Voles – the voracious vegetation-eating varmints similar to lawn-tunneling, grub-eating moles – feast on the roots and crowns of plants, as this UConn fact sheet explains. In years past I lost an occasional lettuce, pea, radish, or pepper plant to voles tunneling through my vegetable beds. But last year the voles moved in … en mass … likely due to their previous mild-winter population explosion and the fact that my fenced-from-predator vegetable garden makes for safe and easy digging. ANYTHING I planted became vole victuals. I tried warding them off with home-made stinky concoctions poured down their tunnels, store-bought deterrents, solar powered ground spikes meant to deter underground mammals with vibrations … nothing worked. And no I don’t have a cat, nor will my allergic family allow one. I was determined to find a way to plant in the ground without having to dig out the dirt from one entire bed, line the sides and base with sheets of tightly meshed wire, and refill before planting (a tactic I’m still considering as a long term solution, but when I have a lot more time and some hired help).
One solution was to incorporate many tomato, pepper, eggplant, and basil plants into separate fenced-in, relatively vole-free perennial beds. I often interplant vegetables with perennials, especially vegetables with attractive foliage such as the large, purple-veined eggplant leaves in the background below … and this eggplant produced great yields.
Still, I could not stand to see my vegetable garden lay fallow. Since I had many transplants nurtured from seed, I opted to sink them in large plastic pots saved from previous uses or scrounged. But rather than set the pots on the ground, I ‘planted’ the pots in the vegetable beds, with their rims about 2 inches above ground. The advantages: water and liquid fertilizer went directly to the roots, mulching was easy both between and in the pots and, most importantly, the voles had to look elsewhere for supper. Also, any poorly growing plant was easily un-potted and replaced by direct-sown seeds in freshened soil. The potted garden provided ample tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and summer squash, plus some to share. At the end of the season spent plants went to the compost pile, potted soil went into the vegetable beds, and the pots were stored for winter.
I’ll likely repeat this procedure again using only thick walled pots with drainage holes small enough to prevent a voracious vole’s underground entrance, and I’ll plant smaller growing vegetable varieties.