Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gopher Battle Royale

Current Count -

Gophers - 0 / Brian - 2

Preamble -

This is my gopher killing log. This truth which ought to be self-evident; that gophers are the bane of the garden, bring limitless destruction, and as a result, should be exterminated with extreme prejudice at any and all opportunities, this truth is the justification for these seemingly genocidal activities. By posting the gory, graphic details of these battles, I lay myself completely helpless before the gnashing teeth of gopher law should they ever become the dominant specie on this rock we inhabit. Until such a time, I have faith that my actions will be justified by the improvement in garden production and reduction of a garden frustration.

Article I - History of gopher malfeasance and justification of extermination

Gardening in an organic community garden is a frustrating endeavor for many reasons. Some of the most remarkable frustrations are: bermuda grass, disease load in the soil, hippies, and vegetable theft. These irritations are all addressable through work, building and maintenance of soil, and liberal application of shotgun. The largest remaining problem in the organic community garden is the gopher.

The gopher inevitably strikes a garden from deep underground, burrowing toward the tender root of a vegetable mere hours from ripeness. There is some signal which plants release as their fruit become perfect for picking that draw the rodents in from miles around. The gophers have different strategies for ruining a vegetable garden. In many cases, a plant with a full load of some deliciousness will inexplicably wither and dry up, the result of having only the roots chewed off. Other times, a four foot tall plant will start disappearing into the earth and after just a few minutes, only an inch of vegetation is left.

A special favorite target of the malicious gopher community is the sulfuric root vegetables, most notably garlic and onions. Garlic and onion are particularly vexatious due to their long growing period and the strength of the signal they send out to the gophers. These plants must be sown in the fall and are tended throughout the winter, when the weather is particularly unpleasant, so that when the spring thaw arrives, they can fatten up and become the vegetables we know. As they become ripe, due to their particularly strong disposition, gophers can smell them and will burrow through hell and back to get at the roots.

After years of losing significant produce to the gopher population, it is necessary now to go beyond the typical methods of discouragement (such as flooding the holes, bringing in cats, and playing loud music), and set a course for liberation of the garden plot from these fiends. As there are no catch-and-release cages in the market for gophers, and due to the strong karma implications of releasing gophers into someone elses plot, the only reasonable alternative is gopher extermination.

Article II - Methodology

It is important to hit the gophers in their position of strength, and use their own defense mechanisms to effect their downfall. To this end, a collection of traps knows loosely as macabee style (henceforth referred to simply as macabees), are used.

Identification of gopher routes is very important, as the effectiveness of the macabees is highly dependent on placement. The mounds of dirt that we typically associate with gophers are usually poor places to set traps, as they represent the ends of a gopher tunnel, a location used only for deposition of dirt from deeper tunnels or as a point of attack on garden plants. That said, the mounds of dirt often can lead back to major thoroughfares or habitat locations, though significant excavation is required.

In general, upon seeing gopher mounds in the garden, the preferred method of attack is to use a regular spade shaped shovel and dig a hole centered on the mound, about 1 foot in diameter and 2-3 feet deep. It is important to dig the sides cleanly, i.e. cut into the side and move the dirt directly away from the side, to avoid compressing the tunnel openings and obscuring the gopher tracks. Digging such a large hole may seem overzealous, but it has two purposes. First, the goal of the hole is to find the major gopher route, and these are often 2-3 feet deep. Second, once you find the major route, having a large opening makes setting macabees straight forward and the open air will drive the gophers to investigate (more on this later).

Here is an image of a hole which was successful in uncovering a gopher lair and resulted in a gopher death. The hole is about 2.5 feet deep, there was a tunnel very near the bottom which lead into the lair, and a tunnel which led up to the surface (and some plants he'd eaten) on the other side. Once the hole was found, it was slightly enlarged by excavating the sides and top of it with a trowel. This allows the macabee to slide easily in and out of the hole and gets the gopher hoppin' mad in the process. To try and close up this newly enlarged hole, the gopher will attempt to push dirt out the opening and blockup the works. This of course, is the action the trap uses to trigger and get the sucker.

All gopher hunting methods require going from an obvious sign back to a major travel route. Often in hard soil, this can be accomplished with a hand trowel by simply lifting the roof off the tunnel and following several feet back to a cross tunnel. As the dirt gets softer and easier to dig, the gophers will move deeper and the hunt will require larger tools.

Often you will find a thoroughfare which leads off in two different directions. In this case, since you don't know where the gopher may attack from, it is advisable to place a macabee in each hole. It is IMPORTANT that you tie off the macabees with string or wire, as the gophers reaction to getting caught is back-pedaling, and the traps can disappear if you don't have them fixed to something solid.

Article III - Implements of Destruction

The tools used in gopher warfare are simple and direct. The most basic tool required is a shovel. More than a few gophers have been caught by simply inserting a shovel into the tunnel behind them as they chew on some delectable plant, then stomping or kicking them when they try to make a break for it.

For gophers not present, a trap is easier than waiting for the pesks return. The macabee trap is a simple wire device with a spring loaded set of jaws locked into the trigger paddle by a long wire. When the gopher hits the trigger paddle, the long wire is loosened and the jaws snap shut, usually crushing the gophers lungs and causing asphixiation.

The only other tools required are a long thin stick or piece of bamboo for probing tunnel locations, a trowel for preparing holes for macabees, and a pair of special gopher gloves. The gloves are important because some wily elder gophers are attuned to the scent of humans and will avoid traps. Get a pair of gloves, crush up some garlic cloves and wipe the garlic oil around on the gloves and on the macabees while you're at it. Try to keep those gloves separate from the everyday ones and only use them for the hunt.


  1. Nice post brian! I will have to try the garlic scent... so far I just use a gloved hand to handle the traps.

  2. Doug (2) vs. Gophers (1)
    Match in progress.

    I checked my traps this morning and I didn't think I had caught anything, but there was a dead one a little ways back in the tunnel from one of my traps. That counts as a kill in my book.

    I managed to spook one out of its hole this morning. Unfortunately, it spooked me enough that I wasn't able to drop something heavy on its head before it went to ground again. I did throw my trowel at it, so that's something, I guess.

    My garden is beginning to look like swiss cheese or a WWI battlefield. I think they are eating all of the corn I planted :*-(


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