This winter, we had 1-2 feet of snow, and the cover lasted for about a month. This was harsh on the orchard – because an army of rabbits thus had a 1-2 foot pedestal and could reach above the existing tree guards. There was significant damage, but the trees will grow back – from below the damage at the very worst. Here is an example, which I covered with chicken wire after the damage was done already:
The rabbits, which for some reason exploded in population this year and kept the crockpots busy – were not the only issue. Subterranean creatures exploded, too. Look at these tracks, which to my guess, are voles or moles:
How could this happen if the ground is supposedly frozen during this colder-than-normal winter? The snow cover made for perfect habitat, by insulating the ground from the -20F temperatures this winter. This is not pleasant, because these critters have killed a few trees, maybe 5% of the orchard of 400 trees. Here is an apple tree that I pulled out after I noticed it was no longer anchored:
One doesn’t even see that the tree is dead – it it literally eaten underground, and pulls right out of the soil. The damage in this case was totally underground, and you notice only when you touch the tree. The description of vole damage described here matches what we see in our orchard.
Some trees were eaten by voles above ground, those which were too branched and difficult to protect effectively with covers:
This picture shows why you need to go 6″ or so below ground with metal mesh if you want good protection from voles. This one is eaten right under where the 1/4″ mesh ends:
One thing I learned – there’s a reason why people keep a close mow on their orchards and lawns. I thought most people go through painstaking care of their lawns just because they are insecure, but this vole episode showed me other reasons. It’s time to get the brushhog mounted on LifeTrac and do some major cleaning.
All in all, I estimate we will lose about 5% of the orchard to this damage, while the rest will grow back. Most of this damage happened on apple trees, as opposed to many of the other fruit we have. The rabbit issue has been stabilized, but the voles are still a danger. I am still seeing new vole activity. I guess the best solution is clear ground – for various predators like cats, dogs, hawks, owls, coyotes, snakes and shrews. By the way, coyotes rarely visited FeF this year, while last year they were visiting and howling almost nightly. This is the first time we’ve had significant rodent damage to the orchard in our 3 years here.
If anyone in the audience knows about an effective vole solution, we would appreciate any insight.
To end this on a good note, the lemon tree – rooted in water from a cutting this year – is doing very well indoors. We got it from our postmaster: