Problems with Voles, Topillos, Gofers , Microtis avarlis.

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Cleansweep 12 months ago.

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    Hi Charles,
    I am excited to get to No Dig, I arrive via Lawrence Hills, Geoff Hamilton, Carol Klein, Joy Larkcom, and others, always organic of course, but an exciting lifelong journey. I have been gardening in Galicia, North Spain for seven years now, No Walk mulched raised beds, no turning the soil. Wet winters, hot dry summers. But there is a problem here and I have been “wiggling” the soil a bit with a big border fork, because of the perennial problem of Mole rats, (Topillos, Gofers, Microtis avarlis,) a destructive burrowing blind rodent that does not exist in UK. So having found your site Charles, I am embarking this year on truly no dig to see what happens.

    My question is, as you have many people following and commenting on your site, and Steph´s Fbook page too, who are from America and the continent, where these creatures are a plague, I am keen to find out whether we too can do No Dig. All the locals, and the posher ecological folk etc, say its “Not Possible” you must dig and dig to disturb their burrows. I can´t think it can be worse than it already is , and you learn to hurriedly lift your parsnips and store in sand if they start on them; to lift leeks from the line they seem to be munching through etc. And plant a bit more than you need!

    There is nothing that I can find about No Dig and Mole Rats on the internet.



    Thanks Deborah and I am so glad we do not have mole rats/gofers.
    I know that Eliot Coleman does in Maine USA, but I did not know they are in Europe too. His writing has some pointers to catching/control, he is min till rather than no dig, I believe.
    I wonder if it’s like the common statement that “you dig in winter to expose pests and diseases”, which is so one-sided, because it ignores the harm caused by digging, to all the good soil life.
    All I can say is, I would disturb your soil as little as you can, accept the losses as you suggest, and I think they will be no more than if you had tried to disturb the burrows.
    Please keep us posted.



    Dear Deborah, I am an spanish scientist working with common vole plagues in NW Spain. It has been a surprise for me hearing that you may have problems in Galicia with this especies (Microtus arvalis), since it is considered as a rare species there. So, please, I would greatly appreciate any additional information about how are you sure it is this species (there are many other vole species in Spain, and common vole is not blind, real moles are instead). If you are completely sure of its taxonomical identification, more information about the locality where your garden is would be great. I would make a specific sampling trip to trap some individuals, scientifically confirming their identity. My proffessional e-mail address if you would like to communicate more directly: javier. My name is Javier Viñuela, you can find me in Research Gate or in the web, associated to research with birds and other species or to the word “topillos”, just for you to confirm I am not one of those freakies around in internet.
    Common vole is very common in Castilla y Léon, the region to the SE of Galicia’s western border, where they can become a plague in some areas and years, showing cyclic outbreaks as in France or Germany, It has colonized this agricultural area over the last 40 years, so it would not be rare that could be expanding to Galicia too.
    We are working on sustainable ecological control of these plagues since many year ago (trying to reduce the use of rodenticide and fire as control techniques highly harmful for the environment), and can propose you some things for your case of a small orchard:
    – Setting up some nest-boxes for barn owls and kestrels in the trees or poles in the borders of to the garden. They can work nicely in small cultivated areas as yours. 2000 have been installed in Castilla y León over the last 10 years.
    – Take care of 2-3 cats and do not keep them fat with artificial food, but hunting voles.
    – Flood the burrows (I guess no problem with water availability in Galicia) in the garden and, if possible, in the nearby fields, and kill the voles as they flee out of burrows (and you will kill many offspring too with water).
    – Avoid inmigration (highly possible if you have pasturelands around, a common use in Galicia and typical habitat for common voles), by setting a buried fence (50 cm down, 70 cm or more high, small size mesh, hard steel rodent gnawing-resistent) around the garden.
    – Use traps baited wit carrot of apple, Sherman traps work good, for example.
    – Use water traps (a hole with a large plastic glass inside, the bottom of Coke plastic bottles or something similar, filled with water about half the capacity. Remove animals as you find them drowned. It works really great too for arvalis.
    Best wishes



    Javier, thanks so much for this super-helpful post. Great advice on identification and control.
    There is confusion amongst many gardeners about moles, voles and other rodents.

