Urban Gardening

December Q & A

Question: Can you recommend some elementary school gardening curricula? I'm working with teachers at my daughter's school on a vegetable and wildlife garden and we'd like to provide guidance to non-gardening teachers about what to do in the garden with their classes. Thanks for any resources you can recommend.

Answer: You have come to the right place. The National Gardening Association ( www.garden.org ) loves kids and has tons of gardening projects and activities for school-age children. Check out past issues of our monthly online newsletter for teachers and parents called Kids Garden News and sign up at: http://kids.garden.org/subscriptions/

Teachers also can get ideas for curricula and projects at: http://www.kidsgardening.org/growingideas/projects/library.html

For more information on our resources, contact our education specialist, Sarah Pounders, at: sarah@garden.org

Question: What can be done to encourage voles to leave my yard and gardens?

Answer: I sympathize because I have battled voles for years. These burrowing, herbivorous rodents have ruined many a tomato and munched a plethora of plants. Unfortunately, I know all too well how to encourage them:

  • Have loose, rich soil that is easy to burrow in.
  • Grow root crops like sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, and parsnips.
  • Plant beautiful yet tasty bulbs like lilies, crocuses, tulips, and trilliums.
  • Offer warmth and shelter with vegetation, raised beds, berms, and rock gardens.
  • Provide a natural urban sanctuary free of predators such as snakes, owls, shrews, bobcats, and weasels.

Basically, if you garden and you don't have voles, you are lucky. However, you didn't ask me to commiserate. I have been trying to learn to live with them by simply growing more plants that they don't seem to bother, like daffodils and columbines. But everyone has a right to grow lilies.

There are several products available to stop voles. I don't recommend gas bombs or poison baits in an urban area because they are toxic to humans, not guaranteed, and may damage non-target species (pets). Traps work but don't stop new voles from moving in. Chemical repellents made from predator urine are probably the most common control method for home gardeners. They can be effective if reapplied often.

Recently, a fellow gardener, Irene, shared this home remedy with me: Add a tablespoon of castor oil in a gallon of water and pour over the area. Voles apparently leap from the ground to avoid the castor oil mix. I can't vouch for it, but it's worth a try.

My favorite solution to the vole problem is to use nature. If a barn owl box or a garter snake habitat in your garden brings in namesake tenants, then they will take care of your voles. Unfortunately, for many people the cure is worse than the disease. And there aren't too many barn owls or garter snakes roaming through our cities looking for a home.

More than likely a serious vole problem is going to require a combination of methods and products. We also may have to alter our philosophy a bit and learn to live with the enemy. Let me know how it goes and please report back on any successes. Happy hunting.

School Garden Grants, Fun Activities, Lessons and more at - www.kidsgardening.org

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