Thursday, June 7, 2007

Kill the Wabbit

“They don’t come out at night, do they?” said the Man with the Perfect Lawn to me, as we watched a half-grown Eastern cottontail rabbit lope around the corner of a picket fence in someone else’s yard. But alas, yes, they do. Judging by the damage I have found, they come out in droves after dark and don’t stop eating until dawn. Lawn Guy doesn’t have anything to worry about; his soil is fertile and his plants are large enough to withstand a sustained attack. Moreover, many of his plants are nightshades, whose poisonous leaves rabbits won’t touch.

Now I understand why Elmer Fudd hated Bugs Bunny so passionately. Bugs is the personification—or cartoonification, perhaps—of all that one imagines bunnies to be, after one discovers that they are chomping through one’s vegetable patch. His slyness and insouciance are calculated to irritate. Even his name connotes a certain pestiferous quality in the character, for it reminds the gardener of the insect pests that infest the growing plants.

My newly planted fence kept out the intruders for but one night. On the next night, the rabbit found its way in, beheading a couple of newly emerged bean plants and one of the two remaining pea plants. There was no sign of disturbance beneath the fence, but I doubted a small cottontail could make a 30-inch hop (including the 20 inches of fence that protruded above the garden and the 10-inch wooden sides of the raised bed). I surmised that the animal had gotten in underneath the fence, most likely at the corners, where there was a little space at the bottom.

Rocks, I thought, were my answer. In this land of gluey clay soil, there is no shortage of rocks. The shovel hits a large rock with every thrust. I took some of the rocks from the cairn I had made beneath the wooden deck, and I filled in all the gaps I could find at the corners of my garden. “Try and dig through that!” I thought. Such ideas tempt the jealous gods. I had no faith that my efforts would work. But when I next looked at the peas, the nasturtiums, and the emerging bean plants, there were no further signs of damage. Some of the peas were making a weak attempt at rallying, growing small leaves at the base of the stem.

Elsewhere in the backyard, my plants were not so lucky. A balloon flower plant I had stuck in the ground a few days ago is much smaller than it was, though it has not yet been completely razed. The rabbit cut down a foot-high aster plant to a height of 3 inches. A lupine plant that has been trying gamely since last year to raise itself a few inches above the ground has lost its pretty, palm-frond-shaped leaves time and time again. I have begun to cover some of these unfortunates with upturned plant pots at night.

Luckily, the rabbits haven’t shown any interest in the watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, and cucumber that have only recently grown their first true leaves. The rabbits either don’t like how they taste or find the leaves of these cucurbit plants too tough. So far, so good . . . I may not have any peas, but I will have melons, and I’ll be damned if I let a few chomped-down plants discourage me from planting more pole beans. Anything that comes from this garden will have the added flavor of victory, sharp and sweet.

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Two months ago, a litter of cute, fist-sized bunnies was born in a furry nest beneath my neighbors’ kitchen door. While others fawned over the little creatures, I stood away, muttering grim prophecies that have, at last, come to pass. The rabbit is out of the bag, and he is a hungry devil, who brings all his friends, brothers, sisters, and associates to the banquet.

The main attraction of this lapine smorgasbord, for the last two nights, has been my formerly six-inch-high pea plants, tender-leaved, succulent seedlings that were far too young to be allowed out at night alone. Most of those plants are now one or two inches high, and those that have more than one leaf left can count themselves fortunate indeed. A pole bean seedling, meanwhile, fared far worse in the latest rampage, having been foully and mercilessly slaughtered, cut down to the ground just as it was feeling its way toward a strong support.

One neighbor (who is a non-gardener) suggested planting marigolds to deter the creatures. I pooh-poohed the idea. Even if I believed that marigolds are a strong rabbit repellent, I would still have no confidence that flowers alone, howsoever stinky, would deter a rabbit that knew quite well what it was going after. I offended my neighbor by mumbling something about rabbit stew. Later on, I bought a length of two-foot-high nylon-covered wire fencing and unrolled it around the garden. Perhaps the little marauders will find a way under my fence, but the barrier will at least tax their ingenuity and strength for a time, and siphon off some of the energy they have already usurped from my high-maintenance garden plants.

At night, I am re-reading Watership Down for perhaps the eighteenth time. Though I still love that tale of rabbits on the run from residential development and still sympathize with Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and the rest of their crew, I am not deluded thereby into believing that bunnies are our friends. Like all the other creatures on the earth, rabbits are herbivorous competitors that must be discouraged from consuming the dainties we desire. My mother, who memorized Peter Rabbit when my brother and I were young, says I have turned into Mr. McGregor. So I have, and it is only natural that I should. The unwritten code of the ancient and hard-working cadre of gardeners requires me to accept that I must do a certain amount of fighting for my future meals, and that the fiercest of those struggles will likely be against my fellow creatures.

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