It’s the first Sunday in January and I am far from keen to venture into the garden.
There are plenty of jobs which should be done … most of which really ought to have been completed last year … but I am not at all enthusiastic. So I turn, as I often do, to my library and consult my copy of The Gardener’s Almanack to ascertain what tasks might be considered appropriate for the fifth day of January. And this is what I read:
“To destroy Moles. Take some white or black hellebore, the white of an egg, some wheat flour, milk, and a little sweet wine, or mead; make it up into a paste and put pellets of the size of a nut into their holes, which, being greedily eaten by them, will occasion their death. Out two or three heads of garlic, leeks, or onions, into their holes and they will run out, greatly terrified, so that they may then be easily caught by means of a dog.”
Actually, I am not being troubled by moles at the moment, although I have noticed that they are active not far away from my home. But I am intrigued by a couple of aspects of the mole’s lifestyle, which I shall try to explain. So, to begin at the beginning, here is some information about the creatures. Moles are solitary creatures that prefer their own company. About 175 mm long …7 inches long in old money …a single mole can, apparently, move an incredible 14 kg of earth … oh, all right, about 30 lb. of earth … in an hour. It does this as it rampages about underneath the surface digging food tunnels, for the mole lives on a diet of earthworms, slugs and leatherjackets. It spends much of its time hunting for food, spending very little time resting or sleeping, and it does sometimes come to the surface, particularly when it migrates to a new worm-hunting territory. And what happens to all this soil that is moved to create the network of underground tunnels? Why, much of it is brought to the surface and heaped up in piles in much the same way that the deep coal mines of yesteryear always had nearby slag heaps where the unsaleable detritus of mining was dumped.
Now, what intrigues me about the mole? Well, although it is solitary and depends … allegedly … on its extraordinarily keen sense of hearing to detect worms and other denizens of the underground falling into its tunnels, it seems perfectly happy living on the verge of busy roads, including motorways. How is it possible for a mole to hear a worm’s underground movement in such an environment? When I think of the noise level immediately alongside a motorway, I cannot believe that it is all peace and tranquillity a couple of feet below ground level. That’s one aspect of its lifestyle that puzzles me.
And the other? Well, this solitary creature, which has very poor eyesight … good eyesight is not an advantage when you spend most of your life underground … has to mate to ensure the continuation of its species. How does it do this? It’s solitary; it’s almost blind; it spends nearly all its time underground; so how do moles find their mates?
Mark you, I shall not be too worried if the local moles find mates hard to find, for I am not a member of their fan club. And as for getting rid of them, it is said that moles dislike gardens of houses where a cat stays; and there are similar tales of moles avoiding the gardens of dog-owners. It is said that taking the top off a molehill and using burning rags, or disinfectant, or even kippers will persuade the mole that there are happier hunting grounds furth of its present territory. But probably the best tactic is to invest in proprietary mole smokes from your local garden centre and to follow the instructions on the label to the letter.