This summer we had a uninvited, little furry guest on our deck – a single vole. A vole is a rodent, a bit smaller than a hamster. Like the boreal forest squirrels, voles have a reddish back and their fur on the side is grayish-brownish. Unlike a squirrel, a vole has no tail. We watch the little vole every day all summer climbing up one of our gooseberry bushes. Once on the deck, the vole fed on the sunflower seeds that had fallen down from the bird feeder. We admired how cute the little vole looks when holding a seed and munching on it. The vole often stayed patiently waiting for seeds to fall down, when a squirrel was rioting the bird feeder. When a squirrel came down onto the deck the vole never disrupted enjoying the seeds. The squirrels never also didn’t care about the vole either.
Last Saturday, I went out into the yard to harvest a kohlrabi. Upon approaching the vegetable bed, I saw that the potato leaves had turned yellow. Typically, the leaves don’t do so before mid September. “This fall everything seems to be earlier than last year even the onset of the final harvest.” I thought and turned my steps towards the bed to take a closer look.
If someone would have taken a photo of me, my face could have been the blueprint for facebook’s “wow” button. The entire potato bed looked like a Trappist cheese, dozens of little nearly round wholes just side-by-side. “I better harvest the potatoes now before the voles bite more potatoes than the did last year.” were my thoughts and I went into the garage to get the pitchfork and the potato buckets. Last year, we had to discard about 5 lb (2.268 kg) because voles had chewed on them.
The pitchfork went into the soil with an unexpected ease. I lifted the pitchfork and discovered an underground silo like chamber full of little potatoes of all colors and sorts. They were stapled neatly and small carrots were used as wedges to prevent the potatoes from rolling away. In this amazing storage was also the wrist big mushroom that I wanted to take a photo off, but couldn’t as it was gone when I came with the camera a day ago. I was deeply impressed by this well made and well stocked reservoir chamber. What an amount of work and how diligent the owner(s) have been this summer!
I felt bad and sorry for the owner(s) when destroying and removing the food chamber. The poor owner(s) would loose an entire summer’s work. I felt like being a hurricane or tornado, like a fire, being evil. “What will the owner live off this winter?” were my thoughts.
After this – in my opinion awful – job was done, I put the pitchfork to the next potato plant. Upon lifting, all that was left was the smashed seed potato. Ok, the potatoes had probably been transported into the chamber. Thus, I went on to the next. Same here, no potatoes at all except the rest of the smashed seed potato. The same scenario repeated for 2 yard (1.83 m), i.e to the end of the potato row in the bed. From there I started on the second row working back to the other side of the potato bed. I lifted the first two plants. No potatoes either. Instead I dag out a vole sleeping chamber filled with grass for comfort, insulation and a soft bedding (see photo below). Upon pitching into the soil at the third plant in the second row my eyes went over the bed towards the rhubarb bed.
My face froze within a second into a terrified mask. Underneath one of the toilet seat size rhubarb leaves I saw another storage chamber of which the rhubarb leave made the ceiling. I went over to the new detected food reservoir. Here the stored potatoes were much larger in size, and I wondered whether voles could have transported them. The entire chamber looked like work in progress as compared to the one before. Pulling out the potatoes from underneath the rhubarb leave and throwing them onto the lawn to the other potatoes, I stumbled because my left foot had hit a third storage chamber.
My head was exploding. In a comic, smoke would have left my ears or the cartoonist would have extended my head with a little erupting volcano. I left the potato bed, threw my dirty leather garden gloves onto the lawn while rushing to the house. While kicking off my shoes I opened the deck door, and went straight to the kitchen sink to wash my hands. “Guess what funny thing happened in the German election campaign” my husband said while I dried my hands. He was sitting in the dinning room with his laptop to check the soccer results of the German, Italian, English and Spanish leagues like every Saturday in the soccer season. My brain queued his words somewhere. I was too upset and terrified about my finds in the potato bed.
My husband looked up at me and my frozen face. It must have looked like an angry, but frightened Halloween mask. “What happened?” he asked standing up and walked towards me. “Have a look at this mess” I heard myself saying. My voice sounded like an echo. I was still upset. He followed me when I left the room for the yard with my camera in my hands. “These were all stored in chambers and here is a third one” I screamed pointing wildly with both arms towards the potatoes and the bed full of little wholes and yellow dead potato plants.
He didn’t say a word and just looked in total disbelieve at the potatoes, the bed full of tunnels, and the still intact chambers. “What was the funny thing of the German election campaign you wanted to tell me about?” I asked him in a calm voice as now his words entered my consciousness. He shook his head and went back to the house without saying a word.
I took the photos for this post and brought the camera back into the house. Upon my return he was busy digging with the pitchfork. The third plant in the second row was the first he lifted. We both smiled. There were 5 big russets totally untouched.
“A member of Die Partei said to the candidate that the city rules require homeowners to label their houses with Arabic numbers. He asked the candidate what he would intend to do about this alienation. The candidate responded that when he will be elected major he would make sure that all houses will be marked with normal numbers.” my husband said. “Oh, my goodness. Who will give this guy their vote when he doesn’t even know that the Germans use Arabic numbers! One can directly imagine what else he doesn’t know including running a city.” “That we use Latin letters?” “He could go back to Sütterlin1.” We both laughed out loud while continuing the harvest.
We sorted out everything that obviously was chewed on, which together with the storage was about 1/6 of the harvest. “Probably the loss is even larger as some were picked early and did grow” my husband said. About 5 lb turned out to be chewed on and had to be discarded when we had washed them. “How do we get rid of these voles?” “Don’t worry, they all go away as there is no food for them anymore.” “Yeah, back to the schoolyard where they came from. Back on a diet of chewed on lunch peanut butter jam sandwiches thrown away by the kids. Disgusting!” We both laughed.
1 Sütterlin is the historical form of German handwriting. In Germany of the 60s, students had to learn this writing in 4th grade for improvement of their handwriting in Latin letters and to be able to read letters from their grandparents who still used to write this way.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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