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3 Ways to Protect Root Crops from Gophers and Moles

castor-oil-as-a-gopher-deterrentGot 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.

Seriously.

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.

If you are just visiting this site for the first time and want to stay in touch with me and get updates on this and other projects, click here to sign up for our free newsletter.  Nah, we don’t spam and we don’t sell any of your info.  It’s safe.  I promise.

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.

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COMMENTS(47)

  • Aggie says:

    Confirming that advice. We had a serious gopher problem when we moved here, and the locals told us to get a mama cat. We still have gophers, but they are part of a more balanced ecology, and not an issue. We do have kittens playing with dead gophers on the porch now and then. 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    If the soil tastes bad to the animals, won’t it also taste bad to worms and keep them from the garden?

  • Lisa says:

    Hi Marjory,
    Loved the article. Please let us know how the castor oil works out.
    Also, I am really looking for recipes for all the stuff I grow in the garden without cheese and meat. In case someday all we have available is what we grow.
    Have a great gardening day.
    Lisa

  • Marion B says:

    I have a recipe for groundhog from my mother who always said that the best way to deal with a pest was to figure out a way to eat it. It produces a pretty greasy meal, though.

  • Kathy says:

    Many years ago I had a neighbor who was from Kentucky and she used to plant castor in her garden every year. She said that planting it kept the gophers and moles at bay. So, she used the whole plant as the repellent. In Illinois castor will not reseed itself because it is not cold hardy.

  • Brent B says:

    Just obtain some castor seeds and drop one in each mole tunnel. No more moles. Also, you can get wind spinners and place in your yard… supposedly the vibrations keeps moles out. Another Mom and Dad used was a vibrator, electric… battery powered. I do not like to use batteries any more than necessary, so I usually purchase the solar powered “stakes” at a local big box store or through the mail. Works for me.

    1. Diane R says:

      The solar stake I bought did not keep the gophers away, and eventually stopped working. Maybe it was defective. A neighbor of mine likes to use them.

    2. Peakster says:

      You do realize the solar stakes have batteries in them, yes?

  • Ray W says:

    Marjory,

    The castor oil doesn’t impart a “flavor” to your root crops?

  • Rob says:

    Hi Marjory, I have had issues with moles in the past and successfully used calcium carbide to eradicate them. This would work for any burrowing animal. The calcium carbide comes in a tin that is a little smaller than the size of a can of oil. You open a small hole in the tunnel, pour in the calcium carbide, stick a water hose in the hole and then cover over with soil. Turn the water on slowly and leave it running for about an hour. When the water comes in contact with the calcium carbide it creates a gas (acetelyne I think) which effectively kills the critters, or perhaps persuades them to move out of the area. I had tried traps, poison and had even hired a professional trapper prior to this with no, or limited success, and they kept coming back. This method worked the very first time I used it, and was so simple. I was so relieved as my yard looked like a miniature war zone.

    1. Larry Novak says:

      Hi Rob that would be great cause as far as I am concerned the only good mole is a dead mole but I have 5 acres so that would take forever to do it this way but I do like the treatment. I was told by a guy that a good way is to find the tunnel and drop a stick of juicy fruit gum in and then cover the hole again. I guess the moles really like the taste but what it does is chokes them to death I am really going to try it in the spring right after I diamond harrow my field then I see where the little monsters are and a hunting I will go. I am guessing that it will take about two cases to do my field and two gardens. After I do it I think two to three weeks will tell the tail if it works and I should have the sweetest horse hay in the country hahahaha.

      1. Larry Novak says:

        I guess I never said I am from Canada.

  • judy says:

    Just a warning for anybody that has respiratory problems, the castor plant can cause breathing problems.

  • Laure says:

    There is a plant called Mole Plant, Gopher Spurge, or Gopher Plant which keep moles at bay. Their inner juice is poisonous, especially to children. So, I wouldn’t plant them in the yard if you have young children. I have them growing in the garden and it seems to repel the moles of the area.

  • jaywalk says:

    I wonder if this would work for voles also… as well as regular mice. We have an over-abundance of all the rodents this year – anyone know how this might work inside the house for mice?

  • Patrick says:

    I put an old piece of vacuum cleaner hose on the tailpipe of my old Honda car and the other end in the gopher hole and let it idle for 15 mins. and cover up the hole. Its worked every time so far.

    1. Diane R says:

      Vaccuum hose is a good idea. We tried a garden hose, but it was too narrow and long, I think.

    2. David says:

      Some hardware stores carry an adapter for your tailpipe to a garden hose specifically for this purpose. The garden hose will work, but I suggest using it after your vehicle is already warmed up. When starting a cold engine, it usually runs at a fast idle at first and it blows the adapter off the tailpipe. I have used this device for several years now and it is quite effective at eliminating entire colonies. Usually about 15-20 minutes is all that’s needed. The one I bought only cost about $15. I was spending far more than that every year on the smoke bombs, which also work.

