Square Peg Post

January 11, 2011

Friends, Foes, and the USDA

Filed under: Uncategorized — Administrator @ 11:24 am

Most of our insect pests are dormant, keeping their powder dry until the temperatures rise when they will resume their rapid reproductive cycles and their voracious and unauthorized consumption of our crops.   Their warm blooded partners in crime, however, continue the destruction and are more desperate than ever to eat, burning calories just to stay warm.  Pocket gophers have been our worst pest since we started here in 2003 and they remain a serious foe but a different rodent has joined the race for the title of Public Enemy Number 1.  The cute and cuddly meadow vole has exploded in population and every one of the little rascals wants to eat, grow, and reproduce!

Burrow entrances like these riddle the farm.  Voles are everywhere!

Burrow entrances like these riddle the farm. Voles are everywhere!

This young apple tree was "girdled" by voles who ate the nutrient rich bark from the bottom half foot of the tree.

This young apple tree was "girdled" by voles who ate the nutrient rich bark from the bottom half foot of the tree.

THe roots of this tree were severed by gophers and voles.  Only the tap root keeps it from falling down completely.

THe roots of this tree were severed by gophers and voles. Only the tap root keeps it from falling down completely.

A vole burrow - probably excavated by a coyote.  Notice the clipped grass fronds and the big pile of green poo.  They are herbavores!

A vole burrow - probably excavated by a coyote. Notice the clipped grass fronds and the big pile of green poo. They are herbavores!

Because Square Peg Farm is a certified organic operation, our options for control are limited.  We have done some gopher trapping with decent success but it is time consuming.   Our best hope is to provide habitat for natural predators and this is where the USDA’s EQIP program comes in.   With EQIP funding we have erected raptor houses and perches and installed some owl boxes.  Some kestrels have taken residence in a couple of our bird houses and kestrels and red tail hawks frequent the perches.  The owl houses went in a  week ago and so far no one has taken up residence but nesting season hasn’t started yet so I am still hopeful.

A kestrel perching above a raptor house.   Kestrels eat insects, amphibians, and MICE!

A kestrel perching above a raptor house. Kestrels eat insects, amphibians, and MICE!

A red tail hawk on a perch.  The hawk is much larger than the kestrel and can eat gophers.  They also eat carrion and are often seen perching by highways.

A red tail hawk on a perch. The hawk is much larger than the kestrel and can eat gophers. They also eat carrion and are often seen perching by highways.

An owl "box" made from a concentrated grape juice barrel hangs in the rafters of the barn.  No residents yet - part of the housing glut?

An owl "box" made from a concentrated grape juice barrel hangs in the rafters of the barn. No residents yet - part of the housing glut?

Shouldn't you be hunting?!?!

Shouldn't you be hunting?!?!

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