Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Meadow Voles

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

Two years ago, meadow voles nearly destroyed all my fruit trees. My oldest apple tree survived only because of a successful bridge graft. I had never done that kind of graft, but it was a do-or-die situation and luckily, it worked out. The next fall, I was careful to wrap my tree trunks with a protective barrier. This was held on with florist’s wire.

To digress, meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, tunnel under the snow and have the uncanny ability to locate fruit trees as well as ornamental trees and shrubs. There, protected by their frozen roof, they gnaw not only the bark but also the roots. When they manage to girdle a tree or shrub, the plant dies (unless dramatic steps are taken, such as my bridge graft).

So when I saw a meadow vole dart across the path leading to my house, it spurred me to look about and see where it was heading. A thick bunch of chives on one side and a grassy thatch around the apple tree in front of my door made up points A and point B, where the vole traveled. These rodents are active both day and night, so it wasn’t unusual that I spotted it.

I tried several ways to kill the vole and any other voles that may use the same route. But my efforts were in vain. So my best hope was to at least check my trees to see if the wrapping was still intact. And to my amazement, I found that in the one year that the wraps and wire were on the trees, the diameter of their trunks had increased dramatically. The trees were, in fact, growing around the wires. I immediately clipped all the wires and re-wrapped, this time in a looser manner.

So I learned two things. One, that voles are not going away any time soon and two, young fruit trees grow much faster than I ever imagined.

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