Raised beds are a great way to keep animals from your flowers or vegetables. However, most animals and insects can still find their way into your beds, leaving dead or withered plants and holes that may be big or small, depending on the animal. In addition, most of these invasions happen at night, making it challenging to identify the culprit.
Here’s how to know what’s making holes in your raised beds:
- Check the size and the nature of the hole.
- Set up a CCTV camera.
- Keep watch over your raised beds.
- Set traps.
- Use natural repellants.
- Use chemicals.
This article explores the above strategies that you can use to identify what’s making holes in your raised beds. Keep reading to learn more!
1. Check the Size and Nature of the Hole
Holes in your vegetable or flower garden indicate you have uninvited visitors. And it’s hard to catch them in the act since they dig at night or when you aren’t home. Thus, it’s challenging to devise measures to keep them away.
Different animals dig different holes in terms of size and shape. The varying hole sizes are due to animals’ unique digging mechanisms.
Let’s look at various animals that can access raised beds and the kind of holes they dig:
Moles and Voles
Moles are the number one culprits for digging holes, especially in soft, moist soil. They make deep holes with soil mounds around them. In addition, moles usually access your raised beds from underground because they use tunnels to move from place to place.
These pests dig their tunnels towards a food source and can locate your raised garden as they pass by or look for grubs and worms. Therefore, they may damage your plants unintentionally. In addition, their tunnel system is closed and has no visible entrance holes. So, you’ll only notice the soil mounds and have to get rid of them to see the holes.
Unlike their counterparts, voles are herbivores and usually look for succulent roots, tubers, and bulbs. Hence, if you have a vegetable garden, they’re the likely culprits responsible for making holes in your bed.
You’ll also notice dead plants without roots – if you pull them out. Moreover, voles chew the tubers and bulbs of potatoes, turnips, and onions. And their holes have open entrances that are easily noticeable.
But the holes are smaller, about 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 cm), than the moles’, which are over 2 inches (5.08 cm) in size. Thus, the size of the holes can help you differentiate between moles and voles.
Skunks can dig holes in your raised beds as they feed on insects and worms found in moist soil. The holes are usually 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62cm) and can have side claw marks. If your garden has many worms or insects, a skunk can turn it upside down, and you might mistake it for a freshly tilled garden.
The damage is typically far-reaching since it affects the plant’s roots resulting in withering and drying.
These diggers work at night. So, if you have a strong sense of smell, you may wake up to a skunk stench in your raised beds. Skunks leave behind a characteristic odor that lingers in the early morning air. Hence, if you have dogs, they may also detect it.
Skunks are more common during spring. Therefore, your culprit is unlikely to be a skunk if you find the holes during summer or winter. However, the best way to identify them is to catch them in the act or if they make their presence evident after spraying your garden.
You can also identify a skunk’s digging by looking at the tracks. Although they have five toes like the raccoons, the fifth toe is hardly noticeable for the skunks. Additionally, the trails may have droppings with undigested insect parts.
Ground squirrels can also dig holes in your raised beds. The holes are deep and can cause massive destruction to your plants. Squirrels are herbivores and feed on fruits and vegetables.
Therefore, if your raised bed has fruits or vegetables, it’s likely to attract squirrels. They usually dig tunnels for shelter and to hide food. However, the tunnels may end up on your raised beds unintentionally.
Squirrels can also dig near the beds for easier access if feeding from your garden. Although you might find the holes in the garden, it usually leads to a hideout several feet away.
Although the holes might be deep, they don’t go beyond 3 feet (0.91 m) deep and 4 inches (10.16 cm) in diameter. Sometimes, you might find several entrance holes with more than one squirrel because they like to live in colonies.
Squirrels are cunning and can dig under fences and rocks to make accessing a fenced bed easier. Furthermore, they will likely leave debris at the entrance, including seed husks and grass clippings. Moreover, they leave mounds of fresh dirt to make it easier to identify their entrance holes during flight.
Raccoons can dig up your raised beds as they search for food. They are omnivores and feed on insects, snails, fish, frogs, and plant material, including fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Hence, they’ll dig up your garden as they search for common insects that make a substantial portion of their diet.
