Friday, July 14, 2006

Moi Contre Les Taupes

Forget the war on drugs. Forget the war on terror. There is a far more insidious enemy. He retreats deep into the darkness of the underworld where he carries out his dasterdly deeds, hidden from the sunshine where free men walk, well, freely. He cares not for flags or national anthems. He is not enlightened. He does not eat foie gras or drink wine. He is not of our race, creed, or color. He is taupe.
Picture from

Actually, he is la taupe, which is French for mole. And he is digging in my garden. Or perhaps I should say they are digging in my garden, since I suspect there are more than one. I noticed the moles last year, toward the end of the gardening season. Apparently, they like the fact that my watering makes the soil soft and diggable. Suddenly great mounds (okay, not that great) of crumbled soil began to appear in the grass around the vegetable garden. We had moles!

I did some internet research and learned (once I refined my search to exclude the Mayo Clinic site that discussed the dark spots on your skin) that moles don't eat the roots of plants. Moles are carnivores. They eat grubs and other undground larvae-like things and don't pose any real threat to the gardener other than the unsightly mounds of dirt in the lawn. But what a mole will do is dig its running galeries right through the roots of a plant, potentially killing it or seriously impeding its ability to produce, say, tomatoes or eggplant or beans or peppers or whatever the plant is supposed to produce.

As long as the moles were on the edge of the garden I felt safe. But I was not safe. They became adventurous and daring. They thought, "This guy doesn't care about us, he does not see that we mean business, that we are not content to be relegated to the less productive lands." Actually, I don't know if they thought that, or even if they think. They're moles. But they moved on to other parts of the yard that were not watered, not soft. Soon we had mole hills that we could actually see from our windows. Arrrgh!

The war was declared. I did more research. Internet forums. Various remedies were suggested: moth balls, vinegar, ammonia, explosives (yes, little firecrackers that blow up in the tunnels), crossing your fingers and toes and eyes and spitting three times into the wind. Ok, I made that last one up, but you get the picture.

Then I started looking at gardening websites for environment-friendly ways of dealing with moles. They acknowledged that the some of the folk remedies were effective, but what they were effective at was moving the moles from one part of your yard to another. Ultimately, they said, the most effective and humane way to deal with unwanted moles (where do the wanted ones live?) is to trap them. Not trap as in trap-and-release, but trap as in kill. I was aghast, but I knew it to be true. I went to the hardware store, and sure enough, right next to the little explosives on the shelf were mole traps. They have little harpoons on them that pierce the little critter as it happlessly sets off the trap. Then there's the clean-up. Eeew.

So I bought one. I tried it. First, I had to identify a gallery that was actually being used by the moles. The galleries are not the hills of dirt, but are the tunnels just under the surface of the lawn that the moles use to get from the nest to the feeding grounds under your grass. You can kind of see them if you look closely. The hills of dirt are the results of deep excavations for nesting purposes. Those nests can be a few feet under your feet.

Back to the galleries: To know if they're being used, you are supposed to lightly tamp down a small section, thus blocking the tunnel, then come back the next day to see if it's been pushed back up. Too much work for me. Tamping, marking the spot, surveying over days, perhaps weeks. So I just picked a spot. To set the trap, you must dig out a section of the tunnel, place the trap inside, then put a bucket or something over the exposed trap-laden tunnel section to trick the mole into thinking nothing has happened. Yeah, right. Well, nothing is exactly what happened. I dug and set and dug and set for days. Not a single mole-kabob. I gave up. Winter came. The moles left on their own.

Then we got busy with this year's garden and I forgot all about moles. Forgot, that is, until that first hill appeared inside the garden, very close to my eggplant plants. Do moles hibernate? Were they there all along, or did they just come back, remembering what a good time they had here last year? No matter; they were here and digging.

One of my neighbors once told me that he took care of moles by opening up one of the hills and using the hose to flood the nest and galleries with water. When the little critters came up for air, he'd whack 'em on the head with a trowel (remember Whack-a-Mole at your local arcade?). I remembered this and decided I could do it. I got my trowel, my hose, and I dug. Found the hole and flooded it. Not only did no mole come up for air, but the water never topped off. I mean, the water just kept going and going and going. There might be a flood in China right now of my making! I tossed some small stones down the hole and covered it over with dirt.

There were no new hills for a few days. Did I drown the moles? Maybe. But then they were back. New hills in the garden. I did the flood'n'cover thing a few times more. But to no avail. I started to think that all I was doing was providing them with a little mole jaccuzzi. A quick bath then back to work. Dig, dig, dig.

So now I've resorted to more drastic measures. I went to the hardware store and... no, not the explosives. I bought some little poisonous smoke-bombs that you light, toss down the hole then cover it up. The bomb burns like a flare and the heavier-than-air smoke fills the galleries and the deep nest and supposedly asphyxiates the moles. I planted three of them this morning. There were two new hills, one of them right up through the roots of my newly transplanted rhubarb. I felt no remorse. Bring 'em on. Smoke 'em out. You're either with me or against me. Today is the 14th of July, Bastille Day, and I'm rising up in revolution. Let them eat cake, indeed. I want to eat rhubarb, dammit.

So here I sit, hoping that these smoke-bombs work. Not feeling the least bit sad that I'm trying to murder a colony of tiny, sweet, innocent moles who never really hurt anyone. And their young.

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