Mole Control: DIY Trap Construction

Mole control methods range the gamut from simple and non-toxic to chemical-based and complex. My simple mole trap was founded on the basis of field trials and personal convictions I hold regarding the environment and its inhabitants. Prior research had been done early on in the search for a humane and sustainable method for dealing with the mole problem here at Highland Hill Farm.

Highland Hill Farm is a 22-acre parcel located in the steep, rocky foothills of Mt. Sunapee. Agriculturally speaking, this area of New Hampshire is better suited for grazing pasture and forestry than for large-scale horticulture. A milestone in sustainability and independence here on the farm has been reached with the addition of a fully functioning, off-grid solar powered electrical system. Photovoltaic solar panels supply clean renewable power to maintain three farmstead dwellings as well as the two large chest freezers used to keep the summer produce fresh. This system was designed, constructed and fully funded by myself as a personal goal to act responsibly in support of the convictions I maintain toward environmental stewardship.

This article was written on a computer powered by the sun. I developed and experimented with various types of mole traps. The soil of my growing beds is rich and teeming with life, especially earthworms, the favorite food of the common northern mole (Talpa europaea ). Over the years I’ve been using a thick layer of mulch hay between the rows and around the spring plantings. This layer of hay provides cover for the moles, and as it decomposes it provides food for the earthworms. Plenty of worms create an environment conducive to plenty of moles. It’s not uncommon for me to step on a mole tunnel every third or fourth step, even around the grassy area near the trout pond. The infestation had gotten to the point where action had to be taken.

Moles undermine the root systems of plants, damaging the plants and making irrigation and nutrient up-take much more difficult. I believe the live trapping methods I’ve been developing have merit in helping farmers eradicate moles in an environmentally sound way, without toxic poisons or mechanical traps. I will continue to develop inexpensive, effective live mole traps through field trials at various farm locations throughout the area. The opportunity to develop new methods and designs may have crossover potential for other rodent pests.

mole trap
This trap is made from a common five-gallon bucket with about 70 quarter-inch holes drilled through the bottom.

Poisonous Bait

The main thrust of the commercial market relating to rodent eradication is focused on poisonous bait. Motomco Mole Killer claims, “one worm contains a lethal dose.” Unfortunately, the poisoned mole may become the prey of another unintended victim of the poisoned bait. This product is “not to be sold in AK, HI, NC and NY.” Another poison-based product, Moletox claims, “This exclusive formula pelleted bait has a unique cracked corn base, making it more palatable.” The problem here is that moles are exclusively carnivores/insectivores and would have no interest in cracked corn. This product is “not to be sold in CA, IN, NC, NH and Washington D.C.”

Clearly poisons should be an absolute last resort rather than a first choice.

Mechanical Traps

Mechanical traps offer a considerable advantage over poisons as far as environmental impacts are concerned. Most mechanical mole traps are designed to either impale or squeeze a mole, one at a time rendering the trap ineffective until it gets reset.

These traps are spring-loaded and come with their own warnings. The “innovative new scissor trap” is not to be sold in Alaska, Hawaii or North Carolina. These traps must be set over an active mole tunnel (of which there are many to choose from) and require a lot of vigilance on the part of the trapper. Here the trapper is going to spend a considerable amount of time chasing the moles, hit or miss, around the field in order to eradicate but a few.

Mole Control: Organic Mole Eradication

I had been on the search for a natural or organic method of mole eradication and have viewed many websites in a quest for a somewhat humane mole trap. The “sticky” trap seemed the best, consisting of a wide tape-like sheet that the moles were supposed to get stuck to. I made one but caught none. I’ve discovered moles are quite clever — they will test something and if they don’t like it after trying it once, they’ll stay away from it. Besides, there was no incentive for the moles to cut across the sticky sheet, no food, no reward, just a shortcut.

The mulch hay I lay over the bare soil each spring protects the microbial life-forms on the soil surface from solar UV rays that would otherwise sterilize the soil surface, killing that rich, vibrant biomass. Nature does her best to cover over bare soil with biomass in order to protect soil life-forms to keep them alive, protected from UV and erosion-proof.