  • Kathy says:

    Regarding the castor oil, can you be sure the taste/toxicity don’t transfer to the plants you’re growing?

  • Leslie Parsons says:

    I grow lots of castor bean plants, because they are beautiful, instant landscaping and are not picky about soil, fertility or water. If things get overly dry, they will tell you about it by wilting, but once they get a drink, they are happy again with no hard feelings. I do not consider castor beans “invasive.” I would classify them as “vigorous.” The seedlings they drop are easy to pull or hoe out, and they can also be moved easily to wherever else you want instant landscaping. I grow the burgundy variety. And, after roughing out the green ones, I am seeing only the burgundy now. Fun, and nice to create a tropical look around the patio – even up North, where they grow happily as an annual planting.

  • JUDY L says:

    Years ago when i lived in Rolla, Missouri I learned that planting castor plants around the perimeter of your garden would keep the moles away. It really does work but you have to have the castor plants on all sides and not very far apart.

    Now I just raise all my root crops in raised beds and put hardwear cloth or a very fine wire fencing on the ground under my raised bed. Put the bed on top and fill with soil. Moles can’t get in and that’s the end of the problem!

  • Wendy says:

    Please… any and all suggestions about gophers, moles, and voles. They are absolutely out of control this year – they’re eating everything we plant. We’re in the process of installing owl boxes and raptor perches, but we have so many rodents that 4 feral cats can’t even keep up! HELP, HELP, HELP!

  • Sue says:

    I planted castor beans in my garden with my beans, squash, and corn plants. I am sad to report that not only did the gophers find and devour my garden, they ate the roots of my castor bean plants and killed them too! Apparently the roots don’t taste bad.

  • Lucie L says:

    Here is a method for a fun, no kill, gopher smoke out: Carefully light a sulfur road flare and carefully insert it into an opened tunnel, being careful not to extinguish it. Back fill with dirt so the smoke does’t exit through the hole you’ve opened, then look around as the smoke travels through the tunnels and gently cover the other smoke outlets. When the sulfur stinking up the the tunnels, the gophers vacate. In my N. California heavy clay soil, one flare seems to smoke out miles of connecting tunnels. The gophers leave and I rarely encounter any more that year or the next. Perhaps my neighbors kill them, hopefully they are just happily foraging somewhere else, far from my gardens and roots.

    This doesn’t work to discourage moles as they don’t build tunnels, they just dig and eat. They are so soft and helpless, I’ve never been able to kill one.

    Hooray for the castor oil repellent rather than a kill method! I’d like to look into the castor bean plant’s influence on other organisms, micros, cover crops, etc. that help make our soils healthy. The plant, an ‘invasive,’ discourages competition. How? More toxins? Greedy roots? Thanks for the lead into this simple use of a powerful plant to help us discourage some of the hardest to discourage garden intruders!

  • Diane R says:

    Hi Marjory,
    First, thank you for your website, for all your experience and expertise, and for bringing together other people who want to be self-reliant. I did try castor beans. My daughter said that they are irresistible to gophers, but will kill them. Well, a few gophers did disappear after we put the beans down their holes, but the next thing we knew we had lots of castor beans popping up everywhere!

  • Stacy says:

    Yes, please give a recipe for how to prepare mole/gophers for consumption.

  • A says:

    Hi Marjory,
    Thanks for all your newsletter insights and education. Regarding the castor oil, you mention it is toxic. Toxic how or to whom? How does it affect your crops, and what about pets, like cats? Sounds like using the beans as pellets would be best, and not as messy. I would like to try it but I don’t want my cat to get sick or the food to be toxic or taste like castor. Thanks.

  • Mike says:

    I could be wrong (usually am) but I don’t think the moles are eating plants – they just tunnel like crazy in search of grub worms – that of course could uproot young plants. We don’t have gophers but voles and field rats like crazy. I’m going to try the castor oil and hope for the best. I have Jerusalem artichokes all over my garden because the rats take them and replant them for me. I seldom ever get a harvest from where I plant them myself. I can’t grow sweet potatoes because I only get the top half. Any other solutions would be appreciated.

    1. Michael Ford says:

      Way to put those rats to work, Mike. If you can’t beat ’em…

      1. Mike says:

        They’re real good at replanting but it’s a son-of-a-gun to harvest.

  • Joseph says:

    If you know the gopher is in the hole, take a quart jar of water, pour it in the hole but keep the glass jar over the hole. The gopher will come out of the hole and into the jar. Just put the lid on the jar quickly. I used to go gopher hunting like this when I was a kid. It works well! 🙂

    1. Diane says:

      There is a video going around on facebook now with a guy using ths method with a plastic gallon milk jug. Looks real redneck but works.

