This post will teach you how to help mysterious garden moles. These unique little creatures get a really bad press for simply digging molehills (bundles of earth). They are simply doing what comes naturally to them. How much do you know about moles, other than they are black, are blind (or are they?) and like leaving mounds of earth on your garden? In this post, we will meet moles, and learn how to co-exist peacefully with them.
The word ‘mole’ comes from the Middle English for ‘mouldwarp’ which means ‘earth-thrower’.
Let’s Meet a Mole!
Moles are tiny creatures with black furry bodies and big paws that look like spades, essential to dig up to 18 feet of earth a day, to find earthworms, which they eat in their own body weight each day (they also keep earthworms to eat later in their tunnels, and also eat slugs and insects). They are very solitary creatures who don’t even like each other. The only time they come together is to mate. They are nothing like the character of Mole in The Wind in the Willows, who lived in a riverside home with his friend Ratty.
Moles are not blind, but they don’t see well and are colour-blind. But they have good smell and hold their noses and mouths in a downward-position when digging, so as not to get earth stuck. They don’t hibernate, but instead work in 4-hour shifts (digging and sleeping) most of the day and night. They do a kind of breaststroke, using their spade-paws to plough through the earth, in order to find earthworms. So they are losing their habitats, as everything is gradually covered in concrete. They live around 3 years, with natural predators being cats, dogs, owls, buzzards and stoats.
How to Humanely Deter Moles
Moles will never harm you (unless you try to harm them). They can bite (if so, then wash your hands and use an antibiotic cream). But all they do is eat earthworms (just like birds). And slugs. Help all garden creatures (and keep pets and children safe) by creating an organic lawn. Having nature eat your slugs is much safer than slug and snail pellets (which are harmful to pets and children, as well as wildlife).
- The best way to deal with moles, is to live with them. If they have food (worms), they are likely there to stay, until they find another place. In fact, well-maintained lawns are often their favourite, as the soil is soft and well-watered. Experts say the best preventive measure is simply not to water the lawn so much, as this will make the soil harder. You could also trim away shady foliage, to help the sun dry out the soil a bit more.
- The earth from mole hills is already’ prepared’ and makes excellent potting compost. If dogs are nearby, brush over the hill to level it, to avoid terriers trying to dig down. Moles underground actually help, by eating grubs that could harm grubs (though they can create ‘sink-holes’ in flower beds).
- Moles don’t like noise. Sonic devices have mixed reviews. Regular gardener footprints are effective.
- Moles don’t like the scent of marigolds, daffodils or alliums (onions, garlic, chives, scallions, leeks). If you live with pets, don’t plant these nearby as they are all toxic to them. See how to make your garden safe for pets.
- Humane traps are not very effective, because moles can die slowly if they are not checked. Read Living with Urban Wildlife, packed with ideas from England’s top humane wildlife deterrence expert. His other book The Mouse Stranglers details the problems of lethal control, and suggests humane alternatives (including for moles).
- If you are a farmer worried about bacteria from mole hills, one permaculture gardener rotates where he feeds his sheep, to reduce risk. Homeopathy at Wellie Level runs courses for farmers to enhance natural resistance (with great success for mastitis and in some cases, cattle TB).
Why Marc Gave Up Catching Moles
Marc Hamer worked for years as a mole-catcher. But he ‘turned the worm’ and now is an advocate of leaving them alone. He says that his turn of mind came in a muddy field, where he was holding ‘something blue and black’ and vowed never to catch a mole again. He says that modern gardeners make things worse. He suggests leaving unused areas of your garden as wildflower gardens instead. He suggests (not near pets as some wildflowers are toxic to them), to grow a wildflower meadow instead.
People often talk about loving wildlife, but you have to take the rough with the smooth. You can’t love pretty butterflies but then ignore or harm moles, just because they don’t fit in with your manicured lawn. Take a leaf from garden writer Alys Fowler, who says ‘If I am to love owls, I must learn to live with rats’.
Books to Teach Children to Love Moles
- The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse is a lovely story of friendship. Charlie’s four unlikely friends have captured the hearts of millions, with the story being described as a ‘new Winnie the Pooh’.
- Mole Hill is the story of one mole’s fight, to stop a fleet of diggers destroying his home. With a bit of clever thinking, Mole might just manage to trick the silly trucks into believing they could end up extinct (just like dinosaurs) buried in his hill.
- Mouse & Mole is the story of two friends, who set out their plan: a picnic of cheese and cucumber sandwiches if it’s a fine day, or roasted chestnuts and toasted muffins in front of an apple wood fire, if it is wild and wintry. But what will they do, if it is an in-between sort of day?
- Little Mole’s Wish has been compared to Raymond Briggs’ classic book The Snowman. This is a timeless story of the friendship between a lonely little mole and a snowball that he moulds into a bear, that comes to life. He takes his new friend on the bus, but little does he know that when the weather warms, the snowball will disappear.