I like using the mulch hay method because it is constantly building soil. The hay method also prevents compaction because the weight of man or equipment is distributed over the wider surface area of a thick hay mat. The mulch also holds in a lot of otherwise evaporated water and prevents erosion during a downpour.

During midday if I pull back some of the hay, earthworms will be on the surface of the soil. Earthworm castings and the soil-enriching properties of their activity are beneficial to soil conditions and therefore beneficial to the crops that the soil supports.

Star-nosed and common Eastern moles.

If a farmer has a lot of earthworms and some loose hay on the ground chances are that he/she will also have a host of moles tunneling about. The benefits of using mulch hay far outweigh discontinuing the practice due to the mole problem, but they are a problem nonetheless. I was transplanting small lettuce plants from an outside raised bed into the winter greenhouse. The raised bed lettuce was riddled with sub-surface tunnels to the extent that I was able to remove large swaths of young plants simply by running my hands through the soil 2 to 3 inches under the surface, nearly unobstructed, plowing from one tunnel into the next.

This was an advantage in transplanting, but in my other greenhouse where spinach was planted in raised beds the plants were stunted and sparse because of mole activity. Mole activity necessitates more frequent watering due to the fact that sub-surface tunneling dries the soil much faster. Safely trapping and removing the moles from the greenhouses and growing beds will increase production of both crop plants and earthworm populations.

The trapping methods I’ve employed so far have consisted of several trap designs and various baits. One design in particular has shown promise over previous ideas. The primarily successful live trap now in place on my farm has trapped as many as four moles in the same trap over a three-day cycle, indicating that this method could potentially serve to trap many more live moles over a longer period, therefore alleviating the tedious chore of checking multiple mechanical traps every day or even every three or four days.

Moles consume nearly their own weight in food each day. Moles are from a group of mammals called insectivores. This live-capture study may also prove useful in that moles could possibly be used in areas of insect infestation to remove problem insects, then recaptured live and relocated for use at other sites.

Moles have several other distinct features that may prove useful in further studies. Moles produce a toxin in their saliva that incapacitates earthworms, and moles have a high blood oxygen content. I believe these two features of the anatomy of moles are worthy of a great deal of study. Live capture could possibly be a very positive offshoot of this live trapping method in order to supply research labs.

At this time live moles are released into the wild a fair distance from the trap locations. The experience of dealing with an infestation of destructive mole activity on my farm led to the search for a nonpoisonous, non-violent, inexpensive and effective method of eradicating moles.

Through my own experimentation and expressions of ideas I’ve come up with a mole trap that works reasonably well, has no environmentally harmful side effects and is economically viable for just about anyone, anywhere. The trapping method described has been put to use here over the last few months of this past growing season and I have documented its simplicity and effectiveness.

Mole Control: Preparing the Trap

This study was a comparison between the various trap designs that resulted from my experiment and used in combinations of live baits. No commercial traps or poisons were used. The best bait was local — earthworms on the farm were dug up and refrigerated for future use. The traps are simple to construct using a common 5-gallon pail that is clean and odor-free. A pail that has been open and set outside for a while or one used for garden water and soil will work well. Drill about 70 quarter-inch holes through the bottom to allow water to move through and to give the mole a sense of openness below.

Locate the area most heavily infested for installation. Dig a hole that will loosely accommodate the bucket with plenty of room around the sides to be backfilled with loose soil. Set the bucket in about 3 inches deeper than the bucket open top so that the fill soil slopes downward around the open rim. Now fill about 25 to 30 percent of the bucket with rich, loose soil. Get a separate container for your live worms and place just enough soil in to keep the worms alive but not allow escape. Six to eight worms are plenty and should last three to four days. Depress the worm container into the rich bucket soil to keep it at ground temperature and the worms alive. While installing your trap it is helpful to stand on top of boards in order to prevent compaction. Moles commonly reuse the same tunnels so try to leave them undisturbed. Place a generous layer of mulch hay around your trap and cover with a piece of board that has been outside for a while. Your trap is set.