  • margot says:

    I have chipmonks under the ground in my garden. I use black plastic “baskets” that come free from small or ethnic groceries in the area. They are about 12 inches deep. I sink them in the soil and fill them up. I put one sweet potato plant in each, or two escarole, which I have found with the root and crown eaten up from beneath. Several years with no problems. Shenandoah valley, VA.

  • Marie says:

    Eating gophers? Yuck, I’ll just eat greens and other crops I grow. Even dandelion would be good, I have eaten them before.

  • Pete says:

    Do you have any good way to get rid of ground squirrels?

  • Ellen Emery says:

    Castor plants are a problem in southern California. I don’t know whether birds spread the seeds or how they travel, but they proliferate in stream beds and take water from the native vegetation. They grow very large and are hard to eradicate “in the wild.”

  • Sandy Arrowood says:

    This may be more capital/work intensive than you want, but have you considered setting up a hardware cloth lined raised root bed? The instructions I have for making a cold frame are to line it very securely with 3/8 inch or smaller hardware cloth to keep the moles and mice from invading. I live in the Northwoods and haven’t seen signs of gophers so far, but I have had carrots and parsnips disappear from their beds.

    Regarding castor oil, I once had to take small doses of it for a therapy for skin problems. To me, the heavy texture was far worse than the taste. Then there may be a problem with castor oil: their little rodent guts may react pretty radically to even a little of the oil, and fatty foods would be irresistible to most creatures preparing for winter. They might eat enough at one time to reach a fatal toxicity.

    If you want to find a good hunting cat, check with family farms. They often have an excess of barn cats that feed heavily on mice. Alternately, especially where poisonous snakes are rare, setting up a nice sized rock pile will attract snakes. Whether they are fast enough for gophers and moles I wouldn’t know, but they certainly would have no problems slithering down a gopher hole.

    Really love the wonderfully creative and inventive solutions to the infinite challenges of bringing in our crops you are gathering for us. Thanks, and may you feast on roots this winter! Sandy

  • Cheri says:

    Hi Marjory – Thanks for the gopher-deterrent info! I have a small yard, 1/5 acre, and this year my invasion of biblical proportions is gophers (it’s a different invasion every year!) I live in Northern Arizona, elevation 3500 feet. Could you please be more specific on the use of sprayed castor oil? Specifically, do I mix it with water? If so, what proportions? Do I use a big sprayer (like people use for weed killer)? Do I spray the whole yard, so they go out into the back easement area and beyond into nature? If I treat my whole yard, how often do I repeat (we have monsoon season in the summer)? Do you have a recipe or formula? I’m thinking of adding some essential oils and garlic and onion to make it even more of a deterrent. What do you think? Thank you for all you do and share. It is greatly appreciated! Peace – Cheri

  • Angela Bright says:

    Hi Marjory,
    One way that keeps the gophers out of the garden is the chicken wire, placed under the raised bed.
    I guess this would work for the small raised bed gardens, I don’t know about the large flat gardens.
    Good Harvest to you,
    Angela

  • Sandy McKinnon says:

    I have cleared hundreds of acres of gopher colonies using the old fashioned fusies. Pop one in and then cover all the holes when u see the smoke and pretso. no more colony, no more broken legs and tractors!

  • Jim Jones says:

    I have grown castor bean plants exactly for the reasons you describe. However, you should know that castor beans themselves contain Ricin which is a serious poison and I would not recommend you try and crush them to try and make your on oil. The castor bean plants get huge with leaves that (at last mine were ) 12-18″ across (may have had really good garden soil). I planted them at the back of the garden to keep the moles from coming in from that angle but in the spring, when the snow melted I found that moles had tunneled around the garden, avoiding what ever smell the castor bean roots had left in the soil over winter….

    Good luck

    Jim

  • Diane says:

    Please don’t grow any castor plants, I have been studying castor oil for over 30 years and the plant is very toxic. You could die from handling the beans and home made oil. Stick with just the castor oil you buy in the store.

  • Nelson says:

    I found used coffee grounds are effective too.

  • Katrina Milam says:

    Apparently, you can grow the castor plant around sensitive trees and it will kill the critters and provide some shade for young trees until they are established then just cut the castor plant down once the tree is established and before the castor plant gets out of control. Ever tried that?

  • JoAnn Fox says:

    All I can say is, by someone’s suggestion–plant castor bean seeds to send gophers on their way. Well, I did, and all I got
    was gopher mounds around the plant that sprouted. I will use some castor oil spray you suggested to see how that works.

  • JC says:

    Don’t judge.

    I am about to tell you how to easily rid yourselves of gophers, moles and voles. Overnight.

    Urine.

    I keep a 5 gal bucket in the garage for ‘collecting’, I typically apply to just a portion of the tunnel. Overnight they vacate and don’t come back. I do see new intrusion once in a while, but now you know what works.

    Thank me later.

    1. Megan Venturella says:

      I’m absolutely going to try this. Thank you for posting!!!!!

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