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Pests Gopher Wire Installation Rancheria Community Garden

Epic installation of Gopher prevention wire in progress, 10X20′ plot, going well. Another 3′ was cleared today and the wire rolled out further, more soil backfilled. 11.25.17 Rancheria Community Garden

Gophers are quite the pest. 3 helpful ideas!

Everyone installs gopher wire protection their own way per their needs, budget, personal ability, time they have, inclinations! The images show just one person’s way of doing it. Yes, it’s work, but so worth it!

When should you install gopher wire protection? Anytime! But if you are waiting for seasonal crops to finish, in SoCal, it’s fall before winter plantings, or very early spring before you get itchy and can’t wait to plant! If you are in rainy areas, do it when the soil is less wet and heavy and you will do the least damage to your soil structure. If you are in northern snow and soil freeze areas, do it when you can first work the soil, or just before winter sets in and the soil is too hard to work any longer. Same for desert areas, but go by the heat not the freeze. Spring for the desert starts in the fall when it is cooler. By actual spring, it gets too hot and there is no more planting until fall again, so do it before the heat sets in.

1) If you decide to use wire barriers, you could do small areas at a time as they become available. You could purchase, or make, wire ‘baskets,’ very small to quite large, for areas that you want to plant gopher favorites like lettuce, beans, cukes, chard – soft bodied plants. My other thought is to install a border of wire vertically to see if that works, rather than digging up the whole plot and laying wire underneath. I’ve seen two places where people installed these boundaries and the gopher piled soil outside their plot where the barrier stopped them. They didn’t go underneath it.

But, there are times that just doesn’t work and though it takes time and help from the Angels, wiring the whole area underneath and perimeter, is the wise real choice. If you are going to do that, remember, aviary wire lasts about 3 years. 1/2″ Hardware cloth/hog wire lasts about 10 years. Big difference. Builder supply yards often carry several wire roll widths and they will cut just the length you need. When measuring, decide on the length/width you need, plus the amount you will need to get up the sides and maybe 6″ more so overland gopher travelers don’t come in over the top. Remember AVIARY wire. NOT chicken wire! Gophers go right through the chicken wire…

The depth you choose depends on what plants you choose and the relationship between you and your shovel! Veggies are primarily annuals with roots 6 to 8″ deep. Tomatoes have long deep roots. Also, if you are vigorous with your shovel, the average shovel blade length is 10″, install your wire deeply enough that when you are amending your soil you don’t puncture your wire! Gophers are strong little earth movers and can push through such a break. NO, NO, NO! The last time I installed wire I laid it 16″ deep – beyond my average digging depth, and well beyond where annual roots live.

That super tiny animal strength is why you bind your lengths of side by side rolls of wire together, if you are using several widths, and overlap them a good 8″ or more. Be sure to fix it to the board that borders your planting area.  Especially if you are only going to board height, not having some of the wire extend above the board.

Word to the wise. Install your wire so it surfaces OUTSIDE the boards framing the area.. That way weeds that get tangled in it will be outside your planting area!

Yes, hardware cloth is hard to work with. It’s hard to get it to corner. I sat down in the bottom of the area and shoved and kicked it into place with my boots! It’s easier if there are two people. When you roll up your wire, if you are doing a lengthy area, tie the inner loops of the wire together at the edges. Otherwise, the moment you let go of the roll, the whole things sprongs out and unrolls itself! That’s worth a few strong words ’cause it was hard enough to roll it up in the first place!

But let me tell you, every bit of the time and energy it takes will make you a very happy gardener. I’ve seen grown humans, women and men, cry at losing a wonderful special plant they tenderly raised from a baby. Once your wire is installed, heartily congratulate yourself!

Pests Gopher Wire Installation neary completed - Rancheria Community Garden

All soil now to the right. It took 12 days to get to this point, 10X20′ plot. I was so tired. This image shows how the side wire that was folded in, unfolded as the wire was rolled out. You can see the dark spot where a gopher had previously tunneled along the perimeter trying to get in. 12.2.17 Rancheria Community Garden  

If it’s all you can do or afford, do baskets! Easiest, if you have only a few plants, is to buy ready-made wire baskets. They come in lots of sizes! See Peaceful Valley Farm Supply’s selection! Several people at the Community Gardens have made varieties of custom sizes of wire baskets to fit exactly what they are planting. It’s easy to do!