If you leave the trap unchecked for three days you may have a better success rate than if you check more often. There will be less human presence sensed by the moles, and if there are some moles already in the trap, more are likely to join the festive party. Always wear gloves to prevent human odors around the trap and to protect your skin from wily moles.

The design intent for these trapping materials and methods involves materials that are available and common to most every area of the world. The design is simple to build and install at a very low cost to the farmer, involving no special tooling or hard-to-find materials. The design does not require the purchase of mechanical devices or commercial poisons.

The intent is to produce a replicable trap for mole control that can be constructed and installed by the average farmer using materials commonly found on any farm. Aspects of agricultural sustainability are addressed by the ability of the farmer to be able to build his own traps from simple materials and bait them with worms or insects that are found on the farm.

This study focused primarily on star-nosed moles and the European mole, also known as the common mole or northern mole, common to this Northeast region. Northeastern farmers who have mole infestation problems will most likely be dealing with these species, and the trapping methods should work equally well throughout the region and beyond. The simple trap designed and used here has proven to be successful in trapping moles. This method is easily transferable — the most successful design/bait combination is available to farmers everywhere. It seems likely this simple trap could work successfully for mole control most anywhere in the world.

By David Brown. This article was originally published in the September 2013 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Aphid Control: Lady Beetle as Beneficial Insect

By Dr. Ayanava Majumdar

When searching for aphid control measures, turn to nature first. Numerous vendors sell beneficial insects via their websites along with offering plenty of useful information. For example, ARBICO Organics (Arizona), Orcon (California), Gardens Alive (Indiana), and Nature’s Control (Oregon) sell insect predators in large numbers and at least one vendor sells it as a “beneficial insect program” with weekly shipments adjusted to your pest control needs. Note that beneficial insects are slow acting in pest outbreak situations, so use beneficial insects preventively when pests are in low populations and have not overwhelmed the crops you are trying to protect. Follow the release instructions that come with the products, and modify your spray schedule to adjust for the presence of beneficial insects.

Aphid Control: Convergent Lady Beetle

The convergent lady beetle is a very common species of lady beetle among the numerous others present in any crop field. The convergent beetle is common in Alabama and also a very popular beneficial insect sold by companies. The insect name comes from the two white lines seen on the thorax of adult beetles that seem to merge together on the top.

The convergent lady beetle is a common species of lady beetle.

The number of dots can vary from none up to 13, so counting the dots alone is not a good identifier for this beetle. Larvae are black with rows of orange spots. Note that the lady beetle larva have chewing mouthparts and do not have the sickle shaped mandibles of the green lacewing larva. Eggs are elliptical and bright yellow in color; eggs are laid in clusters on plants with over 10 eggs per cluster. Eggs can also be laid in soil or plant debris. Pupae are immobile (non-feeding stage) and may be seen stuck to plant parts.

Adults and larvae feed on aphids. Adult beetles also feed on nectar and pollen. According to industry sources, each adult lady beetle can destroy about 5,000 aphids while the larvae can consume nearly 400 aphids in a week. In the absence of aphids, convergent beetles can also feed on moth eggs and small caterpillars. Female convergent beetles lay up to 1,000 eggs in ideal conditions and have a lifespan of one to three months. Larvae feed for three weeks and adults emerge two to five days after pupation.

Adults do not fly if air temperatures are below 55°F. There can be many generations of this insect every year.

lady bugs beneficial insects

The presence of a large number of lady beetles can indicate the presence of aphids. This insect can be the most abundant predator in cotton fields.

Many suppliers sell lady beetles in the adult stage when they are ready for field release (as shown in photo). The adult beetles can also be stored in their original package for some duration; provide some moisture to the lady beetles by sprinkling water on the packaging before release. Release lady beetles preferably during a cool evening. Lady beetles should be released when pest pressures are low and the beetles have something to feed on. Several weekly releases may be necessary to sustain a high predator pressure in an area. Industry sources recommend the release rate of 4,500 beetles for 2,500 square feet and much larger numbers for large areas. Out migration of adults once prey numbers dwindle is a major cause of loss of these powerful natural control agents.

