengths in which gardeners will go to be able to walk to the garden to pick dinner?
You know what’s also amazing? The lengths in which voles will go to reach a cafe. They chewed through a couple of the thin plastic nursery pots I hoarded – chewed right around the large stones placed next to the draining holes.
My pen name for any vole became unprintable, but I’m pretty sure neighbors within ear shot had singed ear follicles.
I was not prepared to abandon this planting area so I took a deep breath – actually many, many deep breaths interspersed with more unprintable vole descriptors – and acknowledged the only solution was to dig out the soil, line the base and sides of the planting area with 1/4 inch hardware cloth. Openings in this size are too small for voles to squeeze their voracious little heads through, but large enough to allow good drainage.
Deconstruction started in June, as mentioned in a monthly GOOPs post. Once the bed was empty, I split it into three sections by constructing two dividers using some of our ample supply of native fieldstone. I lined one section with hardware cloth and filled it with a blend of the original soil and new compost.
This became home for the potted ever-bearing strawberry plants that grew from three to multiple plants over the summer. The underground barrier should stop voles while above-ground netting – held aloft by three metal hoops – should prevent deer and birds from enjoying the strawberry plants.
I opted to leave one section of the bed unlined. This now holds horseradish transplants (right photo below) that will eventually spread to fill the entire space. In the meantime I used the empty area (left photo below) of this section for garlic. I’ve yet to have voles eat either horseradish or garlic.
The middle section, once lined with the remaining hardware cloth (still rolled up in the center section), will be the new home for all the chive plants currently growing in multiple locations. (Yes, voles in my area will munch, though sporadically, on chive roots.) Having all my chives in one protected bed will make it easier to harvest chive flowers for chive vinegar and chive leaves for cooking. After I transplant the chives, I’ll line the edge between the planting bed and the lawn with lavender and thyme.
Phase two of my vegetable garden reconstruction will commence over the next few months. We plan to build raised beds from scratch – each fully lined with hardware cloth – in a different area of the yard. This will require dropping one shade-producing tree over the winter. Once built, we’ll surround the raised beds with 5-foot fencing to keep plantings safe from deer. Then I hope my plastic pot hoarding days will be nothing more than a distant memory.