    I had damage from what I think was common volse here, just once thank goodness in my first year, after creating garden from old pasture. Carrots suddenly wilted in summer after being eaten from the bottom. It happened only in a bed which I had dug.
    I caught two in a mousetrap with peanut butter, with the trap under some leaves.
    Since then, no more voles, and occasional moles.



    Thank you Javier indeed, and apologies to Charles for potentially giving misinformation, I am very scientifically minded and would hate to mislead. (An American friend here called them gofers!).

    However I am still confused, on all websites the common vole is called Microtus arvalis, if that is not it’s name then what we are all experiencing here (in the Ribeira Sacra, both Ourense province and Lugo province sides of the Sil river)? As there are about five different nationalities among my gardening friends here nomenclature is a problem. And are they much of a problem in UK ? This morning I go the topic of Voles on this site, for 2014 and learn that yes they can be. I gardened in Norfolk for 40 years and never heard of them as a pest, perhaps they don’t cause problems there.

    I am surrounded by chestnut and oak forest, have about 42 trees on my plot, with two huge mature cherries and a mature walnut, but no evidence of nests of birds of prey , but plenty of owls hooting at night and big ?? Kestrels?? etc during the day. Got the three cats, but far too fat!! And I am told that these mole rats do not produce adrenaline when chased and are not tasty to cats like a mouse.
    Perhaps I will find a “how to build an owl box” site. And thank you Javier, I will try flooding the burrows, and even without some unknown exotic American species to investigate you would be most welcome to visit this Galician paradise!


    M. Bland

    I have a garden of about 2 acres in eastern France (triangulated between Lyon, Grenoble and Geneve); it is a very rural area.
    When we moved to this house four years ago, the land had been rented by a local farmer who cut hay from it. I have been using mulch to enable me to plant fruit trees, trees, shrubs and many perennial plants into grassland.
    Last summer was the first time I grew vegetables which I planted directly through mulch into pasture which had been mulched for over a year.
    Last year, I was standing looking at a tall allium in flower and I became aware of a noise approximating to “munch, munch”. I looked around and traced the sound to the bottom of the allium at which point the allium stem promptly dropped 12 cms into the ground. Amazed I lifted it up and found it neatly munched off. I dug into the ground – no bulb to be found. Then I heard “munch, munch” again and say the stem of another nearby allium shaking and then dropping down. About eight alliums were destroyed this way. Very annoying.
    Later in the summer, I discovered 2 of my 5 celery plants wilting, I lifted them up and their roots had been eaten. A similar story with celeriac, lettuce, sown beans (but not the roots of growing French dwarf beans) and carrots. I also grew two melon plants (which produced about 30 melons between them) and one butternut squash – these were ignored. All these were planted directly into mulch (fabric).
    I set some mole traps but with no effect. I set some mouse traps and caught about 6 voles – much bigger than the voles I am used to seeing in the U.K. (so I am not sure they are Microtus arvalis) I don’t think they were larger due to the generous diet I gave them as before that, our cats had caught many large voles in the pasture.
    There are a lot of buzzards here and I hear barn owls. I read about someone who has planted a lot of trees innoculated with Tuber melanosporum spores in Spain – he showed photographs of posts with a shorter top rail on top which he placed around the future truffle plantation; these posts were to enable birds of prey to perch and watch for mice, voles etc.
    I intend to put up some perches and I shall also try the water trap but I’m not sure the water traps with old water bottles will be big enough for the larger voles – I’ll try and see.
    Thank you all for the discussion and ideas and, outside this topic, thank you Charles for the idea of multi-sowing which I am now trying with onions and beetroot.
    Best wishes,



    Hello Michele and thanks for sharing this.
    Voles can be so annoying, you describe it well: I wonder whether trapping can eliminate the population, which must have been high in the old pasture.
    I hope your multi-sown crops are productive.

