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A garden getting attacked by underground animals can be a disappointing surprise. Things seem to be going wonderfully, the tops of those carrots gloriously green, the cabbages crunchy, then they are just withering away or missing altogether. The promise of fresh produce is suddenly broken.

While some aggressive farmers and gardeners go in for poisons and baiting, many of us would prefer not to kill animals, pests or not. Luckily, there are many humane methods for deterring moles, voles, gophers, and more.

Even better, most of these methods are preventative as opposed to reactive. This means we are protecting our veggies rather than losing a load of them before taking steps to remedy a full-blown problem.

Underground fence


Source: Don Preisler, U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine/Bureau of Land Management California/Flickr

Savvy gardeners know that one of the best protective measures for keeping the garden safe is a fence. It’s a solution so simple we take it for granted. Well, the same can be true for dealing with burrowing animals like moles, groundhogs, and even rabbits. For the most part, these animals don’t dig deeper than a foot. So, when installing that fence just dig a trench around the garden and bury a foot of fencing underground. Chicken wire will usually work; hardware cloth will work even better.

Biological diversity

Many, many gardening problems can be solved by biodiversity. Just as the mix of flowers and colors confuses insect pests, if underground rodents have to navigate a variety of roots, tubers, and rhizomes, they are less likely to devour all the potatoes or turnips. The more difficult it is to find a favorite treat, the better.

Noisy, smelly scarecrow


Source: Gilles Gonthier/Flickr

Scarecrows, despite the rather direct name, are good for more than scaring crows away. A good scarecrow, with bells and shiny streamers and squeaky springs, will foster fear in ground-dwelling animals as well. Many of them, such as groundhogs and voles, spend a significant amount of time above the ground as well, so the sight, sound, and smell of a human-like figure in the garden will keep them at bay.

Spray-on hot sauce

While many of us insist on putting hot sauce on our savory dishes, often the hotter the better, wildlife usually isn’t quite so masochistic. Hot peppers soaked overnight in water with a little oil make for a great spray that can be applied to plants and around the garden especially. The smell and taste of the hot peppers aren’t a favorite amongst animals.

Cat litter & predator presence


Source: gordonramsaysubmissions/Flickr

For those with pet cats, using cat litter is a warning signal for small rodents and the like. Cats are predatory animals that love to get their paws on voles, moles, and other small mammals. If there are holes in the garden, dump a little soiled kitty litter in them. Otherwise, dogs might chase them away. Or, providing good habitat for natural predators can help to diminish the pest population by simply inviting other animals into the garden.

Grow garlic bulbs

Infamous for causing bad breath, garlic is extremely healthy, tastes amazing, and deters all sorts of pests. Planting garlic bulbs and other alliums—the onion family—around the garden is an odor-ific barrier for underground pests. They’d rather avoid biting into a clove of garlic, so they are likely to turn around upon encountering some.

Vibration/ultrasonic devices


Source: NatalieMaynor/Flickr

There are specialty devices that spike into the ground and provide intermittent ultrasonic noises that underground pests are not supposed to like. A similar effect can be provided by putting a radio near the ground or coming up with some other means that cause vibrations on the ground.

Raised beds & container gardens

Raised beds and container gardens make accessing and/or noticing delicious vegetables more difficult for subterranean pests. They might simply dig right beneath the reaches of the radishes in a raised bed. More so, veggies grown in containers are unlikely to ever be troubled by moles.

In all likelihood, any or all of these methods will probably work for a while then wane in effectiveness. Often the trick with deterring pests is constantly changing the methodology or location of things so that the garden is never quite a comfortable place to hang out and eat. If there is a persistent problem, live traps might also be of help. It can be frustrating at times, but at least we have the farmer’s market as a backup. Those animals just have to take what they can for a good meal.

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