We had a crappy fall with heavy rain daily, turning to snow that stayed all winter. Unfortunately, the snow stacked up and the nasty voles that tunnel under the snow, also tunneled up and got into the protective wraps on our fruit trees. Especially hit were our apples, some of those trees were nearly 10 years old and bearing. Well, the critters girdled the trunks all the way around, which will kill those beautiful trees. We were sick. Will bought me three apples for Mother’s Day and David and his girlfriend bought two more. So for Mother’s Day, David pulled out the old, dead trees with the tractor, which was no easy feat. Let me tell you those trees had roots! Which was a good thing while they lived. But now they’re dead and all those roots really made it a hard job getting them out.

The voles tunneled up under the snow and got into the protective tubes and screens.
Now we have five new trees after removing the dead trees.

After digging new holes, David and I planted all five new trees carefully and I watered them in well. (If you’d like to find out more about growing your own apples, check out my article, Apples on your homestead, in Issue 143 of BHM or in the Twenty-fourth Year Anthology.) We still would like to find Prairie Magic and Honeygold trees but so far, we haven’t located them. We planted a Zestar, State Fair, Frostbite, and two Chestnut crabs (our favorite eating apple, although small).

This is the rusted out stock tank I’m fixing up to plant my Bliss Triumph potatoes in to avoid scab problems.

Boy, the food situation in this country continues to get worse and worse with commercial farms killing their laying chickens, butcher hogs, and now feedlot cattle due to the packing plants having COVID-19 outbreaks of severe proportions. Same with farmers plowing under their vegetable crops due to COVID-19 closing processing factories. This is really going to hit us smack in the butt on down the pike. So get what you can now and plant, plant, plant those gardens! Will’s friend in Washington just paid over $7 for an 18 pack of eggs! I went out and kissed our chickens right on the beaks. How lucky we homesteaders are! — Jackie

32 COMMENTS

  1. Check out the Ely Feed Store. They had Prairie Magic last year. I haven’t looked that their selection yet this year, but the usually have some really nice zone 3 trees, even pears.

  2. I had a peach tree that was carefully protected with wrap and then a chicken wire cage 3′ high. The snow drifted 4′ high and the rabbits ate the top of the tree killing it. If its not one thing, its another!

    I live in a small town that does not allow chickens. Sure wish I had six or so in my backyard. I do have a big garden, but have to fence to keep the rabbits out and don’t bother planting corn because the raccoons always get it. Again in town no electric fencing allowed. Still I do the best I can.

    My pantry includes extra canning lids. I’ve been so thankful for my extensive pantry and other preps the last couple of months. It is hard to replace what I’ve used due to limitations at most stores, but again I do the best I can. I’d planned to reduce the size of my garden this year due to being alone and a senior citizen, but decided this was not the year to downsize. I was only able to buy 5 pounds of seed potatoes so planted shriveled/sprouted potatoes from last year’s garden. Also, planted some sprouted potatoes from the grocery store.

  3. I’ll say it is! This is something none of us has experience with. Even being dirt poor doesn’t let us figure out what’s coming next. All we can do is the best we can. And “plant more beans” as the saying around here goes.

  4. Makes you want to cry doesn’t it? I lost all but one apple tree this year because of the voles. I picked up three, but it’ll be a bit before they produce. There’s a nursery in Duluth that carries Prairie Gold-Guessendorf’s. Not sure if I spelled that correctly.
    Did you use the total trunk wraps on your trees or the plastic protectors that cover the lower part? I used the plastic protectors and hope the total wraps work much better?
    Rhonda

    • We used a combination; some were taller than others. The only ones that worked were old aluminum screens I wrapped around the whole trunk, all the way up to branches. Now we’re making hardware cloth corrals 3′ high, around each tree, then in the fall, we’ll also add trunk protection, just in case!!
      The tree we want is Prairie Magic which produces large, crisp and very sweet apples. Our big tree died during our extremely cold winter a few years back.

  5. Hi Jackie, So sorry you lost the apple trees to voles. This virus is being a big pain. Thank heavens we are growing a bunch of our own veggies and planting fruit trees this year. The virus is really going to make getting food tough.
    Maybe some of our urban friends who cannot grow their own can go be friends/ helpers on some big farms and trade work for groceries.
    Just a thought. Stay safe.

    • I agree; the virus is going to cause real hardship in the future, both in food shortages and the economy. I agree that folks who cannot grow their own food could trade work for food. I know we’d be happy with that arrangement around here!!

