I thought that I would write a thread about something I know nothing about. Moles. A number of times this spring I have seen pictures of dead moles that have been trapped and killed in pastures. I have learned that the need to control them comes from the fact that the mole hills
can damage farm machinery and that the soil can contaminate silage with listeria which is a danger to livestock. They probably don't seem so cute and cuddly when you are the one that has to deal with that
What I am seeing though has a parallel in the situation that we have on the nursery regarding pest control. I studied horticulture in the 1980's and a big part of being a professional grower in those days was your ability to identify and control pests and disease of plants
Early in my career this was mostly carried out using synthetic fungicides and pesticides often in a rotation to avoid the build up of resistant strains. Pretty well everyone I knew in horticulture did this
There were lots of regulations associated with these practices and we all spent time and effort and money spraying and drenching. Often it occured with little thought about the real objective which was a healthy crop that you could sell for a healthy profit
I worked on a nursery near Birmingham and every week we drenched the glasshouse in which we rooted cuttings and germinated seedlings on heated benches. I realised after a bit that some of the products that we used had no recommendations for drenching.
So it was likely that we were wasting our time and we still had fungal disease especially in the early spring when a combination of low light levels and soft growth from the heated bed meant that seedlings were highly susceptible to damping off
. I wondered if pouring water onto already wet compost was detrimental even if it contained fungicides. One day I threw some infected viola seedlings onto the compost heap. It was frosty and they should have died but when I looked a few days later they were more health
This was in 1985 and it started me thinking about pest control in a different way. I had been taught that we could effectively create a clean space for the plants to thrive and to do this we used sterilants, hygeine and chemical controls.
I began to see this though as a hopeless task that tied us to be forever looking for new pesticides, putting on uncomfortable spray suits and a knapsack and plastering our plants with expensive chemicals. If we were succesful the plants would eventually leave that coccoon
and meet the pests once they reached the customers garden but as growers that wouldn't be our problem. This can be done but it would be very expensive and time consuming. I saw it done with virus free stock plants of Pelargoniums and it was more like a lab than a nursery.
We used to use neonicotinoids to protect or plants from vine weevil. These were found to have profound effects on pollinators that came into contact with them. We stopped sing them as they didn't have approval for se with peat free compost.
I decided, rashly, to eliminate all of the controls that we used at the time. I ad already reduced them to just a few biological controls plus slug pellets. The last to go were the slug pellets. Like any grower, when you put them down, the next morning there were loads of dying
molluscs to make you feel like you were doing the right thing but did we get more damage after removing the controls ? No. With tortrix moth for instance which we controlled with a bio-insecticide, we got less damage without any doubt
we got no more damage from molluscs. I began to notice that although we got aphid, the populations of different species rose and fell and often disappeared without any control measures
we should get white fly. We should get red spider mite but we do not (so far). This might be because we water by hand and you tend to get these pests on plants that are already suffering and more often than not, even on sophisticated nurseries this is due to drought.
I do this with some humility. We still have to control vine weevil. We still control mice and sometimes we are unable to sell a plant until the aphids disappear. We could get outbreaks at any time and I might be forced to control something but not in the last ten years at least
We saw the first common lizards on the nursery in the year after we stopped using slug pellets. Now they are everywhere. The bird population has developed and changed. They have learned to use the tunnels as a canteen. We have grass snakes and toads
Last week I found hedgehog poo right in a polytunnel. Or customers demand quality. They are not the kind of retailers that will tolerate pests on the plants. But or plants seem to fit the bill in that sense so there have been no problems there
So back to moles which I know very little about. Is it worth asking the question about whether it is possible to clear moles from grassland in which they thrive? By removing them do you not tie yourself to controlling them forever and at what cost ? Are there parallels to my
experience ? by trying to keep an area free of moles are you attempting the impossible ? is there not a more natural balance to be found where some are tolerated. The objective is not dead moles. The objective is healthy silage and less machine damage. Are there other ways to
achieve that whilst saving time and money ?

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