Can You Radically Welcome Moles to Your Yard?

Round mole hill

Moles sometimes push up excess dirt.

It’s that season again. Recently we spotted a symmetric dirt cone poking up in our lawn. Fortunately, it wasn’t an early-stage volcano about to erupt. Rather, a mole pushed dirt out of the way so it could continue tunneling.

People hate moles for forming similar dirt piles and their humped tunnels that lawnmower blades sometimes catch. Here’s some basic mole information to help change perspective from a “problem” to a resource and “radical welcoming”.

A Mole Primer

Moles are small mammals of several species that live across North America, Asia, and Europe. They make their living tunneling through the earth to find earthworms and other invertebrates to eat. Contrary to popular belief moles don’t eat plants or roots. They make two types of tunnels. One is fairly deep and is a mole’s highway. It’s for transportation. The other is the familiar humped tunnel moles create to find food that usually is just below the soil surface. Every once in a while, a tunneling mole needs to get rid of some dirt, so they push it to the surface, creating a molehill.

Mole or Gopher?

People confuse moles with gophers. Both are small tunneling animals, but they are very different in these ways:

  • Moles eat invertebrates, not plants. Gophers eat plants and roots.
  • Moles are most common in moist shady soil and suburban yards. Gophers are more common in open sunny areas, like pastures, and rarely enter suburbia.
  • Moles create symmetric hills of dirt. Gophers make elliptical-shaped mounds.
  • Mole populations are usually small, while there may be many gophers living in an area.

By softening and aerating the soil both types of animals promote long-term soil health.  Often an area bordering a mole tunnel will have the greenest grass in the lawn, for example.

Killing Moles

Mole dislike is so intense that many people work hard to kill any that dare tunnel in their yard. Here are two common mole weapons and why we don’t use them:

  • Plunge-type traps impale a hapless mole. We worry that a neighborhood child or someone’s pet could be speared by one of these traps, which also are cruel.
  • Poison peanuts are sold in garden stores. The package may say the peanuts will kill moles……and they will if you can get a mole to eat one, but remember that moles eat worms and insects, not peanuts or plants. A peanut is a plant. So people who buy poisoned peanuts are wasting their money and poisoning critters that may eat the poisoned peanut. Like a favorite, curious dog.

What We Do with Moles at Winding Pathways

We view our moles as another interesting and beneficial animal that shares our yard. Yup, mole tunnels kill a strip of grass in the short term, but in the long term, mole activity improves the soil. Worms and most other invertebrates contribute to soil health, so we know if we have moles, we have a healthy lawn.

What to Do About Moles

There are two ways to deal with moles. First, a homeowner can set traps and poison and attempt to kill beneficial animals. Second, forget trying to “get rid” of moles. Instead, just tamp down their tunnels before mowing, and don’t worry about them.

We follow the second.

What is an Easy, Delicious Food for Dinner?

For years we’ve added wild foraged plants to our diet. They’re free, available, often delicious, and give us the satisfaction of knowing that we can find food close to home.

After years of foraging and trying many wild foods, we now place them into three categories:

  1. Common, easily gathered and prepared, and tasty.
  2. Tasty plants but tedious to gather and prepare. Often we just don’t have the patience and time to gather and cook them.
  3. Ones that are difficult and time-consuming to gather and prepare, and are not especially tasty.  These would be worthy food in an emergency but not normally worth the time and effort to gather and prepare.

We concentrate on the first category and one of our favorites is lambsquarters. It’s common just about everywhere. We’ve spotted it beside urban sidewalks, on the edge of farm fields, and in nearly every garden. The plant springs up like magic between rows of vegetables, and too often the gardener rips or hoes them out as weeds.   It used to have more respect here.  People in some countries still honor and harvest lambsqurter.

Easy Peasy Lambsquarter

Lambsquarters are as delicious as any vegetable we plant in our garden. We don’t need to buy seeds and plant them. They just appear like magic and grow fast as soon as the weather warms. We begin eating them about bean and pumpkin planting time.   

Lambsquarters are sometimes called pigweed, goosefoot, wild spinach, or wild beet.  They are an amaranth and often grow in large clumps. An easy way to identify them is to examine the top of young plants and the bottom side of leaves. They look white, and drops of water readily slide off.

Like most garden and wild greens, lambsquarters are best harvested when the leaves are new and small. Big summer leaves become tough and bitter. To speed up gathering we sometimes use a big pair of garden scissors to snip them off. Then we thoroughly rinse them to wash off any grit.

Young lambsquarter leaves can be added to salads, but we usually steam them for a few minutes. They’re delicious with a touch of melted butter.   