  6. Sorry about your trees. I was thinking about you on Mother’s Day as I planted the seeds I got from you! I ordered late and was so grateful that you were able to fill my order as I got it in rather late. Hardly any seeds available around Kingston, WA. I started my preparedness journey in 1989 after the Oakland California Bay bridge collapsed in the earthquake. I got back on track for Y2K. I can’t tell you how many times those supplies got me through hard times! I’m in great shape now, and plan on keeping it up. Thank you for being such a great teacher and an inspiration!

    • I’m glad we could fill your order too! I hear seeds are getting pretty much sold out all over the place this year. I also found canning lids are quickly disappearing too. Eeek! Yup, preparedness is not just for crazy fanatics. It sure beats being unprepared, doesn’t it???

  7. So sorry that you had such a sad surprise in the orchard. A tip I read some years ago has solved this problem for us… haven’t had any damage since, and we too were getting hit EVERY year here in our Michigan orchard. I used our old, leftover latex paint, combined them together to get enough needed, and added play a bunch sand to the paint bucket. Then we painted the trunks of the orchard trees. Might need to be done every couple/few years as the trunks expand, but it has been well worth the trouble and effort!

    I agree that the food situation is getting quite frightening. We are planting everything we can this year!

    • THANKS for the tip, Wendy!!! I’ll sure do that. Anything to prevent what happened to us happening again.

  8. Regarding the food waste from big farmers: The local eastern Washington Hutteroite farmers had a huge crop of potatoes grown for french fries and chips that they were going to plow under (restaurant orders down)! They announced on the news a come-and-get-it, FREE give away of potatoes and people lined up in their pickup trucks and hauled them to their local neighborhoods. It is an interesting potato… nothing like I have ever seen in the market, very dense, slightly dirty and seems like it might last a good while on the shelf. Gonna try to make french fries and am cheered that they did not go to waste. Now I need to find some more homes for them… so many potatoes they grow!

    • It’s wonderful that folks could think of others instead of just plowing under FOOD!! It needs to happen more today! Blessings on them.

  9. I’m so happy you had the family to assist with the removal and planting of the trees. I can’t even imagine all the work that was put in to the old trees , only to have them “Volerized” I don’t know much about apple trees but I do know 10 years is a long time. I wish you the best with the new fruit trees. And Happy Belated Mother’s Day!!!
    And even though I’m only container gardening now, I hear you!!! Definitely a word from the wise to plant, plant, plant! Keep your chickens, and all the other farm animals you have healthy and happy!

    • We sure hated to replant but firmly believe in the saying “Plant ’till you’re planted!”. We tell our chickens and livestock all the time how much we appreciate them.

  10. HA! My 92 year old dad was Napalm bombing Voles on his acreage up until about 4 years ago when we helped him move away from his fencing and vole battles. I think he secretly enjoyed it but mom loved her gardens and between the deer, the voles and cougars in the Wilamatte Valley, Oregon, we were slightly relieved to give him (and us) some peace. However, I did not know voles would girdle a tree! I knew they would eat any root crop available in their vicinity. Are they eating the bark or just keeping their teeth sharp? No wonder dad hated them!

    • The little suckers actually eat the bark. And they don’t stop at young, tender trees either; they ate the bark from some 10 year old trees that were six inches in diameter, with tough bark. Your dad was right; they deserve Napalm!!!

  11. Oh gosh, I’ll bet that was devastating having those mature trees die. Hopefully your new ones will be producing fruit in a couple of years. We lost our peach and apricot trees to a storm a couple of years ago. I’ve often thought about replacing them with a dwarf variety, thinking they would set fruit earlier.

    • We can’t grow dwarf or semi dwarf trees here as they can’t handle our winters. But we’ve had good luck having standard trees beginning to bear in about 3 years. Go ahead and replant; the years pass so quickly!

  12. I use a white spiral tree guard. It’s plastic and spirals to fit tree. I put it high enough so that if we have a deep snow mice don’t destroy everything. Sometimes stack one above other. Seems to work for me

    • Yes, we’ve used them too; the problem is the trees’ lower branches made the plastic have to quit wrapping the trunk and the voles got up on those branches and ate down inside the spirals.

  13. I got a couple of honey gold apples among others from Fedco.
    We’ve had a little vole damage in our orchard over the years but the worst damage ever was one winter when I locked our domestic turkey flock in our large fenced orchard. I thought it would be a great idea. The birds could clean up old fruit and pests on the ground. Well, even though well fed, turkeys can girdle young fruit trees faster than any rodent😡 I bet we replaced a dozen trees that year.
    We took that fence down after we fenced the perimeter of the property and added Great Pyrenees to dissuade the deer. The turkeys haven’t damaged trees since so I think they just got bored that winter.

