Learn how to control gophers, on March 16 at the UCSC Farm

Kids can learn about farm predators during concurrent workshop

If those telltale mounds of freshly upturned earth in your garden make you hiss like an agitated house cat, you'll want to learn the best ways to keep your garden gopher-free during a workshop on Saturday, March 16, at the UC Santa Cruz Farm.

Last year was a banner year for gophers, and this year is shaping up to be "pretty severe," according to workshop leader Thomas Wittman, who will share his tips on controlling and excluding gophers from 10 a.m. to noon at the Louise Cain Gatehouse on the UCSC Farm.

Wittman's talk will focus on nonpoison strategies of gopher control, including traps and exclusion. He'll introduce his favorite trap, cover the pros and cons of various exclusion methods, and discuss predators from domestic cats to barn owls. He'll also give you the lowdown on a range of high-priced gadgets that don't work.

Gophers are among the most destructive pests in the farm and garden. A single gopher can take out a mature apple tree, said Wittman, adding that the 25-acre UCSC Farm was trapping about 15 gophers a day at the peak of last year's summer harvest.

"I think of Santa Cruz and San Jose as the gopher heartland. We have the perfect climate for them," said educator and consultant Wittman, a partner in the Molino Creek Farming Collective and owner of Gophers, Ltd.

March and April are breeding months for gophers, with females giving birth to an average of four to 10 young per litter. At about three weeks of age, when her young are capable of foraging for themselves, the mother kicks her young out of the burrow, and within four or five months, those offspring are capable of reproducing, said Wittman, whose workshop will be half lecture and half field demonstration.

Cost is $10; $5 for members of the Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden. Fees are payable at the workshop. For more information, call (831) 459-3240. The workshop is cosponsored by the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems and the Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden.

Concurrent with the gopher talk will be a workshop for children, "Predators on Our Farm." Sponsored by the Life Lab Science Program based at UCSC, this workshop for children ages 7-11 will explore bats, owls, and other predators that help control pests in the garden. Highlights include educational activities, a farm tour, and videos. The children's workshop will take place on Saturday, March 16, from 10 a.m. to noon in the Life Lab Garden Classroom at the UCSC Farm. Cost is $5 per child. Preregistration is required; for more information or to register, call (831) 459-2001.

The UCSC Farm is located 1/4 mile up the gravel road above the Blacksmith Shop; free public parking is available across the street from the Blacksmith Shop in the Physical Plant parking lot.

The Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden is a community-based group that promotes public awareness of organic gardening and farming.