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Year of the Rabbit

Every year there is a new battle to be waged in the vegetable garden. A few years ago it was slugs, last year it was flea beetles, but this year’s opponent is small and cute, and I must admit that I let it get the better of me for a while. But once the full force of its ravenous ways became known, I realized that I would have to take action or risk losing a good portion of the veggie garden. We’ve seen the occasional rabbit at the farm the last couple of years, but we would only ever see one rabbit at a time and it was usually at the outskirts of the farm, hopping along the transition between the mowed grass areas and the adjacent blackberry thickets. Last year I suspected a rabbit was taking the occasional nibble on the swiss chard, but no serious damage was done. This year the rabbits are more abundant, and I often see two at a time. They are also spending more time in the garden, and doing some rather serious damage. The irony is that this year I decided to try to do more companion plantings by planting chives and marigolds throughout the garden to protect the veggies from aphids, and the rabbits apparently love both chives and marigolds and they nibbled both of these as well as a couple of dozen leeks nearly down to the ground before I realized that I was going to have to protect them or risk losing these plants. The smaller kale starts were also taking a hit, and the couple dozen oriental lilies and sunflowers that I had planted in the veggie garden had been nibbled down to nothing.

When we first put in the vegetable garden, we knew that we needed to protect it from the deer. We put up an electric fence, which has worked great to keep the deer out, but the rabbits can hop right under it. Rather than adding something like chicken wire around the bottom of the entire garden fence, which would be a pain when it comes to mowing the grass around the garden, I decided to use individual plant cages to protect the smaller plants. This has worked pretty well, although I learned the hard way that the rabbits can stick their heads through the plant cages that are made with wire mesh with larger openings, as they managed to bite off the top two thirds of one of the eggplants despite it having a cage around it. The rabbits also attempted to thwart our efforts to protect the blueberries from the birds. This year we put up a new and improved hoop house-style bird net over the blueberries to make harvesting them easier since I can walk underneath the hoops and net as I harvest berries. It was working great until one day when I went up to the garden to see a blueberry branch moving up and down and a bunny fleeing the scene of the crime. The bunny had nibbled several rabbit sized holes in the blueberry net and was indulging in the berries. A second more durable plastic fence was added around the bottom two feet of the bird netting, which is keeping the rabbits out, although unfortunately a few birds are still managing to find their way into the net. This morning there were four birds flying around under the net, which we freed, and then I spent quite a bit of time crawling around on my hands and knees patching up several other holes that the rabbits must have made in the net before we put up the second fence. I am hoping that we have the rabbit situation under control for this year. I am a bit worried that instead of seeing two cute bunnies hopping around in the backyard next year that there will be vast hordes of bunnies running rampant at the farm. If that is the case we are going to have to seriously step up our game, or perhaps I’ll have to consider adding rabbit stew to the summer menu!

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