    • Wow, I never heard about turkeys girdling a tree. Ours seem more mild and haven’t touched one. Yet. Of course our snow is so deep the turkeys don’t go near the orchard in the winter.

  14. onegreenworld.com sells honey gold and they have a wait list. I’ve bought an apple and a plum from them and the quality and packing were very good. Stark Bros also sells the honey gold. So does Gilby’s Orchard in Aitkin, MN and St Lawrence Nurseries. Gilby’s also sells Prairie Magic. Re voles, I wrap my trees from soil level to first branches with DeWitt’s polyester fabric tree wrap 3 or 4 inches wide with lots of overlap and a double thickness at the bottom. The first wrap is actually on the ground and I pin it down with garden fabric pins. Voles don’t seem to like the polyester, especially the double thickness at the bottom. Years ago I started out with the brown paper wrap but they chewed right through it. The other thing I do and am criticized for is drop cyanide pellets in at both ends of the tunnel as far back as I can push them. Follow exactly the directions on the container, wear nitrile gloves and breathing protection. Dispose of both in a sealed plastic bag. People tell me that predators will eat the dead voles and be poisoned. Because the pellets are back in the tunnels and are so quick acting most of the time the voles die underground. I put a rock at each end of the tunnels to keep critters from digging the tunnels open and the cyanide smells so bad they usually stay away. If you have an intense vole issue you may have to dig the snow away from your trees in winter to expose any tunnels, and be prepared to poison any tunnels you find. Voles multiple really really quickly. The baby voles in a nest are sexually active long before they are old enough to live independently and the females often leave the nest pregnant. You have to deal with them early and often.

    • Thanks for the info on Gilby’s Orchard; that’s only about a 2 hr drive for us. I’ve bought nice trees from Fedco and St. Lawrence Nurseries but they’ve quit shipping this year. Stark trees don’t seem to be grafted on a rootstock hardy in Zone 3; I’ve tried several of their trees over the years and none have survived one winter for us. I can’t use the poison in our orchard as we have chickens and also a cat that frequent the orchard and don’t want to endanger them. Our voles don’t make much of a tunnel, other than the grass tunnels under the snow, during the winter. There’s no way we could dig the snow away from the trees in the winter. Our average snow is over 3′ deep and last year it was 4′ deep on the level and our orchard is nearly an acre in size. Yep, I know how fast the critters multiply and it’s crazy! During the summer, our cat, Mittens, kills dozens a week. But they go in cycles like a lot of wildlife and they sure were on an UP cycle this past year!

  15. I thought about you and will on Mother’s Day, and of your tradition to go to your fav greenhouse with Bill and Kelly. Always sounds like a fun family time. I have not seen my grands since Feb , and we all miss each other! Chestnut Crabs is a new apple to me. Can you tell us more. PS The reason this month is called May is because it may snow, it may rain, it may be 80, it may be 20!

    • Hey, I never thought of “May” like that. And you”re so right! Chestnut crab apples are a small apple, about 2 1/2″ in diameter, kind of yellow and red streaked. They are very prolific and bear early for us. They are also one of our very favorite eating apples! Crisp, juicy and sweet. You can’t eat enough. And I make tons of applesauce and apple butter out of them every year. (Luckily I still have lots in the pantry as it’ll have to last quite a while now…)

  16. So sorry to hear about the vole damage but also happy you could replace them so quickly. Hope the stock tank works for the bliss potatoes. I was just wondering if l could plant potatoes in the same way. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

    • You’re welcome Kathy. My friend, Jeri, plants lots of her crops in old stock tanks and they do very well. The additional benefit is if you have arthritis you don’t have to bend or kneel.

  17. I have no connection to Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, MN but their catalog includes a listing for Prairie Magic apple. I noticed you were looking for that variety.
    Good luck with your gardening. I am in the process of using the seeds I ordered from you; unfortunately, I was too generous with watering at first so thinned them out a little!

    • I’ll have to check them out. Many nurseries don’t ship as their trees are potted and very heavy. Thanks for the tip! Sorry about your seedlings. Hey, stuff happens…..

  18. So sorry about your apple trees. I do hope you can come up with something to stop those nasty critters from trying to get the new ones.
    Let me tell you, there was a total egg craze here not long ago. You just couldn’t find an egg in the grocery stores anywhere. The government had no choice but to import eggs.
    Never was I so glad to have our chickens! I was hoping they would go broody this season, but so far no luck. So we have an incubator running right now. And many, many more people are looking into backyard hens. The reality is sobering.

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