Friday, February 02, 2007

Moles and mustard gas - more death in the garden

‘I’m not enjoying this.’’ I called out to my wife.

She was standing at the upstairs window as I held a struggling mole underwater in the fishpond. ‘I’m sorry,‘ she said. What else could she say? Even though it was all HER fault.

The mole showed no signs of giving up its struggle. ‘I really am NOT enjoying this,’ I called out again.

For a while in the mid-nineties, my troubles with moles became an absolute obsession. They weren’t much of a problem at the Claremont house as most of the front was paved and the back garden was small enough to keep them at bay. Then, in 1994, we moved to Kenilworth. The new house had a much bigger garden. The previous owners had neglected it but the fundamentals were still there, including a big area of patchy lawn that wouldn’t take much to be transformed into a luxuriant stretch of green grass. Fertilizer, regular watering and lots of loving care were all it needed. I was in my element. I’d always been a keen gardener and the new garden offered so many more possibilities than the old one. Within the space of a few months, the lawn looked amazing. It was perfect for volley ball, frolicking with the dogs and, best of all, lying on. I loved lying on it on a hot summer’s day, feeling its moisture cool my skin as I looked at Devil’s Peak in the distance.

the lawn
And then the moles arrived!

There’d been no sign of them when we moved to the house so I can only assume that the much softer, moister soil I’d created after several months of devotion to the lawn had turned it into an attractive place for moles who were feeling over-crowded in our neighbours’ lawns. My every morning was greeted with fresh signs of them - huge mounds of black soil dotted all over the place; long tunnels zigzagging across the lawn like drunken spider legs. They incensed me. Stamping down the soil provided brief relief - their traces were less obvious and it gave my aggression towards them a necessary outlet. But it didn’t get rid of them. Before long, parts of the lawn were looking patchy again.

Something had to be done!

It’s amazing how many home-made remedies you hear about when you get a group of gardeners together and discuss mole problems. Ground glass, Jeyes fluid, soapy water, you name it. They all insist that their remedy works and that it’s the best. I tried them all. Some seemed to work but never for long. Then someone mentioned mustard gas.

‘You mean the stuff they used in the first world war?’ I asked.

‘Yes, the same; It's called Phostoxin, you can buy it at the chemist. It comes in big pellets that you stick into the tunnels after you’ve moistened the soil. The moisture releases the gas which then travels along the tunnels, killing the moles. But you have to be really careful with the stuff, it’s lethal.’

This stuff had to work! The following day, I asked for it at Noyes, the chemist on the corner, expecting to have to sign a poison register or something. Not only was there no need for a signature, but it wasn’t even kept behind the counter. Tubes of the stuff were on a shelf where they kept a small number of gardening items.

don't drink it, aliceWear rubber gloves….Do not handle with bare hands….Do not inhale fumes….Do not use during windy conditions….Contact your doctor on accidental inhalation….

My great-grandfather was buried in Flanders Fields (read more here). I’d read Owen, Sassoon, Remarque and others. To say I was nervous the first time I used the stuff, would be an understatement. I handled it with great care! It definitely worked as there was an immediate decrease in mole activity. Not permanently, however. Every time there was any sign of mole activity, out would come the mustard gas. Over time, I became blasé about using it, even handling the pellets with my bare hands. That stopped when I accidentally inhaled some fumes and felt an awful closing sensation in my chest. I can be so stupid at times!

I didn’t know what actually happened to the moles nor did I care. I assumed that overcome by fumes they curled up and died in their tunnels. I’m sure that’s what happened but the gas wasn’t always as lethal as I expected it to be. I suppose its effect dissipated the further away you got from where the pellet was placed and the more holes there were that connected the tunnels to the surface. Sometimes a gassed mole would emerge from its tunnel, blind, dazed and confused.

The first few times it happened, Headman, the gardener, was there to deal with it. He wasn’t there the day my wife rung me at the office.

‘You’ve got to come home. There’s a mole on the lawn.’

‘Now? What do you want me to do about it?’ I asked.

“You must put it out of its misery. It’s boiling out there and Barney (our large German Shepherd) keeps bothering it. I’m keeping him inside now.’

‘Can’t you do something about it?’

‘I can’t, you must.’

Who can argue with logic like that? Twenty minutes later, I was looking at what seemed to be a dead mole on the lawn. Hardly surprising as it had been gassed with Phostoxin, mauled by Barney then laid out to dry in the scorching sun for several hours. I picked it up. I was ready to toss it into the dustbin when I noticed a faint heartbeat. Shit, the poor thing was still alive! Just barely, mind you. I did the first thing that came to mind – held it under the water in the fishpond. A quick drowning would put it out of its misery.

Barely a second later, it was struggling like a wild animal. Not an almost dead one, very much a wild animal with lots of life in it.

Having started to drown the mole, I felt that I had to continue. Although the water may have revived it, it had to have been severely weakened by all that had happened to it that day, including being held under water. I continued holding it under while it tried its best to squirm out of my hand. ‘This won’t last much longer,’ I kept thinking to myself. The squirming wouldn’t stop. ‘Please die now,’ I said to myself, over and over again. Suddenly it stopped; it was dead. How long it took, I don’t know, but, to use a cliché, it seemed like an eternity. It was truly, absolutely horrid!

Next time it happened, I chopped off the mole’s head with a spade.


Blogger andrea said...

Fortunately, especially after reading this, our run-in with the Evil Mole was short-lived. I think the dog scared them away. BTW check out my blog for a real stab at African art this time.

6:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a great story. You should be a writer.

4:12 am  
Blogger Dail Wagner said...

What country are you from and are you still able to get hold of this miraculous product for the local chemist?

12:32 am  

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