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Holey Moley

Peso and moleBy Pat Nelson, January 23, 2008

Reprinted with permission, South County News/The Daily News, Longview, WA

Gardeners like Woodland’s sandy soil because digging is easy and rocks are seldom encountered. Moles like it too. That became obvious after I landscaped a few years ago. Almost before I had time to stand back and admire the yard, brown mounds of dirt started popping up, making my lawn look like a page out of a connect-the-dots book.

It’s hard to shake a finger at the pesky mammal because even though the hills of dirt can ruin the appearance of a yard, the moles are seldom seen. They stay underground most of the time, cruising their tunnels looking for worms and larvae, with their broad and powerful front feet allowing them to move through the dirt as though they’re swimming.

Most people aren’t willing to forgive moles for ruining their yards, even when they’re told that moles eat lawn pests and improve soil aeration and drainage. Cody Arocho, customer service specialist for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, referred me to the agency’s website www.wdfw.wa.gov to learn the differences between pocket gophers and moles, and the laws pertaining to trapping and lethal control of these mammals.

Everyone seems to recommend a different mole deterrent to add to the runways. The list is long: Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum, Ex-Lax, hair, broken glass, castor oil, Marigolds, pickle juice, mothballs, household lye, flooding, fumigants, hard pellet poison baits, razor blades, spearmint leaves, barbed wire, Euphorbia plants, thorned rosebush canes, gas cartridges, and smoke bombs.

In stores, you’ll find commercial products to eradicate moles: there are poisons and vibrating or ultrasonic devices, pinwheels, and traps. Still, moles continue to tear up lawns while foraging through their tunnels for insects, larvae, small slugs, and other soil invertebrates. To date, no chemical or physical repellents, baits, or live traps have proven to consistently eradicate moles. My cat, though, has caught a few. He brought two large moles into the house last year. I screamed when I saw the first one in our bathroom, and it was still alive until my husband rescued me by attacking it with the toilet plunger. A few days later, the cat brought me a second mole…this one was dead… and placed it on the living room floor as my birthday gift.

I’ve tried many of the mole-eradication methods listed above. For awhile, I thought some of them worked, but actually the moles had just blocked off their tunnels and moved to a different part of the yard. The here-today, gone-tomorrow behavior of the moles helps lend credibility to the non-proven measures.

I’ve read about constructing underground barriers to keep moles out of small areas, but that method sounds expensive and labor-intensive. I decided, instead, to cover my backyard with concrete pavers.  “There,” I thought. “Try pushing those out of your way.”  Now when I look at my backyard,  I don’t see mole hills, but I don’t see green grass either.

Moles continued to raise cosmetic havoc with my front yard. I wanted a green lawn, and was determined to keep the insectivores from dotting it with hills of dirt. I said to my husband, “I have one last plan. If it doesn’t work, we’ll cover the front yard with pavers too.” After knocking down the existing molehills, we spread a grub-control product over the yard before covering the entire lawn with weed fabric. We then topped the weed fabric with new sod. That was 2 ½ years ago. With the exception of a few mounds that pop up around the edges, I still have a green lawn without molehills.

When I walk across the lawn, I notice a slight rolling effect created by underground tunnels. The grass isn’t as thick as I would like; but it is green. I know I’m breaking the rules for growing a nice lawn, but this is my last chance to win the battle. If the moles win, I’ll remove the grass and put in pavers, and there will be a lawnmower for sale at my house.


Filed under gardening, moles, plants, South County News, Woodland

Mother Nature gets a helping hand

Holland America Bulb FarmBy Pat Nelson
January 16, 2008
Reprinted with permission, South County News/The Daily News, Longview, WA

Rain-soaked rows stretch across the 125 acres of fertile farmland at the Holland America Bulb Farm at 1066 South Pekin Rd. in Woodland. It’s hard to image now, looking at the brown rows glistening in the sunlight after a morning shower, that in just 2 ½ months a wide rainbow of vibrant tulips will stand proudly above the soil, impressing thousands of visitors at the annual tulip festival.  

The town of Woodland will be decked out too, because the farm donates around 700 pots of stunning spring flowers to decorate the city. Four hundred of those will be the Woodland tulip, the hybridized variety that, thanks to the efforts of Holland America owner Benno Dobbe, was named for the town in 2005. The Woodland tulip is a cross between the deep pink Don Quichotte tulip and Prominence, a red variety.

To guarantee tulips for the festival, the Dobbes give mother nature a hand. According to warehouse manager Ernst Terhorst, bulbs are planted November through January and then are forced so that they will bloom at the desired time. “We create the climate to fool the bulb,” he said. “We put the bulbs in a cooling unit because they need winter. Depending on the type of bulb, they cool for four to eight weeks.”

Refrigerating bulbs persuades the tulips to flower earlier. “We adjust the temperature of the cooling rooms as needed,” said Terhorst. “With flowers, you can’t read out of a book. You have to have it in your fingers…you have to communicate with them.”

Terhorst, along with the Dobbe’s daughter Nicolette Wakefield, who operates the facility’s Royal Dutch Flower Gardens Gift Shop, took me on a tour of the operation. In one of many large coolers, I saw tall stacks of plastic bins filled with already-potted spring bulbs including tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, iris, and others. Some had sprouted, and I could see the tiny hair-like roots poking out the bottoms of pots.

According to Wakefield, “besides the bulbs grown to decorate the downtown, 5000 bulbs are being planted in pots for the Tulip Festival. Some will decorate the display garden and the rest are being grown to sell at the festival.”

Terhorst and Wakefield next showed me the potting area, where three employees pot the bulbs. One places peat moss in the bottom of the pot. The next plants the bulbs. A third adds sand, which is heavy and holds the bulbs in place, while providing good drainage.

The Holland America Bulb Farm sells cut flower from September through Mother’s Day. Both bulbs and cut flowers are sold nationwide.

The cut flower operation involves an assembly line to de-bulb and package the flowers. First, a machine cuts a small portion off the bottom of the bulb. That allows it to be crushed, releasing the portion of the stem that was inside the bulb, and leaving a longer flower stem. Ten stems are packaged in a bunch; then they are banded, sleeved in plastic, and placed in water before being boxed and shipped. The bulbs that are cut away are composted. According to Nicolette Wakefield, “Nothing is wasted.”

The farm employs thirty now, and will employ 150 in the spring.

I was shown a cooler where lily bulbs are frozen and stored for up to a year at a precise temperature. “The temperature can’t be off even a couple tenths of a degree,” said Terhorst. “The bulbs contain their own type of antifreeze to keep them from being damaged by freezing.”

During the April festival, Holland America owners Benno and Klazina Dobbe turn their front yard into a display garden, where visitors can stroll along the paths, admire the tulips, and mark their favorite varieties on an order form for October pick-up.

Today, it might look like nothing’s going on in the 125 acres of fields, but don’t be fooled. Beneath that rich soil, bulbs are getting ready to put on a spectacular April show.


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Filed under flower bulbs, gardening, plants, South County News, Woodland