Good Fruit Grower

April 15

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TUCK RETIRES, Tuck's Dwellings continues T uck Contreras turned her cabinetry and construction skills to making birdhouses for growers more than four years ago when she founded Tuck's Dwellings, maker of barn owl, kestrel, small bird, and bat nesting boxes. Contreras, of Hood River, Oregon, recently retired and sold her business. A longtime wildlife enthusiast and carpenter for 40 years, Contreras was first approached by Oregon cherry grower Mike Omeg in 2008, who needed some barn owl and kestrel boxes. That led to an order of about 100 boxes from area orchardists. In all, she's made about 500 boxes, Contreras said. Several years ago, she raised orphan barn owls through the Rowena Wildlife Clinic of The Dalles, Oregon. The clinic provides veterinary services for injured and orphaned wildlife. The orphans were raised in a barn owl box she built, housed at Omeg Orchards. The experience was valuable in indentifying modifications that would improve her bird boxes. For example, she learned the importance of having two clean-out doors for the box. She also increased the size of her boxes so that babies would have a little more room. Her largest box undertaking was building a bat house for the city of Mosier to house thousands of bats. Dennis Buschauer, also of Hood River, now owns Tuck's Dwellings. He continues to carry on Contreras's passion for birds and bats. To learn more, visit www.tucksdwellings .com. —M. Hansen family will consume about 120 per night during the brood months. Single barn owl adults eat at least one gopher or up to ten voles per night for the rest of the year. He estimated that with a cost of $5 to $7.50 per acre for bait material, treating 5 percent of a 200-acre block, twice a year, would cost $100 to $150 per year, not including cost of the equipment or labor. "Once occupied, barn owl boxes (two costing $500 total) will pay for themselves in saved rodenticide costs in three to five years," he said. "And even less time if you figure your equipment and labor costs." Gopher bounties Orphan barn owls raised by Tuck Contreras in a nesting box installed in Omeg Orchards. A web cam followed the owlets' growth. "Once occupied, barn owl boxes will pay for themselves in saved rodenticide costs in three to five years." photo by melissa hansen photo by geraldine warner At one time, Omeg used trapping to supplement his pocket gopher control efforts. Trapping gophers is effective if populations are high enough and workers are motivated, he said, adding that orchardists often pay their workers a bounty for trapped gophers as a way to earn extra money. Omeg used to pay $2.50 per gopher (growers in the Hood River-Parkdale area were paying $3.50), and he provided the traps at no cost. "Several of my guys were making an extra $400 to $500 every month during the spring and summer for their trapping efforts. —Mike Omeg It was pretty good money to them. "But now, I have such few gophers that no one wants to do it. Traps just aren't practical for me anymore because I'd have to pay by the hour." He attributes the reduced gopher population to the raptors that have moved into his orchard. Omeg has placed 75 barn owl and kestrel nesting boxes in Omeg Orchards in the last three years. The boxes also have raptor perches attached to them. Today, his rodent control program consists of raptors, bait stations in high population areas (4-inch diameter ABS corrugated plastic drain tubing), and he uses the Verminator, a burrow-building implement pulled behind a tractor. The Verminator, manufactured by Inventive Products of Mountain Home, Idaho, is pulled through the orchard rows when the ground is still moist enough to allow the machine to build a burrow. The newly made burrows intersect or are near gopher burrows, and the gophers enter the new tunnel out of curiosity or to search for food. A bait hopper allows bait to be laid in the burrow by the machine every three feet. Omeg has had such good results with the Verminator that he purchased two so he could get through the orchard in a timely manner. "You only have a certain window of time when the soil is moist but not too wet," he said. He likes to put two different types of bait in the hopper, believing that he increases his odds of getting gophers to eat the bait. "At certain times of the year, they seem to prefer one bait over another." The Verminator comes in two sizes: one for a tractor with 35 to 200 horsepower and the junior model for smaller acreages (30 to 60 hp tractor). The large model retails for around $5,000. Omeg no longer uses zinc phosphide because it doesn't fit his operation. If the ground is wet, the zinc phosphide deactivates, and it can be dangerous to workers when applying. In the past, Omeg used what he calls the "gopher bomb." The Rodenator injects a controlled mixture of propane and oxygen into a rodent burrow. A self-contained ignition system creates an underground shock wave or concussion that instantly eliminates rodents and collapses the Growers check out the Verminator, a burrow-building burrow. implement that lays bait in burrows designed to Because his rodent populations are now reduced, he no longer traps or reach gophers. uses the Rodenator. • GOOD FRUIT GROWER April 15, 2013 29

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