We have voles in the high tunnel. Well, we might have voles, or we might have mice–I’ve definitely caught a few mice, but some of the holes look a bit vole-ish to me. While I am generally a live-and-let-live person when it comes to wildlife, these voles have developed a taste for my hakurei turnips. They’ve eaten a few carrots too, from the inside out (which, incidentally, actually looks pretty cool when you dig one up), but thankfully few enough that it hasn’t become a problem. But the turnips are a different story: when I made my final harvest one week ago, I rejected 15-20% of my turnips out of hand, as they had been pre-sampled to greater and lesser degrees. True, Andrew and I salvaged the vast majority of the greens (these are clearly Northern voles, as any self-respecting Southern vole would not have let delicious turnip greens go to waste), but I was nonetheless irate.
You might perhaps think that, because I’ve already harvested all of my turnips, the trouble is past and the voles and I can return to harmonious coexistence. This, alas, is not at all the case, as I suspect that voles will also have a taste for pea plants. I plan to seed peas later this week. Clearly, I need a counter-strike.
My first idea was to harness Nature “red in tooth and claw” and let our cat, George do my dirty work. One cold day, as I weeded in the high tunnel, I let George come in with us. I hoped that the smell of vole would immediately inspire him into staking out some of the larger holes and that before long he’d be bringing me one of the trophies he is so fond of depositing outside of the milkhouse the night before distribution. Unfortunately, I had forgotten George’s fatal flaw–he is convinced that he is a house cat in exile in a barn. Once ensconced in the warmth of the high tunnel, he wanted nothing more than to lie on his back in front of me, begging for belly rubs. As this behavior did not enhance my weeding experience (or, of course, address the vole situation), I soon ejected George back out into the cold which set him to piteous meowing around the perimeter. In an act of revenge that only a cat could conceive, George attempted to reenter the tunnel by way of scaling the exterior, sharp little cat claws biting into the plastic. I may have used some very strong words to impress upon him the error of his ways. I also may have chased him a good 100 feet (and it is HARD to run when you are 7 months pregnant). George does not hang around the high tunnel any more.
And so I then turned to plan B, which I am affectionately calling Schrodinger’s Vole. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger is often remembered for the quantum mechanics thought experiment which he proposed and which has ever after been referred to as “Schrodinger’s cat.” In it, Schrodinger proposed an intentionally absurd scenario: a cat, in a box, with a miniscule quantity of a radioactive substance which may or may not decay and a Rube Goldberg-esque device that, upon detecting radiation, would break a vial of poison. His point was to illustrate the principle of quantum uncertainty on a macroscopic level: until you look into the box, the cat is (theoretically) simultaneously alive AND dead. It is all very abstruse, and I’m probably not explaining it very well, as I last took physics in ninth grade. Hopefully, though, I don’t need to understand quantum mechanics in order to catch voles.
What I do need is some very basic carpentry. My vegetable-growing hero Elliot Coleman claims that he solved his own high tunnel vole infestation with a simple wooden box. Coleman claims that voles are instinctively attracted to dark holes (they remind them of their dens) and will scurry in unbidden. If I then leave un-baited but set mousetraps within the darkened interior, Elliot Coleman promises that my voles will soon be history. Now you might think that building a small wooden box would be a far cry easier than contemplating quantum mechanics. I, however, might disagree. I spent many, many years learning how to think about complex theoretical propositions, whereas I’m an entirely self-taught carpenter Except that I’ve never liked self-teaching.
That is how I, the exact opposite of an autodidact, found myself looking anxiously at a wall of plywoods of various makes and models in the Home Depot building aisle and thinking “I have no idea what I am doing.” One of the employees was kind enough to offer material suggestions, and I went home nervously equipped with particle board and waterproofing paint.
After a great deal of hand-wringing and over-thinking, I finally managed to construct my box. It is 12 x 6 x 8, painted black, and utterly non-descript. It is so boringly rudimentary that most people probably would not think it is worth mentioning in passing conversation, much less in a lengthy blog post. I haven’t even tested it to see if it does, in fact, attract voles like flies to honey. But I feel inordinately proud of my little box. I made it myself. And when I put it in the high tunnel it is theoretically possible (at least until I look inside) that I can catch voles in it that are simultaneously alive AND dead. But I’d be ok with dead.