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Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring cleaning

I pass a vacant lot on my way to and from work that has always been of particular interest to me. The grass is always punctuated with mole hills. Whenever I think of moles, I think of a phone call I received from my Uncle Ralph 25 years ago. It went something like this:

Me: "Hello?"
UR: "Johnny, I got problems. I've got moles running all over the back yard. They're everywhere. They are running up my downspouts! How do I get rid of moles?"
Me: "Uncle Ralph, moles don't run around. Those must be mice."
UR: "They can't be mice. Your Aunt's afraid of mice."

I always chuckle at that logic.... I explained how to get rid of the "moles" by buying mouse traps. He insisted again that they were not mice, they were moles. I assured him that the traps would work regardless. I never did hear how he made out.

Moles are not built to run (or climb). They are built to dig (and end up being good swimmers as well because the motion is the same) and spend a large part of their lives underground. When they DO come above ground, it is usually at night. If they didn't build those hills, we might never know they are around.

Mole hills (Geneva, NY 3/11)
I paid particular attention to that vacant lot today, as the melting snow gave me a good look how the winter has impacted the moles' world. Moles create two kinds of tunnels: surface tunnels for feeding and deeper tunnels for safety (and food in the colder months). The shallow tunnels are created by the moles pushing the soil aside so they create ridges along the ground. The deeper tunnels require excavation, so they are the cause of the mole hills.

Damaged surface tunnels of moles (Geneva, NY 3/11)
In the spring, the moles will repair cave-ins and fresh soil will appear on top of the hills. New hills will sprout up. And the surface tunnels also become damaged from the melting snow and the frost heaving. In this next photo, you can see clear paths in the soil. However, these are supposed to be tunnels, covered on top to protect the moles from predators. All of those tunnels will have to be recreated or new tunnels will be made.

Sandy soil from mole hill (Geneva, NY 3/11)
If I have moles on my 50 acres, they have kept themselves quiet enough that I haven't seen evidence of them. And I know the reason. It is the same reason I was able to buy the property in the first place. That same heavy clay soil that kept the price of this old farm low is also what keeps the
moles away. They like well-drained soils that are easy to dig through. And the soil of this vacant lot is very sandy. As I drove away from these mole hills, I kept one eye on the lawns I was passing. Within a quarter of a mile, I stopped seeing mole hills. I wonder if I can find an enterprising student curious enough to plot those mole hills on a soil survey map.

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