Beware: Before we eat any wild plant new to us we do the following:

  • Positively Identify the plant from at least two sources. For example, we confirm identification from any combination of wild food books, credible Internet sites, or knowledge gained first hand from a wild food expert.   
  • Avoid collecting plants that may be contaminated by farm or lawn chemicals, car fumes, or animal feces or urine.
  • Thoroughly wash the plants two or three times.
  • Follow cooking or eating instructions found in foraging books or credible Internet sites.
  • Eat sparingly the first time. A plant may be perfectly edible for most people but others could be allergic to it. Assuming there’s no digestive problem or adverse reaction after eating a small taste we then enjoy larger servings.

Lambsquarters are delicious, prolific, and are ready to pick all summer. We add them to our meals often. This addition of a nutritious food helps us be less dependent upon the grocery store for our dinner.

What Happened to Mallory Mallard and her ducklings?

Report from the Montessori School duck hatch:  To review, the school saw a mallard sitting on an urban planter box.  So, the staff and children made a project of watching the duck, noting its behavior, drawing pictures, and journaling about this experience. When the ducklings hatched the children, parents and staff followed the mother duck and ducklings on their way to new adventures.

Mother Mallard on Urban Flowerbox

The Montessori children watched as the mallard duck sat on and hatched eggs

“The ducklings hatched last Sunday. On Monday, all 11 made it out of the planter and to the river.  It was a bit traumatic.  10 fell into the storm drain and were brought out with a bug net by a parent.”

Some resources and thoughts:

The Wildlife Center of Virginia

Reconnect With Nature

Ducks Unlimited

Late Night Noises Keeping You Up?

Starting about mid-May when days and evenings began to warm up we’d hear off tune, extended croaking in damp spots around the yard, high in the trees, tucked into the woodpile and even on the side of the house.  A few days later, high-pitched off-key trills burst from the little pond outside our bedroom window. It’s spring in Iowa and the tree frogs and toads are loving the moisture and warmth as they initiate their spring serenade.

Hyla Versicolor, or eastern Grey Treefrog, are fascinating amphibians. These diminutive creatures – about  2 and a half incles long –  can change their rough, mottled skin within moments to better blend into their environment. Their large toe pads help them climb most surfaces, including buildings.  Although they prefer woods’ edges, they also are found clinging to houses and even light posts!  Once we spotted one clinging to our window. After mating, they tend to wander off into the forests to feed.

In winter they shelter under tree bark or leaves. A fabulous adaptation of changing glycerin to glucose that circulates through their organs prevents ice crystals from forming. Although remaining water freezes, they do not die. Come spring they thaw out to serenade us again.

two toads mating

Toads need water to mate.

The other night caller is the American Toad. Come dusk through the wee night hours, they sing merrily and mightily. They wander to the water to mate and reproduce, then they hop off to eat insects. They are especially helpful in gardens. Some of our friends even make toad habitats for them! Two protections protect these slow moving amphibians. A gland near their eyes secrets a nasty liquid that repels predators.  This gland does NOT cause warts. That is just a silly story people tell kids for some reason. And they pee. When picking them up grasp them gently around the middle and hold them away from your body so you don’t get sprayed. Toadlets hatch by the hundreds a few weeks into summer and somehow make their way to safety. We hope you enjoy these late spring singers.

 

 

New Oak Signals Hope

May’s first few weeks are the most delightful time to be outdoors.  Warm days combine with the delicious scent of spring.   It’s the peak time for birds that wintered far to the south to either settle in to nest or briefly rest and eat before winging further north. Their songs fill the air.

Early May awakens plants, and in early May Rich discovered a treasure.  It was an oak sprout that seemed to have “hope” written all over its new soft green leaves.

oak seedling next to fallen log

The seedling radiated hope.

Winding Pathways adjoins Faulkes Heritage Woods, an area of sloping land bordered by homes on the south and Indian Creek to the north.   Last August 10th a derecho bearing 140 miles an hour wind tore through Iowa.  Neither Winding Pathways nor Faulkes Woods was spared. Trees, many of them enormous, either snapped off or uprooted, leaving a scene many called “devastation.”

At first, that seemed like an apt description, and the woods looked ravaged all winter.   Rebirth comes with spring. While sitting on a fallen log Rich looked down to see a tiny white oak sprout.  It just seemed to say, “Hi, here I am ready to grow.”

Oaks thrive on sunshine, and with big trees now felled on the ground, light floods the soil to energize the leaves of the baby oak and other seedlings. Gradually the old tree will decompose.  Its wood will add nutrients to the soil to be appreciated by the youngsters.

Nature has amazing resiliency.  One just needs to look to see it.