A few weeks ago a reader asked if I knew of any Japanese tricks for keeping hungry moles from digging up her garden, so I thought I’d devote this post to a few neat critter-control ideas I’ve seen around the neighborhood. But first, let me pass on some words of wisdom from my gardener friends here: Moles like to eat worms, and if they’re hanging out in your soil it’s probably because you’ve created some nice worm habitat - which probably means you've got fertile soil for your veggies, too. So before you chase the moles away, remember, they're a good sign!
The most common mole-control method I’ve seen in Japanese gardens involves putting a whirligig made from an empty can of coke, laundry detergent bottle, or plastic water bottle on the end of a stick and posting it in the garden near the offending creature’s hole. Apparently, moles are very sensitive to sound and vibrations. The wind turns the whirly-gig and the stick transfers the annoying rattle into the earth. Some people say moles can learn to live with this after a while (kind of like how we can get used to living near a freeway, I imagine), but I’d say it’s worth a try. Plus the whirly-gigs make a nifty garden decoration. Here are some pictures (this person got creative with colors).
And here are step-by-step photo instructions for making your own. The instructions are in Japanese but the pictures are pretty easy to understand. You can also find “mole chaser windmills” for sale (here’s one for about $20 at Amazon.com). Note that you’ll need a good breeze in your garden for this to work.
Moles are the least of worries for Japanese farmers and gardeners, however. Deer cause the greatest monetary loss (their populations have exploded since wolves went extinct and forestry practices changed), with wild boar, crows, sparrows, and monkeys rounding out the list, according to government statistics. Monkeys make a particularly wily garden adversary – they’ve got an eerie sense for when produce is at its peak, and will pick a watermelon patch clean the day before you were planning to do the same.
Farmers seem to fare a little better in their battle with the birds. If you’re finding beak-sized holes in your apples, you might want to try this tactic, which is also a good way to recycle your old CDs (I hear crows are particularly averse to heavy metal). Here the farmer has also strung reflective tape from the tree branches:
For tougher crow cases, consider the farmer’s equivalent of an evil king posting heads on stakes outside his castle as a warning to invading warriors. As you can see in these photos, some gardeners hang a real crow carcass from a tree or post, while others prefer fake crows sold at the garden supply store, or even a black plastic bag or old rubber boot. The live crow in the bottom photo seems undeterred by all of these!
Some take a gentler approach by hanging old dolls from their trees, although I make no promises for the effectiveness of this technique . . .
Good luck with the moles! If other readers have more anti-mole tips, please do share them.