Letter Re: Varmints in the Garden

Hi James,
Spring has sprung and it is getting close to time to plan and start gardening prep. I am far from a green thumb and wondered if anyone has a solution for keeping moles and gophers from ruining the garden? Last year, 95% of my sweet corn was destroyed by these pests. Come time to count on the garden after TEOTWAWKI, I don’t want to watch my food supply vanish. I tried trapping these pests with no luck. Any info would be greatly appreciated!
-The Wanderer

JWR Replies:  Garden pests are typically just a “nuisance” in good times, but post-TEOTWAWKI they can mean the difference between eating well, and starvation. There is no single “magic bullet” that will eliminate all garden pests. Be prepared to take several approaches simultaneously:

A sturdy fence that is tall enough to protect against deer and with a fine mesh lower section that is tight enough to repel rabbits and ground squirrels.

A couple of cats that have been trained by their parents as effective mousers. Good mousers are usually also death on gophers. Or how about terrier dogs? Before the advent of modern poisons, small dogs were used to dispatch mice, moles, and gophers. BTW, the Memsahib is currently training our terrier to be a mouser.

Plenty of traps, including underground (buried) mole/gopher traps, as well as surface mouse and rat traps.

Lots of .22 rimfire ammo and patience. More than just protection from birds and squirrels, a scoped .22 can also be used to nail tunneling gophers when they come up to push out dirt. If you live inside city limits, you will also want a high-powered air rifle.

Depending on your personal beliefs, pesticides to control insects. Unfortunately, these will also kill beneficial insects. (See below.)

Natural pest killers, such as Ladybugs (for aphids), Lacewings, and Praying Mantids. These are available seasonally from Bugological Organic and Home Harvest.

To repel birds; get a couple of big plastic owls to perch on your fence posts, lots of reflective (mylar) reflector strips (cut up used mylar party balloons), and throwaway CD-ROMs (strung on monofilament fishing line, and positioned so that they will spin in the wind.) Ah-ha! You finally have a use for all of those AOL CD-ROMs that you get in the mail! Anti-bird netting is also available from the larger mail order gardening suppliers.

The Nuclear Option: As a last resort to large numbers of moles or pocket gophers, you can use probe bait strychnine dispenser (such as an RCO probe), along with a large supply of RCO Omega Bait or Gopher Getter Bait. (Typically, this is strychnine .5%) In some of the Nanny States such as California, these supplies are difficult to obtain locally unless you are commercial grower. (Consult you state, county, and local ordinances before mail ordering this bait.) Beware that this poison could lead to the untimely demise of your cats if they actually eat their prey. (Because they will also indirectly ingest the poison.) There is a trick to using these dispensers: As you insert the probe, when you feel a sudden lack of soil resistance, that means that you have penetrated a “runway” tunnel.  That is when you press the trigger to dispense the grain bait. OBTW, you will have a valuable post-TEOTWAWKI barterable skill if you have the ability (and supplies) to poison moles and gophers. You can be the local hero-the legendary slayer of the “Varmint Cong.”