The vole that ate my potatoes

Mystery vole

This morning while digging the last potatoes from the garden, I disturbed this vole. At first sight, it darted from a clod of earth I’d dug into the straw. But then a few minutes later I saw it again, shuddering beside the garden, obviously stunned.

I never get a chance to inspect a live mouse or vole closely, so I took the opportunity. It had distinct, rather lovely gold bands, like a mantle along its sides, and a tail longer than its body.

I expected it to be a common meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus. However, the rodent atlas on Ontario Nature’s site says they have “uniformly dark brown or grayish pelage (Peterson 1966).” I didn’t have a rule, but estimate the animal stretched out would have measure about 9 cm, with a tail almost as long.

Voles are supposed to have shorter tails than mice. But this was certainly not a deer mouse or white-footed mouse, and other vole species of Ontario are more boreal and do not seem to have this colouration. So this little creature is a puzzle. Hopefully, by posting these pictures, I’ll be able to find someone more knowledgeable who can identify it.

Mystery vole with long tail

We have to snap-trap mice at the cottage constantly to keep the place clean and liveable, and I hate doing it. Still, I had a thought to bash this individual with the side of my garden fork. Last year voles consumed almost my entire planting of potatoes, but this year the crop took hardly any damage. Fortunately, I felt more pity than bitterness.

I don’t know whether it was cold and disoriented, or perhaps I had injured it in digging and stomping around. It was trembling and seemed incapable of running away. After taking these pictures, I covered it with straw.

Here are the six varieties of potatoes I grew this year (clockwise from top left): linzer delicatess, pink fir apple, warba, banana, yellow finn and caribe.

Potato varieties

Pink fir apple and banana are two fingerling varieties I tried to grow last year, but most of the seed potatoes were eaten. I saved a few in the basement through the winter and planted them this spring. They’re both late varieties. I just harvested them this morning. There were only a few small pink fir apples, but the bananas were probably the most prolific plants I’ve grown this year. We haven’t tasted any yet.

Pink-eyed warba is very tasty, one of my favourite varieties from previous years. Caribe is white-fleshed, tastes not bad, and is good for boiling or baking. These are both early varieties. We had our first meal of new caribe potatoes in mid-July and I dug the rest about six weeks ago. Warba was ready a month ago.

Linzer delicatess and yellow finn are mid-season potatoes. I planted them in the newest bed, so the soil fertility was not the greatest, and they did not produce as many tubers as might be expected, but plenty for our purposes.

I dug the linzer delicatess about 10 days ago. I’ve been cutting them in half, drizzling them with olive oil and some seasoning, and roasting them at 425°F for 20 minutes. And they are a sensation, another variety I look forward to growing for years to come.

The yellow finn came out of the garden just two days ago, and we haven’t tried any yet, but they are supposed to be one of the tastiest gourmet potatoes. In richer soil they would be abundant producers, and they’re supposed to be good keepers.

Since I had such good results from the wintered-over potatoes, I’ll save a few of each variety for seed next year. We expect to move this fall, so hopefully I’ll be starting a new garden somewhere next spring. I won’t plant many potatoes, because they need a lot of space and rich, mature soil; not too much fresh compost.

But for this time around I have a large harvest of potatoes in baskets on the basement stairs. They should keep us well for most of the winter.

3 thoughts on “The vole that ate my potatoes

  1. Your long-tailed vole is a jumping mouse for sure — dark back, very long time, large hind feet, and being active during daylight is the final nail. Long-tailed voles are plumper, plain colored, and the tail is only “long” in relation to other voles, which have very short tails. By most standards, the tail of the long-tailed vole is short, not long. Nice photo, though.

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