These animals make cone-shaped holes 3-4 inches (7.62-10.16 cm) in diameter. They use their sensitive noses to detect food and have swift hands that enhance digging.
Raccoons have an insatiable appetite for the European chafer beetle found in gardens, yards, and lawns. Therefore, they will dig holes to retrieve grub from your raised gardens. When animal protein is scarce, raccoons will munch on your vegetables and seeds, such as corn and peas.
Moreover, they enjoy fruits such as peaches, pears, and grapes. If you have these fruits on your farm or on neighboring farms, raccoons are the most likely diggers in your raised beds. They are also fast diggers and can turn your beds upside down within a short time.
Like most diggers, raccoons invade at night, and you’re unlikely to spot them. However, their tracks can help you identify these animals, especially if your beds have wet soil. You can find their trails near the holes or at suspected entry points.
Insects and Birds
If you have many birds perching in your location, they might be the culprits making holes in your raised beds. Birds are primarily omnivores, but some are pure carnivores. Hence, they feed on insects and seeds and can dig the ground in search of food. Since they use their beaks to dig, they only make tiny holes that go unnoticed most of the time.
Earthworms are also diggers but only on moist soils. They are usually active during spring and can make numerous holes since they live in colonies. You will notice their holes quickly because they’re narrow – about ½ inches (1.2 cm) in diameter, with a granular mound at the side. However, some holes are so thin that you only notice the fine heap.
Ground beetles are also excellent diggers since they consume most soil-dwelling insects. The depth of their holes depends on the insects they’re hunting. If the insects are near the surface, you will likely find shallow tiny holes with soil mounds by the side.
Some beetles live in the pits and may dig deeper, up to 6 inches (15.2 cm). These beetles are perfect biological controls since they feed on insects. And although they may feed on pollen and some plant shoots, they aren’t destructive.
Mice and rats are other animals that make holes in your raised beds. These rodents use burrows for shelter and food storage but can also dig their own. So if your raised beds are good food sources and provide a safe shelter, you might be staring at mice holes. These holes aren’t more than 3 inches (7.62 cm) wide and bend horizontally like a tunnel. Sometimes there may be more than one entry point.
2. Set Up a CCTV Camera
Sometimes, you may have more than one digger, making it confusing to know what animals make these different types of holes. Therefore, checking the size and type of hole might not be sufficient.
An alternative way to know which animal is digging holes in your raised beds is to use a camera. Installing a CCTV camera ensures you catch them in the act, and you can tell the exact animal.
As you set up the camera, ensure there’s enough lighting to enhance the view. As mentioned earlier, most diggers invade at night when lighting is poor. So, it would help if the camera is at a convenient angle and close enough to enhance the image quality.
However, CCTV has some disadvantages. These include:
- It might be impossible to view tiny diggers such as beetles and earthworms.
- The view may not be great if your garden has leafy plants such as vegetables.
- The smaller animals, such as mice and moles, can conveniently dig without being captured.
- It may not be economically practical if you only have a few beds. CCTV cameras are expensive and therefore don’t make economic sense to install one to catch a mole or vole. But if you already have one in another area in your compound, you can use it to watch your garden until you establish the digger.
3. Keep Watch Over Your Garden
Watching your garden is another option if you want to know what is digging holes in your raised beds. Of course, this means you must be alert during the day and at night. However, you can strategize by observing the animal’s pattern to increase your chances of catching it.
For instance, you may find freshly dug holes in the morning. This means the animals invade at night. Additionally, you can check the beds before sleeping to help you understand whether the animal digs in the early hours or the wee hours of the night. As such, you can decide on the best time to keep watch instead of watching the whole night.
If the animal digs during the day, you can keep checking your beds to identify the timeline within which it invades them. Observing the timelines helps you know the animals’ habits, thus you can keep watch when the animal is most likely to be digging. This way, you’ll have better chances of catching it in the act.
You can also take pictures of the animals and their holes with a camera. Then, use the images if you need help from an expert to identify the animal.
4. Set Traps
Trapping is an excellent way of identifying the animals digging holes in your raised beds. You can use both inorganic (poisonous baits and repellents) and organic traps. However, setting a trap for an unknown animal is quite difficult.