Routine inundative release of beetles in large numbers can be effective in enclosed structures for aphid control. Remember that parasitoids and pathogens also act in conjunction with predators to provide natural control of pests. Do your own research before purchasing large batches of predators and carefully plan the release for the best effect. Follow the instructions that come with your purchase of beneficial insects.

Providing cover crops or shelter plants during the fall season is a good way to facilitate continuity of predators in an area.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the November 2012 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Dr. Ayanava Majumdar (Dr. A) is extension entomologist and state sustainable agricultural research coordinator at Auburn University, Alabama. Join him on the Alabama Vegetable IPM Facebook page for more information on sustainable crop production systems. 

Nutrient Deficiencies in Alfalfa

By Dr. Harold Willis

It is sometimes difficult to tell whether your crops are at peak health or are “slightly ill.” Severe sickness is usually easy to spot because of visible discoloration or dying of above-ground parts. The following identification chart may be of value in determining severe deficiencies (however, some leaf symptoms are general and can have other causes, such as infectious diseases, air pollution, or anaerobic soil. Also, you may have more than one element being deficient at a time). To use this chart, start with the Roman numerals (I and II), decide which of the two statements your plants fit, then go on to the capital letters (A and B) under that Roman numeral. Decide which letter your plants fit, then go on to the Arabic numerals (1, 2, etc.) under that capital letter.

Chart to identify legume nutrient deficiencies

Less severe deficiencies and toxicities are harder to diagnose. Often the plants look healthy, but growth may be slowed, yield may be reduced, and feed quality will probably be decreased.

Tissue analysis

Tissue analysis may be useful for spotting slight nutrient deficiencies, although it only tells you what nutrients are present in the plant tops, not the roots, and it doesn’t tell you what might be the actual cause of the deficiency, nor whether the elements are in the biologically useful forms that produce healthy plants. If you want to send a sample to a testing lab, collect the top six inches from several stems at several different locations in the field when the plants are at the pre-bloom stage, dry the sample, and take or send it to the lab in a clean paper sack or other container (not an air-tight plastic sack; plants may mold). Tissue analysis results can be misleading for some elements as far as trying to diagnose soil deficiencies, because sometimes an element will be concentrated in a plant’s tissues even when the soil is deficient. For example, special root fungi called mycorrhizae can supply adequate phosphorus to a plant growing in low-phosphorus soil.


Another tool that is easy and quick to use to check plant health is the refractometer. By measuring the sugar content of your plants at frequent intervals or in different fields, and keeping accurate records, you may be able to spot problems. Remember that the sugar content reflects the plant’s food-making activities of photosynthesis, and that photosynthesis is slower in cool or cloudy weather, and at morning and evening hours, so take your readings at approximately the same conditions and time every day. Also, the sugar content of the above-ground parts of forages fluctuates throughout the year, being high at maximum growth stage and low after cutting and in early spring.

Soil testing

Still another tool to spot problems is frequent soil testing, provided the testing methods measure readily available nutrients, not just the totals locked up in unavailable forms. Soil nutrient levels and pH can change considerably throughout the growing season, and frequent tests (two or three per year) can give you a better idea of what is going on in your soil, as well as help you spot problems.

What to do

Just about all the problems we have covered in this chapter can be prevented or alleviated by having good, healthy, well aerated soil. If the major nutrients (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen) are at proper levels, the nitrogen-fixing bacteria and all the other beneficial soil microorganisms are “doing their thing,” and there are no droughts, floods, or summer frosts, your plants should be vigorous and healthy and be able to ward off diseases and pests, and your soil should not be plagued by weeds and nutrient imbalances or toxicities.

In an emergency, trace elements and some major elements can be supplied to plants through the leaves by foliar feeding, spraying a liquid solution of nutrients.

