The Yelm sandy loam that embodies the ground at Horsefeathers Farm is a gardener’s delight. Turns out someone else likes it, too.
Mole hills are popping up in the back pasture at a rate I’ve never seen before. Mole activity picked up early this past fall and shows no sign of subsiding.
Just about when I tucked the lawn tractor to bed for the winter, the mole, or moles, took over. In the past few weeks, it, or they, have pushed their way methodically from the back of the pasture west toward the house and the backyard. I counted more than 50 mole hills Friday morning, some of which contain enough soil to fill a large pot.
I started asking around and quickly discovered I’m not the only one noticing more mole activity than normal.
“The county is just exploding with moles,” said Bob Dice, who traps moles for a living under the business moniker “Molebusters.”
I asked Dice why so many moles have arrived on the scene. The Lacey-area resident knows a lot about moles, but he was at a loss to explain the stepped-up activity.
“The only thing that motivates the moles is earthworms,” he said, speaking of their favored food.
I’m not one to get too worked up over a mole hill or two. But the area where it, or they, are busiest at the farm is the same area that’s a candidate for a major garden expansion.
Dice told me a few things that suggest its still a manageable problem. First, moles are territorial and solitary except in the spring, when males and females breed. Also, one mole can cover about one acre, which means all the hills I’m seeing in the pasture may be the work of one mole, or two at the most.
Dice said his trapping fee is $55 for every mole he catches. So if I really wanted to convert the pasture to garden space, it wouldn’t wipe me out financially.
I have trapped moles before with mixed success around a home I owned in South Bay more than 20 years ago. But I’m not so sure I want to set a powerful steel trap without adult supervision. I know where my mole trap is stored in the garage, but I haven’t used it in years.
Clearly, though, I can’t rely solely on my dog, Jake, to catch it, or them. I have seen him snag a mole or two in the past nine years. But far more often then not, he is foiled in his efforts, left only with a dirt-smeared nose and a resigned look.
On one level, seeing the mole hills popping up like dandelions in the spring is a good thing; it suggests the soil is healthy and full of soil-enriching earthworms. It means the soil is getting mixed and aerated. And the chipmunk-size moles, which eat about 80 percent of their body weight daily, also dine on cutworms, grub worms and other soil-dwelling creatures that can damage plants and vegetables.
Unfortunately, mole hills are hard on lawn mower blades. And the mole’s underground tunnels may be used by other rodents that like to dine on plants.
Regardless of the stepped-up mole activity, I’ve decided not to expand/relocate my garden for planting this spring. I did two other things instead to compensate for my over-shaded main garden plot in front of the house.
I just finished removing a small Douglas fir tree and other gangly brush that was starting to block the sun’s rays from reaching the garden late in the day.
I’m also taking out about 200 square feet of lawn for a garden expansion and a backyard slate patio we’ll use for growing potted peppers and tomatoes.
The major crop expansion in the back pasture is on hold, probably until retirement, which is not in sight.
While on the topic of wildlife, here are a couple of South Sound observations courtesy of Eld Inlet resident Kim Merriman.
• She spotted two Risso’s dolphins cruising past her waterfront home last Friday. This stocky, blunt-headed species is rarely seen in Puget Sound but can be found on occasion 15-20 miles off the coast, Olympia marine mammal researcher John Calambokidis said. Merriman, a top-notch photographer, sent Calambokidis photos of the two dolphins, which aided greatly in their identification as juvenile Risso’s dolphins.
• Merriman earlier in the week counted more than 25 bald eagles hanging around in the trees along the Mud Bay estuary, drawn to the area by the decaying remains of the McLane Creek fall chum run.
At the Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve, early January is a great time to see even more bald eagles gathering to feed on the Nisqually River chum run, which is the latest salmon run in the region. Refuge visitor-services manager Sheila McCarten said about 50 adult and juvenile bald eagles have congregated there and can be spotted along the river corridor and flying back and forth across the estuary.
Typically, the bald eagles are around in strong numbers at the wildlife refuge through January. Don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444