Still, you can leverage different clues, including:
- The size of the whole.
- The presence of grubs near the holes.
- The nature of the droppings.
- Residue such as fur.
Therefore, if you smell skunk spray in your garden, you can go ahead to put up a skunk trap.
How To Catch Skunks and Raccoons With an Organic Trap
Catching a skunk requires a live cage trap the size of a raccoon and bait. It should be 30 inches (76.2 cm) long, 12 inches (30.48 cm) high, and 10 inches (25.4 cm) wide. You can purchase the trap or custom-make it yourself.
The walls can be solid or mesh. A solid cage is better for skunks to avoid being sprayed on. However, they aren’t readily available. Set the trap in a strategic location in your raised beds and ensure it sits firmly on the ground to avoid tipping off.
Baiting raccoons and skunks requires meat-based baits such as wet cat food or slightly spoiled bacon. Marshmallows are also perfect since they have an attractive smell, size, and shape.
Therefore, the animal can’t resist taking a bite, making it easier for it to get inside the trap. If you use cat food, ensure you have no cats around to avoid trapping your cats or the neighbor’s.
If you’re dealing with a skunk, be careful when approaching the trap to avoid being sprayed. Use an old cloth, towel, or polythene bag to wrap around the trap before lifting it. Also, ensure the skunk doesn’t see you as you approach the trap.
How To Trap Moles and Rodents With Organic Traps
These animals are more or less the same because they survive inside the tunnels. You can use a mole or rat trap which may be live. Unfortunately, live traps for moles and rodents are expensive and challenging to find, so you might be forced to use a kill trap.
Here’s how to go about it:
- Identify an active tunnel system. These animals can dig across fences, so it would help to be keen as you try to locate the tunnel. You can feel around for where the ground is soft to touch or sinks when you step. To ensure the tunnel is active, you can collapse a section and leave it for a few days to see whether the animal will dig out the dirt.
- Expose a tunnel section once you’re sure it’s active. You can use a shovel to dig out the soil carefully and not expose a large area that could make the animal suspicious.
- Set up the trap on the exposed section. Before placing the trap, it would help to press down the dirt in that section to make it harder for the mole or rodent to dig below the trap. Once the trap is in place, cover it loosely with dirt to encourage the animal to continue searching so that it’s trapped in the process. You can use various traps, including the scissor trap, harpoon trap, or choker trap.
5. Use Natural Repellents
If you have an organic garden, you might be interested in using natural repellents to deter these pests from your raised beds. Besides, using natural repellents to keep invasive animals away is at times a lot easier than the hassle of trapping them. For example, skunks and raccoons hate strong smells such as those associated with pepper and moh balls. Therefore, you can spray pepper or use skunk repellents near the raised beds to keep these diggers at bay.
Common natural skunk repellents include:
- Citrus peels
- A castor oil and dish soap solution
- Urine from predators like dogs
- Strong smelling soap
These repellents are ideal organic methods of keeping invasive animals away from your raised beds.
6. Use Chemicals
Chemical baits are alternative and inorganic methods of protecting your raised beds if you have no time for trapping or your garden is non-organic. You need to lace the bait with insecticides and place it strategically to ensure the rodents consume it.
If you suspect moles are the culprits, you can use small insects and worms as bait. Alternatively, use seeds and tubers if you speculate that mice, rats, and voles invade your raised beds.
Unfortunately, these chemical-laced baits are inefficient because they can also kill other animals and birds. To avoid this, you can try soaking some rags in an ammonia solution and hang them in or near your beds to repel pests like skunks.
Although raised beds are safer than planting on level ground, some animals can still find a way to destroy your crops. Some make holes, making it difficult to deal with diggers before you can identify them.
While making holes in your beds, the invaders unintentionally damage your crops. Moreover, some, such as raccoons, skunks, and rodents, can also munch on your crops.
Effective ways to identify, control, and prevent animals from invading your raised beds include:
- Checking the features of the hole
- Setting up a CCTV camera
- Watching your garden
- Setting up traps
- Using natural repellents
- Using chemicals