Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wascally wabbits!

At the end of March, I transplanted 50 cole crops that I had started from seed in the basement. There were 20 broccoli plants, 15 green cabbages, 5 red cabbages, and 10 Brussels sprouts. A week later, there were zero. The plants had been eaten down to the dirt. I had planted Swiss chard seeds, and just as I started to get excited about them coming up, they were gone. By then, I realized we had some sort of hungry vegetarian thief in the garden, but I wasn't completely sure what. Did we need a taller fence to keep out deer, or did we need to dig into the ground to stop rabbits? Finding no droppings left me with little information on which to base my decision.

Then I sat a flat of 50 pepper plants in a raised bed. I thought they'd be safe. The bed is a foot high. But the next day, half of the plants were gone. A couple people on Facebook suggested moles or rats. We had rats eat plants when we started them in the pump room a few years ago. So, we never did that again.

The peas that we planted at the end of March were about three inches tall when they were murdered. Luckily we hadn't weeded lately, so the leaves under weeds survived, but I don't know if we'll have peas at this point. Will the stress of losing most of their leaves (but not all) be enough to kill the pea plants?

We planted several tomato plants and put cages around them made with rabbit wire. One of the cages did not sit perfectly flat on the ground (and we couldn't make it sit flat) -- and the next day the cage was moved, and the tomato plant was gone.

We ultimately decided that rabbits were the culprits because we never saw any deer tracks. A deer walking on freshly tilled earth during or after a rain would leave tracks, so we ruled out deer, and we started planning a rabbit-proof fence.

Mike is digging down next to the existing fence, and he and Jonathan are burying chicken wire, so that rabbits can't go under the fence. We don't think the rabbits had to dig to get into the garden, because there were some dips in the dirt under the fence where a rabbit could have easily squeezed in or out. However, we didn't want to simply eliminate those weaknesses, only to have the rabbits start digging, since they already know what a wonderful buffet we have inside the fence. Mike and Jonathan started working on this last week, and then it started raining on Friday.

Sunday I was planning to put out more pepper and tomato transplants while Mike continued to work on the fence. Then I saw that every last leek was gone! And if you've ever grown leeks, you know how long they take to grow! I started them inside in January, and they currently look like cocktail straws. Yeah, they're small. The rows of beets were also completely barren, and many of them had already sprouted. That's when I decided to head back inside. I vowed not to plant another seed or transplant until the reinforced rabbit fence is in place.

Then last night I went to get some turnip greens for dinner. The only things the rabbits don't eat are turnip greens, radishes, and green onions -- or so I thought. When I went to get the turnips last night, I discovered that the rabbits had developed a taste for radish greens. With their leaves all gone, the radishes would have rotted in the ground, so I pulled up every one that I could find.

The rabbits have eaten so many plants -- they would have produced at least a hundred pounds of vegetables -- that I am not a happy gardener. Hopefully Mike will finish the fence today or tomorrow, and we'll be able to finish planting.


Wallene said...

Deborah that is harsh - I hope the fence works, sounds as though it will. I know rabbit stew is pretty tasty - do you have any traps? Kidding [sort of]

Wish you well and good luck with the rabbits.

clink said...

Try a few of these things ... sometimes they work.

1) Spray a solution of egg and water. Rabbits supposedly hate the smell.

2) Hair sometimes works.. human or dog.

3) Let your dog mark around the garden.

4) mothballs

5) Pinwheels, strips of shiny mylar tied to the fence. Anything that will move in the wind.

6) And there is a rabbit-repellent. You might try that --I have never looked at the label.

7) Surround the garden with marigolds .... this is pretty dubious but some people swear by it.

I don't have rabbits. Barn cats ... lots of barn cats.

Mama Pea said...

Oh, gosh, my heart just kept sinking as I read through your post! How disheartening. Gardening is hard work even when everything goes swimmingly. It's so discouraging when you lose all the work that starting plants and sowing seeds entails.

But I guess we all face such problems when we start out on a new place. Ours was insects/cutworms that 'bout drove us nuts until we got the soil in good shape. You'll get the rabbit problem under control, but so sorry you have had to take the hard knocks thus far.

Chef E said...

Oh no, I would not be happy either. One year the kids and I worked so hard planting and I would come out and only find stems just above the ground and they were not growing, so I found out that I had monkey grass full of hungry grass hopper babies, so I had to take action. We had not had harsh enough winters to kill the bugs, and I could almost blame that on my moving to the NE, but it was also the sever heat!

Deer eat plants here!

Oh and I agree with many things 'Clink' is saying, chili spray works too, no animal will eat that!

Twwly said...

Ever read Michael Pollans Second Nature: A Gardener's Education? He gets a row on with a ground hog, reminds me of your rabbit problem. Comic relief/commiseration.

I hope it's solved soon, how infuriating!

kstrating said...

Grrr - I sympathize! I am fighting rabbits - big time -, as well. They started w/ the celery (covered it w/ milk jugs), they moved on to the cabbage & broccoli, then the peppers. A friend gave me a recipe for a spray that seems to be working well... note: I sprayed everything, EXCEPT the peas (because they'd left them alone). Guess what? They decided to sample the peas! Peas are now sprayed, as well. Needs to be resprayed after watering or rain.

1 Gal water
3 T Tobasco (or hot pepper spray)
1 t dish soap (surfactant)
2 eggs
5 garlic gloves

Blend 1 C water from the gallon w/ rest of ingredients in blender. Let steep 2 days.
Strain, shake well, & fill empty spray bottle.

(I used the garlic juice from my qt of minced garlic, so I wouldn't need to wait the 2 days!)

Debby said...

How heartbreaking. I have a month in Iraq until I finish my contract and move to my new farm in Indiana. Since it will be July, I plan on getting a garden ready and fencing it off to protect next year's plants. I'm glad I follow your blog because I have now decided that I will need a bit more protection than I had planned. I hope that the rabbits quit using your garden for breakfast.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Mike finished the fence today, and I transplanted celery, eggplant, parsley, and some tomatoes. I don't want to do more until I know that this works! I put tomato cages around some and left some exposed, so if they can still get in, they won't be able to eat everything in one night.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I hope I don't need them, but we'll see. Love the pinwheel idea. Even if it doesn't keep out rabbits, it'll be pretty. :)

Twwly -- a Michael Pollan book I have NOT read! I should put that on my winter reading list.

Debby -- We had no fence the first two or three years, and we had no rabbit problems. Now we have a fence, but it's not good enough. Maybe fences attract rabbits? Crazy!

Nancy K. said...

You must have some pretty FAT rabbits around your place!

I hope the reinforced fence makes them move on...


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