2) If your soil is too hard to dig, too sandy or something, you want to grow veggies where your lawn is, you want to avoid soil fungi issues, or your back or knees can’t get down to the ground like they used to, use raised bed boxes with wire stapled to the bottom! In the case of the lawn, maybe lay down plywood cut to fit to extend beyond the box base, so you don’t have to deal with grass getting into your new raised bed. Nice thing about this option is you can take the boxes with you if you move, you can move them around, or you can give them to someone when you no longer need them. Easy to empty and transport. Yes, boxes and wire degrade over time and will eventually need repairs or replacement. If you anticipate moving, build with light wood. If you are in a permanent location, spend a little more. Go for weight, insect and rot resistance, durability.

3) If you want to use traps (UC IPM), get someone to show you how to use them. There are a few tips that you learn with experience. And, really, they are dangerous, so respect them completely. Best choice is to set them when other people are around to help you in case of a bad oops. Trap soonest because gophers have children. Otherwise they are a very temporary solution.

One of the tips I would give, is trap immediately if you decide to trap. I have caught them in 20 minutes, while I was working in the plot! You can hear the trap snap. That means no more plants are eaten or damaged, at least by that gopher! Otherwise, they just mow plant after plant.

At the community garden, essentially the gophers know you. No need to worry about your scent on the traps. Nor do you need ‘bait.’ The gophers come to plug the hole because air is coming into their tunnel, and as far as they are concerned that shouldn’t be, so they come to fix it.

The cheaper little Macabee wire traps, not the large ‘black hole’ tunnel kind, need much smaller holes to insert. That’s less damage to existing plants, less need to remove any plants to make room for the traps. But the big traps might have a better success rate with smaller gophers. Gopher Hawks work well. All kinds of traps are dangerous to humans – DO NOT SET THEM UNTIL THE HOLE IS READY FOR YOU TO INSTALL THEM. Do not leave them lying about once they are set.  Not a project to do with children about. Cover the holes with boards and put heavy rocks/stepping stones on top so visiting kitties, doggies or toddlers don’t get into them and be hurt.

Many gardeners could never use traps. I understand. Gophers are beautiful little beings. Wire barriers are 100% humane.

4) You can use a combination of the 3 ideas above.

Beeper repellent stakes  Battery operated is expensive – price it out, you’ll see, or do the recharge dance. Solar beepers on sale are better and they last 2, 3 years. They work best in ‘open’ areas where the sound can carry, like lawns. If you put one in an area planted with tall dense plants, it won’t do much good. But if those plants are special and you want them protected, that works. Be sure the solar panel gets a lot of sun, doesn’t get shaded by your plant growing over it. If it is shaded, it fades to no beeping. Underground critters depend on hearing and vibration to alert them to danger, so take careful notice of the radius the beeper says it will cover per the area you need to work for. Heavier soils such as clay are superior transmitters of sound and vibrations than are sandier soils, so our loose garden soil isn’t going to get great mileage.

PLEASE don’t use rodenticides that in turn kill birds, pets, or animals that would feed on a poisoned animal. We want the owls, hawks and kitties to catch the gophers. We don’t want our pets or children to be poisoned.

Some gardeners say they plant enough for the birds, the insects, gophers too, but in a 10X20′ community garden plot, or a small space at home, you may not have enough space to satisfy that option. Nor is it kind to other gardeners, neighbors, who don’t choose that option. Gophers have children, and in time that option may not be feasible unless you have several kitties, owls, hawks or egrets to keep the balance. Build or buy and install an owl nest box!

Owls are chancy, whereas wire barriers are 100% barring the rare overland traveling gopher. But this natural method might be your choice depending on your location. Sutton Ag: ‘In Northern and Central California, Barn Owls begin selecting nesting sites in December or January in time for the February to May nesting season.  Occasionally new nests may be started as late as March but that’s getting late as peak hatches are in April. By July, most nest boxes have been vacated by the young who have flown to nearby trees or buildings for the final stages of their development. It is best to install the new Barn Owl Box before January, February at the latest.‘ Details at Sutton Ag, Salinas CA!

Very funny, sometimes touching, dialogue at this Houzz thread! The more I read, the more I laughed, and I must say some tears came to my eyes too. I had great empathy with many of the writers, real people with their various experiences! Worth the read.

So your decision is based on who you are. Be true to your heart. It depends on your budget, the time of year. Your strength. Get help if you need it. It can be a big project. Very virtuous. No more cursing or crying.

Updated 7.29.18, 7.31.19

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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