How Gophers Can Save Your Farm

In most video games, gophers are the enemy. You play the farmer. Your goal? To keep those pesky pests from digging tunnels under your precious vegetables and stealing your crops. After all, you didn’t plant your garden to feed gophers. You planted it to feed yourself.

For these reasons, home gardeners are told to build raised beds for their vegetable gardens. And, of course, properly erected fences can keep out everything else — rabbits, deer, you name it.

So imagine this organic farmer’s surprise when he finally gave up on eradicating his gopher population.

Blogger Valerie Jeffie shares his story:

It sounds like something out of a Looney Tunes episode. An exasperated farmer (we’ll call him Bob), slings his heavy shovel over one shoulder and tiptoes carefully into his blueberry patch. He kneels on the damp soil, squinting as he peers between the thick rows of flowering bushes. As he holds his breath, a furry creature pops its head above ground, sniffing in the cold spring air. Farmer Bob dashes forward. He digs, sweat dripping off his face. Dirt flies into the air making a spectacular arch.

And in the blink of an eye, the gopher is gone, popping up behind Farmer Bob this time. The gopher giggles in a chubby, furry, chortling sort of way. Repeat scene.

It just so happens that’s the real-life situation one farmer faced in California when he found his blueberry farm invaded by gophers. Try as he might to catch them–fearing that their hungry little teeth would devour his blueberry bushes–the gophers always seemed to evade his reach. Finally, accepting defeat, Farmer Bob gave the gophers the gold: free range of his blueberry crop.

And then an unexpected and quite amazing thing happened. The gophers didn’t destroy the farm or eat all his plants. In fact, these furry rodents are helping his blueberry bushes thrive.

You see, gophers dig tunnels that end up creating the ideal conditions for bumblebee nests. And bumblebees, unlike their overweight cousins, the honeybees, can squeeze perfectly between the long, narrow petals of blueberry bush flowers. See the connection yet? Gophers build the neighborhood for bumblebees. Enticed by an attractive Open House sign, the bumblebees move right in, constructing their nests in the abandoned gopher tunnels. And then, feeling quite settled and content, they fly around like crazy pollinating blueberry bushes.

It’s a perfectly natural, closed, and self-contained system.

What I want to know is this. Why don’t gophers like blueberries? Or would this happen in just about any farm?

Anyhow, the story made me smile. It’s just too ironic. Everything out there pegs gophers as pests. In this story, they’re the hero.

Organic farmers and gardeners seem to dwell in such irony. How about you? Do you have a story like this tucked away to share?

(photo by Robert Galloway)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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9 Responses to How Gophers Can Save Your Farm
  1. Mary Light via Facebook
    January 21, 2011 | 12:02 pm

    Mind co-habit on the land without going to the gardens because we follow Perelandra Nature communications and ask moles and groundhogs to please not . They listen, as to the wasps who actually move their nests.

  2. Food Renegade via Facebook
    January 21, 2011 | 12:07 pm

    I am not familiar with Perelandra Nature communications. Do you have a link?

  3. Farmer's City Wife
    January 21, 2011 | 12:57 pm

    *sigh* I’m glad they’re good for blueberries, but they wreak havoc on alfalfa; because of their dirt mounds they cause dusty hay (which makes horses sick) and destroy equipment (when if falls into their tunnels). Maybe we should grow blueberries instead.

  4. Jenny
    January 21, 2011 | 10:39 pm

    Unfortunately, allowing gophers in your blueberries is not considered a “safe” farming practice as defined by the new Food Safety Modernization Act. It could potential condemn the entire crop if witnessed by a “certifier” or “inspector”.

    • Clabbermouth
      January 23, 2011 | 1:16 pm

      Wow…do you have a link to where we can find that rule? I thought that they hadn’t yet written the safe practices!

  5. Clabbermouth
    January 23, 2011 | 1:17 pm

    This is a great story. Most plants and animals have something to give us if we can figure out how to harness their energy instead of fighting it!

  6. carol boys
    July 22, 2012 | 1:33 pm

    I have covered my blueberry plant with mesh but found all the blueberries eaten and a gopher hole at both ends. I understand the gophers are leaving a place for bumblebees to nest and I had been blaming the theft on the gophers, but now what do I do about the bees eating my fruit?

  7. Beccolina
    December 4, 2012 | 2:49 pm

    I know this is very late, but that picture is a prairie dog. A prairie dog town will destroy hundreds of acres of grazing land, pocking it with holes that make it hazardous for cattle, sheep and horses. The gopher story is a very nice story though. Hooray for bumblebees.

  8. Therea
    February 15, 2013 | 8:32 pm

    You realize that’s not a picture of a gopher you have at the beginning of the story, right? Makes me wonder if the hero of the story is actually a ground squirrel………….

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My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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