I have them, doesn’t everyone? I learned a thing or two about our wild rabbits the other night.
Sitting in my old chair at the TV the other night, the dog and the cat were goofing around as usual. All of a sudden, there was a high-pitched squeal. Thinking it was that emboldened squirrel who comes in the cat door to eat morsels of cat food, I knocked the broom handle around wildly under a little table to scare it out of its hiding place.
Nothing. Not a jitter nor a squeak. Then I noticed there was something huddled up tightly in the corner under the table amidst the old books and boxed games. It was so pressed up against the wall that it could have melted into it. A little baby bunny sat still-- fear keeping it quiet and hardly breathing.
My cat Buster has this idea that if he brings baby rabbits indoors as gifts that I will like him better and feed his fat belly more. He’ll come in through his little makeshift cat door with a live bundle in his mouth, then set it aside to harass, torture, and bat around later. Not this time, though. I scooped the rabbit up gently and brought it outside to a neighboring yard where it could have a decent chance of surviving.
In my search for info to help my little frightened visitor, I learned that because rabbits are high on the food chain as an appetizer and main meal, the mother feeds them on the run. She’ll feed them heavily and quickly with super nutritious milk only twice a day, and never sleep with them for fear of predators. Hunching over the little shallow nest of fur, she’ll nurse them quickly then be off.
So much for our visions of a deep “Alice in Wonderland” hole. The rabbit nest is almost laughable-- out in the middle of a pasture or lawn, they are small indentations lined with fur. In the open, it’s amazing there are so many of them that survive to eat us out of home and garden at all!
But, survive they do. And they do amazingly well. Knowing now what I never knew as a kid, I know why I could never save a young rabbit. When I was a kid, I used to try and bottle feed the babies. No luck. They are stressed easily, need a super nutritious and filling diet, and when a cat bites them, it is often the fatal feline bacteria that kills them.
With all that goes against them-- great predator food, lawnmowers ravaging nests, and a virtually mother-less life, rabbits survive and end up in our yards by the dozens eating clover as well as our garden lettuce, flowers, and newly planted vegetables.
I just thought my gardening friends would like to know a few things about the creatures that on one hand touch our hearts, and on the other drive us crazy in our gardens. We can fence our gardens in, spray deterrent, or just give in. As the old farm adage goes: Plant two for the farmer and one for the bunnies.
Meanwhile, the end of the bunny story ends well, I think. After fishing the poor thing out of the pond while the cat was chasing it again, I placed it in a little shelter made out of a turned over plastic flower pot. It could get out, but, the cat couldn’t get in. One can only hope. It’s my fault that cat is outside. More birds and small animals are killed by domestic cats than by any other animal. It’s a choice we make and have to live with. I’m not proud of it.
When I held that little bunny in my hands, that old feeling came back. My hometown of Tinton Falls in the old days was surrounded by many open fields and woods. Baby bunnies, raccoons, and birds were a part of our childhood landscape. We know more these days about wild animals than we did back in the day when well-meaning kids like me tried to keep baby raccoons in cages, and feed baby rabbits regular milk. Thankfully, there’s now a growing respect for the animals that we live with and a knowledge that we can’t keep them, control them, or destroy them.
I think we want it all. Beautiful homes, lawns and gardens away from the bustling cities while at the same time not wanting deer and rabbits eating our plants. It’s hard to come to a compromise. We can use organic products like Animal Stopper to sprinkle around plants as a deterrent, and they work very well when used properly. Cutting your choices of desirable plants is an option as well-- but, who wants to severely cut back on the beautiful veggies and flowers we can grow during a very short season?
Fences and barriers work well. My co-worker Natale and I are planting our vegetables over in the town garden plots in Fair Haven Fields. Anyone from Monmouth County can sign up for $25. a season, and it’s a place of beauty and tranquility away from the bustle of suburbia. While years ago it was a simple endeavor, it’s now a labor of love. Most of us put up 7 foot fences that go down a foot below the soil to keep the critters out. It’s more work than we bargained for, but it’s worth it when we harvest magnanimous farm-style vegetables throughout the season.
A Few Garden Tips on my mind:
- Plant your tomato and other vegetable plants now. The weather is getting steadily warmer, and they should take off quickly. Plants setting fruit during warmer nights prevent bottom-end rot in the resulting fruits.
- Before spreading grass cuttings as mulch on your vegetable garden, make sure it has sat and cured for a while. The decay process will suck the nitrogen right out of your garden. Instead of cuttings, try some Bumper Crop as a top dressing. It will hold moisture in, and cut down the growth of weeds.
- Save space by planting cucumbers and other trailing vegetables between the tomato plant and peppers.
- Instead of using horse hay for mulch in the garden, try salt hay. Salt hay comes from the marshes and is impervious to weed seeds that will take over our gardens.
- Bush beans, bush cucumbers, bush zucchini and other “bush” vegetable varieties save space in the garden, while still producing prolifically.
- Great plants to try: Tackle something different this year. Swiss Chard “Bright Lights” is a gorgeous, leafy green that grows to 20 inches high in the garden. It’s beefy stalks are colored yellow, pink, purple and crimson. Use for a bold leafy touch in flower containers, or in the garden for an endless amount of tasty stalks all summer long.