Source: How to Grow Great Alfalfa

Common Forage Pests and Problems

By Dr. Harold Willis


Believe it or not, a healthy, vigorous plant can ward off or resist the attack of infectious diseases and pests. This is a known fact that is being supported by more and more research, although the chemical companies may not want you to know about it.

Of course, it makes good sense to plant varieties of crops that have genetic resistance to certain pests and diseases, at least until you do get your soil in good condition.

A large book could be written about all of the various diseases and pests that afflict alfalfa and other forages. They range from verticillium wilt to Texas root rot to alfalfa weevils to spotted alfalfa aphids. The book Alfalfa Science and Technology (1972) lists 3 bacterial, 24 fungal, and 3 viral and mycoplasmic diseases; 66 kinds of insects and mites; and 9 nematodes that attack alfalfa.

Pity the poor plant pathologists and entomologists who spend all their time looking at sick plants, identifying the critter that’s causing the damage, and then using toxic rescue chemistry to try to save the crop.

The diseases and bugs are there for a reason—to clean up the unfit and unhealthy, and to tell us something’s wrong. The best approach to diseases and pests is to prevent them, to build up your soil fertility so that crops will be vigorous and healthy, able to resist attack. It’s just like human or animal health. Even though we are exposed to germs every day, we don’t get sick unless we let our natural defenses down and don’t get the right food or enough sleep or exercise. Also, stress can make you sick. The same is true of plants. They can be weakened by stresses—whether from unbalanced soil fertility, toxic substances, waterlogged soil, or adverse weather—and soon fall prey to diseases and/or pests.

Many studies prove this. For example, an excellent summary article by J. L. Dodd in the June 1980 issue of Plant Disease, is entitled “The Role of Plant Stresses in Development of Corn Stalk Rots.” He points out that stalk rot fungi do not attack corn plants until they are under some kind of environmental stress or are of a susceptible variety. Corn has been found to produce chemical substances that inhibit corn borer larvae, and an anti-fungus chemical has been found in wheat and corn. A study by S. D. Kindler and R. Staples found that two alfalfa varieties were more susceptible to the spotted alfalfa aphid when the soil fertility was out of balance, either too little calcium or potassium, or too much magnesium or nitrogen.

Non-infectious diseases

There are a number of problems which are not caused by disease germs or pests. They are sometimes called abiotic, nonparasitic, or physiogenic diseases. Some are beyond the farmer’s control, but others can easily be prevented by proper soil conditions and fertility. They include weather factors, nutrient deficiencies and toxici-ties, pollution, and anaerobic soil conditions.


Crop health and growth can also be damaged by air pollution (“smog,” sulfur dioxide, ozone), acid rain, and waterlogged or tight or crusted soil, which leads to anaerobic soil conditions (no oxygen). Anaerobic soil damages roots from lack of oxygen and also causes anaerobic bacteria to release toxins. Damaged roots often react by developing gummosis, a sort of “hardening of the arteries” in which vital water and food-conducting vessels become plugged by gums and other secretions

Crisis management

If your soil is not yet in good condition, or if the weather isn’t cooperating, and your plants are under stress and are attacked by a disease or pest, all the Utopian theories in the world will not help. You have to save that crop! So go ahead and follow the advice of your local extension agent or whoever, but if you can, don’t apply the recommended insecticide or fungicide at the recommended rate. Try reducing the rate by one-third or even one-half. Usually the recommended rates are plenty high. Also, since only a small fraction of sprays actually reach their intended target, the use of a surfactant or wetting agent will help the pesticide penetrate more readily and allow you to use less poison. If you don’t want to gamble on a whole field, at least try a test strip at reduced rates.

Remember that most pesticides upset something—either the plant’s functions or the soil’s balance of microorganisms, or something. There are usually kickbacks which you don’t need. They only make it harder to get your soil in healthy condition later. So use as little toxic chemicals as possible.

Source: How to Grow Great Alfalfa