Got gopher problems? Ha, me too! I live in an area with sandy, sandy soil that burrowing animals just love. Gophers and moles are a real problem, especially when you are trying to grow root crops. And you really want to grow root crops because you get a lot of quality calories from roots and tubers.
One of the best ways to control these underground creatures is a good cat. I highly recommend cats, but I want to emphasize that it needs to be a good hunting cat. I don’t have a good hunting cat. My cat is actually pretty useless. And in her defense, we have so many gophers and moles that the underground community on my land is getting somewhat reckless.
If you don’t believe me, watch this video my daughter caught showing this gopher just playing with the cat. Really. The gopher is just teasing the cat! Don’t worry, even though the cat pounces, she was nowhere near actually getting the gopher. And in fact, after the video ends the cat walked off in disgust and the gopher popped back up to play again.
My cat is probably not a great model of hunting ability, but a good hunting cat can definitely help take care of your gopher and mole problems.
So without a good cat, what could I do to protect my sweet potatoes, peanuts, and other crops from these underground menaces?
The second technique is to simply kill them. My father-in-law taught me how to set gopher traps. And yes, they are effective. When you see an active gopher mound simply dig around until you find the tunnel. The tunnel is usually 6 to 12 inches deep. Set traps on both sides of the tunnel, and wait. Make sure you do set traps on both sides of the tunnel since you don’t know which side the gopher is in. Gophers hate to have open holes in their tunnels, so it will probably come to close the area up. When it does, it will run into the trap and get killed.
You have to keep trapping for a while to reduce or eliminate the local population – so it is a bit of work. But it is also effective. My father-in-law keeps his garden free of gophers this way.
Note that I have not yet found a good trap for moles. But the gopher traps work great.
The gopher traps often kill with a harsh gut wound, which is a horrible way to die. For the record, I usually give the gopher to the dogs to eat, but I have eaten a few myself. Yes, you can prepare a gopher to be quite tasty. Eating one gopher every now and then is OK, but eating a lot of gophers all the time… well that isn’t OK. I have never been that desperate for meat (yet). If you want, I’ll write another post about eating gophers – just put a comment down below and let me know if you want to learn more about that.
So for the past few years I’ve been experimenting with a third technique to keep the gophers from getting to my root crops. So far, this is the simplest and most effective method.
It’s good old fashioned castor oil.
There are some commercial castor oil-based garden products available which I’ve tried. Some are spray-able and some are pelleted. So far, both types have been quite effective for me.
If you are on a budget, the most cost effective approach is to simply buy the cheapest castor oil available at a drug store, or online, and spray that over your garden soil. Which ever product you use, it is recommended to re-apply every few months, or more frequently if you have had a lot of rain.
To be honest, I haven’t gotten the whole schedule thing worked out yet. I am actually applying it every month because I am paranoid and I really want my sweet potatoes and peanuts.
Apparently, the castor oil works because it makes the ground taste bad to the moles and gophers. Yes, it works well for moles too.
Now to take it a step further.
You know, I am really into this whole self-reliance thing. Since this castor oil is so effective, the next thing I am trying to do is to grow the castor plant myself so I can make this gopher repellent at home.
I am guessing the beans are the part of the plant that contains the oil and the ‘bad taste.’ I am thinking of using the beans in two possible ways. One way is to crush the beans, so they won’t germinate, and apply the bean crumbles to my garden soil, just like the pelleted product I’ve been using. A second possibility is to press the castor beans for their oil. There are so many other medicinal uses for castor oil, I think the whole project would be quite worthwhile. Plus, a few years ago I bought a small oil press and I’ve never used it. Now I have a great project to try it out.
Note that the castor plant is quite toxic, so be careful.
I wonder if the leaves and stems also taste bad to gophers and moles? If so, then perhaps a mulch of the castor leaves would be beneficial. If you have experience with this, definitely drop me a comment down below.
If you’re curious, I picked up the seeds for the castor plants from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. Castor plants are quite hardy and can be considered invasive, so I’ve got them in an area where I don’t mind if they go a bit wild. Actually, I am kind of hoping they will go a bit crazy. They make some really stunning foliage and readily reseed themselves, which in this instance would be a good thing. I like plants that do their own thing without making me work too much.
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Oh, and if you have any experience growing castor plants, or if you have another remedy for dealing with gophers, please write to me down below in the comments. I would love to hear from you.
Marjory Wildcraft is an Expedition Leader and Bioneer Blogger with The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of “homegrown food on every table.” Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic, she is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs, and is a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is an author of several books, but is best known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.