Vegetable Transitions

Fortex pole beans have topped the trellis.

Fortex pole beans have topped the trellis.

Spring vegetable season screeched to a halt about three weeks ago when the rains disappeared. Drought plus heat plus voles equalled the rapid surrender of the spring greens. Lettuces and spinaches turned bitter and bolted. Yellow Granex onion greens fell over, refusing to push more food into the sweetly pungent bulbs. We yanked out everything but some pitiful (but still growing) carrots and a few smaller beets.

For the first time in our 25 years growing veggies here, the voles actually ate the onion bulbs! Never in my life have I seen this. Carrots? Sure. Potatoes? That’s why we use the potato bags now. But onions? See for yourself:

See how they ate the ENTIRE bulbs?

See how they ate the ENTIRE bulbs?

We hadn’t planned to pull up the onions and beets, but after Wonder Spouse pulled up a gnawed onion, we dug up anything of any size at all. Here’s about half of the pitiful onion harvest:

Vole tunnels undercut the onions so thoroughly that they never got enough water or nutrients to grow to a decent size.

Vole tunnels undercut the onions so thoroughly that they never got enough water or nutrients to grow to a decent size.

We found thoroughly chewed beets too, which is why we pulled them up. Fortunately, the voles left more of the beets alone, apparently favoring the onions — go figure. Here’s the beet harvest:

The beets were mostly able to attain a decent size.

The beets were mostly able to attain a decent size.

We ate some of these beets for dinner last night, and they were wonderful. Organic beets at the grocery stores have been unimpressive at best. Our freshly harvested purple-red globes were sweet, with an earthy undertone that added richness to the palate. We wish we had grown more.

I do still have a few later-sown beets growing, along with the slow-to-germinate-and-grow carrots, but unless the rains return and the heat backs off, I’m not hopeful about their outcomes.

Sweet Treats cherry tomato nears the top of its trellis.

Sweet Treats cherry tomato nears the top of its trellis.

The evil <expletives deleted> voles even undercut one of my Carmen pepper plants. I am seriously hating those rodents this year. But the tomatoes are tall and full of expanding green globes of future goodness. The beans are tall and full of flower buds. The first zucchinis are nearly large enough to pick.

I haven't yet had the heart to to pull out the vole-damaged pepper.

I haven’t yet had the heart to pull out the vole-damaged pepper.

If only the rains would come. Oh, they’re all over the radar — green globs of precipitation raining on everyone’s house but mine — so it seems, anyway. Theoretically, we still have chances the next few days. I’m trying to hold on to hopeful thoughts.

But even the Cope’s Gray Tree Frogs that had been singing lustily whenever a cloud crossed over have gone silent. Have they given up? Maybe they’re just saving their energy for a night of rainy love calls beside our front water feature, which is already nearly overflowing with tadpoles of varying sizes.

Tadpoles fill our front water feature -- the products of last month's rains.

Tadpoles fill our front water feature — the products of last month’s rains.

Wonder Spouse is muttering about buying more grow bags. Given the success he’s had with potato bags, he’s wondering if the way to beat the voles is to grow onions and beets in these containers too. We think perhaps our deer fence has discouraged black snakes from visiting our garden. Frankly, I may just grab the next one I see and carry it inside the garden fence. Surely it would forgive my interference for the chance to grow fat and happy feasting on our vegetable-fed voles.

On a happier note, the flowers are still mostly doing well, suffering only a few vole-related insults. And although most of the butterflies remain no-shows, the dragonflies are appearing in increasing abundance daily. And last night was the first time we saw hundreds of fireflies flashing luminescent messages to each other — first at ground level, then gradually dancing through the treetops as the night sky deepened to black. Always, Mother Nature provides compensations for the frustrations. I just have to remember to look for them.

If only I could persuade the sky dragons to eat voles...

If only I could persuade the sky dragons to eat voles…



  1. #1 by Lori Fontanes on June 16, 2015 - 7:02 am

    Critters are amazing–if we’re lucky, we can stay one step ahead. If not, there goes supper!!! Good luck &, yup, Smart Bags work wonders, don’t they?!

  2. #3 by hottcalilovin916 on August 14, 2015 - 1:47 pm

    Thanks for the informational post, we need rain so badly here too!
    There must be something strange this year because my vole issues are identical! Normally steals a few carrots or a potato, but this year went after my onions, forcing me to pull up a bit early. They only went after the biggest softball-sized onions. The worst is the eating of roots of non-root vegetables. They ate the roots of my Carmen pepper plant out of all the others. My worst issue is voles just ate 2 of my best sweet potato plants — nothing left but a few chewed vines, and it’s not like lettuce where you can just replant😥

    This is the first year I grew bulbing fennel and herb fennel. 30 nice bulbs of fennel gone within 1 week and all the herb dill laying on the ground dead b/c they took a few bites of the roots. The craziness is the amount being consumed everyday and nothing likes alliums! I had the same reaction of nothing would ever eat an onion.
    I just bought the sonic stakes to try out after traps were mocked by the little critters.

    What I’ve noticed so far here in the Northwest is around 6pm I here chewing noises in the garden each night, then woosh down the hole the plant goes.

    They love moist soil probably because that’s where the grubs are most active. Anywhere I water, they attack there by morning.

    • #4 by piedmontgardener on August 14, 2015 - 4:32 pm

      Wow, I’m never complaining about voles again after that tale! Are you sure it is only voles that are doing the damage? I ask, because some of what you describe sounds like groundhogs to me. You have those too out there, don’t you? They are quite stealthy, and vastly more destructive in a short time than voles.

      If I were you, I might consider investing in one of those motion-sensor-activated wildlife cameras that works in the dark. Set it up in an area of your garden where you’re having problems, and see what your camera catches.

      In my yard, if the voles ever got that destructive, I’d probably put the entire fenced-in garden into a cover crop for a couple of years, in the hopes that this would be less appealing, so they would disperse. And with no food growing in there, I might leave the gate open, so that predators could work on the rodents. I’m blessed to live in an area with excellent year-round farmer’s markets, and it’s relatively easy to at least grow greens, peppers, and tomatoes in containers.

      Consider some of these kinds of options for next year. And maybe try planting your fall greens in containers. Maybe deeply till the affected areas to destroy their tunnels. Basically, make your garden less appealing to voles any way you can.

      If you figure out a solution that works, please share it.

      Good luck!

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