    On the subject of gophers, I received this from an American reader in Washington state:

    “Eliot Coleman uses little wooden boxes with holes in them that lead to mouse-traps.
    Think of a box about 12 by 12 by 8. A cigar box about 2x taller than normal cigar boxes.
    Bore a hole about 1″ or so in one lower corner. Bore an identical hole in the other front corner so the holes line up.
    He doesn’t use any bait.
    He just puts the holes in line with their normal runs.”

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  charles.


    Hi Charles and others on this thread`
    After an exchange of emails, Javier the vole scientist is planning a field trip here to Galicia, with his technician, to trap the voles or “whatever” to see if indeed they are are now common here. This will be in July, all most exciting! I will update of course.



    Deborah, what a great result.
    I hope that your rodents are not voles and look forward to hearing more.
    And thanks for posting such an interesting question. Maybe the answers will help Michele and others.


    Ann Owen

    Hi, we’re gardening in Mid West Wales and this year has seen a veritable explosion in vole numbers. Both at our home garden, where two elderly cats managed three vole snacks per day each for most of the summer, and at our market garden which is about 3/4 mile from home. And many other gardeners in the area are reporting unusually large losses due to vole activity. I think it is the successive mild winters and a decline in natural predators that have allowed numbers to build up. Very frustrating when planting out new plants in no dig beds to find that the beds are absolutely riddled with vole runs. I have resorted to “walking” the beds before planting, but I worry about compacting our clay ground. We often find that the next day a fair number of the new plants are pushed up and out, as the voles re-establish their runs. So it’s deep breath, replant and bash in vole runs and block with stones and slates, which works about half of the times. We lost 30% of all our root crops and most of the strawberries this year and the live traps are not catching much, as there is so much food around this time of year.
    However; I find that where there is an abundance of pests, the predators are usually not far behind and a few weeks back, after an absense of more than a year we spotted a barnowl in our field. So we are creating “raptor landing strips”; close cropped strips of ground of about two metres wide surrounding the crops where possible. The main issue is people putting out mouse and rat poison which the rodents are now fairly resilient to, but as they carry the poison in their bodies, still kills vast numbers of their predators, thus making the problems worse. I keep trying to spread the word to use live traps instead, but it’s an uphill struggle.
    Hopefully this winter we will actually see some decent frosts. I will be trapping all winter to reduce their numbers for when the new season starts. The traps will be far more successful when the natural autumn abundance runs out. I’m currently using chip choc cookies and peanut oreos as bait, as just peanut butter tends to attract insects, which caused me to end up with a few toads in the live field traps this autumn, but I’m not catching a lot at the moment. I would like to know what people think is the most successful bait.



    It is my first year of no-dig growing, in North West Wales. Voles have been very active from late summer onward. They don’t seem to eat the roots, but unearth plants by undermining them; they do eat the leaves, and completely destroyed my newly-planted kale plants. I have not seen the creatures, but I presume they are field voles.

    We do have owls close by, and buzzards sometimes come into the garden, plus the neighbour’s cat (which is a good “ratter”) but they don’t seem to have had much impact on the vole population. Perhaps their numbers will be reduced in the winter, but I will probably have to resort to trapping them. I have caught grey squirrels with peanut butter on toast, but I don’t know what voles find irresistible.



    Voles have vexed me considerably, my plot is within a grazed pasture area and considerable damage was suffered in Spring. My array of Little nipper traps have succeeded in catching numbers of voles and long tailed field mice , baited variously with apple core sections or ‘monkey’ nuts in the shell, halved and tied- on to halt the ‘hit & run’ technique. I became almost paranoid, having notions of 2-vole teams working together!!, evidenced by catching two side by side, in a single trap.The field is regularly hunted by Buzzard & Red Kite by day and various owls at night.This will be continued throughout the winter, the Kite collects corpses from a corner post “by arrangement”

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