There are few sights more guaranteed to bring despair and despondency to a gardener than the sight of a large fresh molehill amongst the irises or in the middle of the pristine lawn.
The molehill is probably the work of the Cape molerat as opposed to the smaller Cape golden mole, known in Afrikaans as the kruipmol, that makes a run just below the surface of the soil. Although the golden mole is annoying in that it dislodges the roots of seedlings, it does aerate the soil and eats numerous harmful insects (unfortunately including earthworms), but most importantly does not eat bulbs.
The Cape molerat, however, does eat bulbs, and also collects a food store of bulbs to ensure its survival during hard times. Apparently one food store of a Cape molerat that was dug up contained nearly 5,000 corms and bulbs. Hopefully this was found in the veld and not in someone’s garden.
Then there is the large Cape Dune molerat, which can grow to the size of a rabbit, and digs long deep burrows with its impressive front teeth and claws, pulling roots and whole plants underground to eat them there. Luckily so far they haven’t managed to get to Leisure Isle. If you have ever hiked along the Cape Dune Molerat Trail on the long dune between Rondevlei and Swartvlei, you will know what we have avoided! At one stage these molerats created such problems for the railway line between George and Knysna, with the sandy soil beneath the railway tracks subsiding into their burrows, that SA Railways and Harbours employed an official Mole Catcher.
Every gardener either has a mole-deterring method, or numerous theories and suggestions involving removing moles or encouraging them to move next door. These vary in the level of ferocity, and include setting traps, pumping car exhaust down the hole, sending a Jack Russell down the hole, or putting various substances such as human or dog hair, castor oil, garlic or chili powder down the holes. Some believe moles are sensitive to vibrations and various devices have been designed to create vibrations in their burrows. The latest I have come across is to bury a waterproofed radio tuned to a music station (presumably heavy metal?) in your garden – enough vibrations to annoy the most long suffering mole? Poisons are definitely not an option as they could so easily get into the ground water system and also create problems for children and animals in your garden.
Some years ago a particularly stubborn molerat came into our garden and showed no desire to relocate, in spite of all the deterrents that went down his/or her hole. Not wanting to actually kill the creature, we devised a plan of action with our gardener, who watched quietly for tell-tale movements from the molehill and then sprang into action and managed to dig the culprit out. We put the molerat into a bucket and then jumped into the car, making sure he didn’t climb out of the bucket, and drove off the island and up into the hills – where the molerat was released to burrow away to his heart’s content!
Since then the garden has been mole free. But guess what, last week a new series of molehills suddenly appeared. Our neighbour’s cat, who believes he is a dog, had a go at excavating – without success. This time I think we will just make sure that our most precious bulbs are safe, either in pots or surrounded by a wire mesh barricade buried about 50cm deep, and share the garden with the molerat.
Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones