Mountains Out of Mole Hills

What are those mounds in the pasture? If you tend grass in any form, you know who these visitors are and what the dirt is all about. Many struggle to keep such “blemishes” off their perfect lawns. I have a neighbor who actually shoots them on the weekend when he has time to sit and wait for one to pop it’s head up out of the ground. Sad, but part of a wider trend to poison, drown, or use any force necessary to remove the lawn “ruiners”. If they only knew how important these little tunnelers were for the soil, grass, and greater ecology of nature’s web.

Moles are in house tillers and moisture retainers. They move soil around, loosening hard pack to let roots take hold, and scavenge for insects, eggs, and larva underground, where we humans cannot see. They do not eat plants, though many are blamed for garden raiding which is usually the result of voles. Mole tunnels let in water, and allow it to slow seep underground, where the sun cannot quickly evaporate it. This very slow watering process and water storage is crucial in grasslands, and The Great Plains are suffering now because of the rapid decline in prairie dogs, who once connected underground aquifers to the sky, allowing moisture to rise into rain bearing clouds.

Moles are active everywhere, though we tend to notice them more often on our lawns. In the forest, I took a moment to spread out a mole hill to show you the rich soil brought up from deeper below, where nutrient dense material comes to the surface, feeding your plants and nurturing the aeration of the ground. I’ve watched the mole hills around EEC Forest Stewardship coming up, usually in areas recently grazed by my animals, where flies and other insects lay eggs into the poop. Moles gravitate to these areas of recent activity, often pushing up the most soil in areas the sheep were most impactful. The burrowers seem to know instinctively where the ground need turning most.

Here in The Pacific Northwest, we have a very special mole known and The Star Nosed Mole. Here’s a fun comedic video about this strange looking earth mover (who also swims).

Since we don’t use lawn mowers on the land, or wish to keep the ground flat for a nice putting green, the moles are no issue. Again, they are carnivores, eating insects, not your decorative flowers or the vegetables in your garden. They are aerating the soil, removing pests (like slugs and their eggs) and opening the ground for new plants and water. Without moles, the ground would be a lot more compacted, and unable to direct water deep underground to keep the soil moist and habitable for all the plants. Please remember this the next time you become frustrated with blemishes in your lawn. Perhaps it would be smarter to embrace the moles and begin turning your lawn into a food forest to produce food?

On another note- I use mole hills to plant wildflowers and pollinator species. The ground is freshly turned, moist, and easy to plant into. I don’t have to break sod (a real hassle), to get seeds in the ground. I can also take a wheelbarrow around with a shovel picking up all the mounds as fresh soil to put where I wish. With all the mole activity, is takes little time to fill the barrow for a good replenishment of a raised bed, or the root stalk native plants I’m establishing around the landscape. When you make moles an ally on the land, you’re embracing smart natural systems that have been put in place for good reason. Please remember to take note of the larger holistic system nature already has in place. You’ll find an answer to any stewardship problem in the way nature already works.

Next time you find yourself near a mole hill, take a moment to look more closely at the pile of soil resting on the surface of the lawn. It’s a symbol of healthy grassland. If you don’t like the hill, take a shovel and scoop up the dirt to put in your garden beds, or plant something in the loose soil. The more we fight with natural systems, the more frustrated we become, and the disruption of nature’s systems will ultimately be a loss for all of us. I am grateful to the mole for turning my soil, removing pest insects, and keeping water in the ground longer. I can’t imagine how much work it would be for me to turn all my soil like that, not to mention to disruption to the ecology of my fields if I had to bring in a large tractor to do the work my moles do year around. Thank you for all your work mole!

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