Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Of Gophers, Moles, and Herbs (Rats, Strawberries, and Peppers too)

There's a nice planting area in front of my house that I've been trying to make productive over the past few years.  When we moved in 6 years ago it was filled with overgrown ugly shrubs that I spent a couple of years digging out and then I worked on improving the gritty nutrient deficient soil by digging in old potting soil and compost. The soil is pretty good now but I'm still trying to find the best use for the space.

My first attempt to grow edibles started out well, it became my strawberry bed, see how good it looked back in 2010... 

And I got great berries that year. Oh how delicious they were, harvested at the perfect state of ripeness.

Then 2011 turned out to be the year of the rat (see the catch tally on my sidebar, I keep it as a reminder). The rats discovered the strawberries and there was nothing I could do to keep the rats from devouring them. I ripped out all of the strawberry plants, weeping as I went along, but I was determined to not provide the rats with free dessert. I can look back on that now and laugh, but it was unbelievably frustrating and it was expensive - a $900+ auto repair to replace a wiring harness, not to mention the cost of the berry plants, and many more losses in the vegetable garden. I'm still afraid to plant strawberries again lest I lure the monsters back.

The next couple of years I tried to grow baccatum peppers there with some success. But the plants die back and look ratty during the winter so I decided it's time to find a new use for that space. I had interplanted some annual herbs with the peppers and they did very well. So now the plan is to devote the space entirely to herbs. The idea is to have a mix of both perennial and annual herbs. This spring I cleaned out the bed and dug in more compost and some slow release organic fertilizers. Then I purchased some great organic perennial herb plants at the farmers market and settled them into their new homes. Then, one day I find a nice smooth spot marked by a tag for a sage plant. What I had thought was the return of the mole that had been rototilling that bed for the past year turned out to be a gopher. Well, a couple of trusty Macabee traps took care of that dude! So I filled in all the runs and the next time I was at the market I bought a replacement plant and I'm all ready to plant it and the basil plants that I've nurtured from seed and I see that the soil is pushed up all over the bed. Not another gopher, no, this time it was a mole. Gads! I'm really tired of the invading underground rodents, the moles don't eat the plants but they push everything around, disturbing the roots and interfering with the plant's growth. Moles are incredibly difficult to trap and I just didn't feel like waging that war so I decided to use underground wire baskets. But a gallon basket costs about $3 or more, and larger baskets are of course even more expensive, and I had 9 basil plants and 2 new sage plants... But, I also had a roll of hardware cloth sitting around.

So here's my own design for a hardware cloth root protecting wire basket of approximately 1 gallon size. 

Use a pair of tin snips to cut a piece of 1/2-inch mesh cloth into a rectangle that measures 20 inches by 10 inches. The long length should be enough to wrap loosely around a sturdy 1 gallon nursery pot with about 1/2 inch of overlap. 

Or better yet, cut out a dozen pieces and start a little assembly line so that you aren't constantly changing tools and pulling your gloves on and off.

You will also need 3 pieces of wire for each basket, cut them a couple of inches long and bend them into a "U" shape. The roll of hardware cloth was conveniently held together with a length of suitable wire.

Roll the length of cloth into a tube, overlapping the short ends and fastening it in three places with the wire. One wire at one open edge of the basket and another wire 3 inches from the other edge of the tube, the third wire somewhere between the other two. Tighten the wires with a pair of pliers and tuck them down into the mesh. Don't get too worried about loose ends, this is going into the soil.

Make all your rolls and then place the gallon pot upside down.

Slip the roll over the pot with the end that is fastened three inches from the edge on top. Bend the inner corner down over the end of the pot and continue around, pleating the cloth down until the entire end is enclosed. It helps to wear a good thick pair of leather gloves.

It took 5 folds to enclose the end.

Slip the basket off the pot and that's it. Oops, except I had wires sticking up from the edge of some of the pots which I did not want to be sticking myself with every time I weeded around them.

So I bent them down with a pair of pliers.

Now that's it. I made a dozen baskets in short order.

Next step was to plant my herbs. The usual advice is to place the basket in the soil with a couple of inches or so sticking above the soil line because the gophers can go over the top and into the basket.

But I chose to ignore that advice and placed them into the soil with the edges near the soil line. Here's the replacement Tricolor Sage in it's new wire basket.

And some of the new basil plants in their baskets. Go ahead moles, try to push these babies around. (Oh I hope not!). The gallon sized baskets are a good fit for plants started in 4-inch pots. I'm hoping that the mole won't be inclined to push its way between the baskets. Time will tell. And perhaps that gap between the baskets would be a good spot to place a trap.


  1. Good luck. I don't envy you your rodent pests. My worst pest in my current garden is the cats. But at least they usually leave the plants alone once they are getting big. I do have a nasty skunk too that likes to rototill the garden outside the fence, but my veggie garden has one foot of hardware cloth underneath the fence. So far they haven't made it inside. We do have a possum in the neighborhood as we've seen it. I know they climb, but I haven't a clue if they are garden pests. So far so good. I just hope it stays that way. The cats are bad enough as they will dig and leave presents in any bed that is left with even a small bit of uncovered soil.

  2. Wow! I can't believe the luck you've had with rodents! We've been lucky on that front, so far, although our cats would probably be thrilled having something like that to chase. The baskets you made look great and I'll store away the how-to in case we ever need it!

  3. Gack! We are having some mole and rabbit issues this year as well, thankfully no rat issues again (I think, I'm not sure what destroyed my fava harvest). Good luck with your baskets, very handy and beautiful.

  4. Gack! What an issue you've been having with pests. Hopefully all your hard work will pay off. Your baskets look great. We have been having issues with moles and rabbits over here. Hopefully the rats won't come back. But I have no idea what decimated my fava harvests by eating the darn things off the plants!

  5. Oh, I feel your pain. I have to do this for every plant I care about. The gophers cause so much damage. Sigh.

  6. Okay, I'll stop being green with envy over your growing conditions... like here, paradise comes with some challenges. Still, despite your trials with rodents, you accomplish growing an extraordinary amount of beautiful things!

  7. I feel your pain. I did and still have a problem with burrowing mice and they adore zucchini and root plants. Last year I constructed the same kind of wire mesh "pots" that you did and they help alot, even if it's more work to the already large task that is gardening.

  8. Michelle, Sharon McCray and myself are hosting the KKUP (91.5) Old Time Farm and Garden Show on 27 June from 10 to Noon. The subject is "Creature Features" and will deal with all kinds of garden critters. Gil Patrick and Bonnie Wagner are expert guests on the subject. We cover through Carmel and reach most of the Bay Area, so think you can listen. Our phone numbers for questions are 408 260 2999 and 831 255 2999 and the website is .

    Jim Maley - UCCE Master Gardener SCC

    1. Thanks Jim. I'll have to mark my calendar and listen in.

  9. How annoying - more rodents. Glad the rats have dissipated but I don't envy the gopher and moles we are lucky not having any burrowing pests (unless you count the blackbirds that like to practice their digging skills in my beds). Impressive work with those baskets - I love how many things wire mesh can be use for.

  10. Good idea with those well crafted baskets! Hope the persistence pays off this time. The only vermin I have problems with is squirrels, oh how I loath the squirrels :)

  11. Very clever with the baskets, those should do the job. Sad when hardware cloth is a gardener's best friend. I have voles in the lawn and gave up on those long ago.

  12. That is a great way to make your own mole/vole/gopher baskets! I'm going to keep this in mind for some types of plants (like eggplant) if voles continue to be a periodic problem for us.


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