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It's Gopher Season: what to do

 I went to visit my new plot at Beresford Park yesterday and found that a gopher had started to tunnel in the new compost.  And, in talking with our neighbors, it sounds like the gopher season is definitely upon us.  These little critters can take down huge plants in a single meal - pretty much destroying the garden bed you've worked so hard to prepare for the new growing season.  Here are a few strategies for dealing with them:

1. Take a deep breath

Discovering gophers in your garden is a huge bummer and it can feel like you're personally being invaded.  So the first thing to do is take it all in and just will be okay.  You do have some work ahead of you...but everything will be okay.

2. Insert wire screen (also known as "hardware cloth") into the bottom of new beds

This is expensive and labor intensive, but can give you some peace of mind.  Basically, the bottom of the bed is lined with wire, making it difficult for gophers to channel through.  Below is a new bed I installed this spring showing the wire lining:

You may notice the fold in the upper section.  That's a big root from a nearby tree - one of the challenges of protecting beds within a permaculture landscape.  I used 24" wide wire with 1/4 inch holes.  A 50 foot roll will set you back $50.  Here's the product link from Home Depot (not an affiliate link).  Working with this wire is challenging - make sure to wear protective gloves.  You'll also need some wire cutters or tin shears to cut to size.  Not a fun project...but peace of mind.

2. Gopher Traps

Trapping - if timed immediately after seeing the first signs of a gopher visit, can be very effective and requires much less work & expense.  It does involve killing a rodent, so understand this might not be for everyone.  I've used small wire traps that are inserted into the gopher tunnel will much success - including just yesterday.  This is what I found at the plot yesterday:

Circled are the dirt mounds created by a burrowing gopher.

Dirt mounds are a clear sign that gophers are tunneling under the surface.  The keys to successful trapping are:

  1. Locate the tunnel.  They are typically 6 inches or so below the surface and are approximate 3 inches in diameter.  When you find one, you'll know it.  
  2. Attach a chain, twine or wire to the end of each trap so that they can easily be retrieved
  3. Set 2 wire traps:  place one into the left side of the tunnel with the trigger paddle (the metal flap that the trigger wire fits into) closest to the opening;  and place the other into the right side of the tunnel - again with the trigger paddle closest to the opening.  
  4. Place a piece of wood or cardboard over your hole at the ground surface and cover with dirt.
If the initial dirt mounds that you discovered are relatively new, it's likely you'll catch the gopher within a few hours, but I typically let the traps stay set for 24 hours.

There are many different types of gopher traps.  I prefer the Macabee trap  - here's the product link from Amazon (not an affiliate link).  I know some folks have a hard time figuring these out.  Here's a quick demonstration on how to set them:

Happy Growing!

-Bill S.


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