There are small moments in life when you may call into question your beliefs. I love nature with its great vistas, cool and soft breezes, and birds soaring on thermal updrafts. Nothing matches the fresh green of new leaves unfurling on trees in spring, or the harmonies achieved by a dawn chorus. Moments such as these elevate my heart and give peace of mind. But the intensity and proximity of nature at Crockern brings with it other challenges. And, seeing yet another furry-bastard-rabbit in the garden can turn my bliss into rage.
A whole crop of cabbages destroyed last autumn! Holes dug into the flower beds. A pot of chives laid to waste in under thirty minutes. Chives! Who ever heard about a rabbit eating an onion? Crockern rabbits seem not to be interested in a specific cuisine, rather, they are content to eat anything and everything. This is war.
Strong words, but when we moved to Crockern we didn’t have rabbits. This year, it seems we could supply the local pub for their rabbit pies. When there was just the one rabbit two years ago, perhaps we could have prepared better, knowing that when there is one rabbit there will soon be an army. As a prey species, rabbits will keep reproducing in the wild in order to survive. These little buggers reach their sexual maturity in 3-6 months and can become pregnant again within 24 hours of giving birth. At this rate, it would take a Google algorithm to calculate their numbers.
About a year ago, while our garden was flourishing, I heard a piteous shrieking outside. Rushing to see what was happening, I found a baby rabbit being attacked by a slightly larger not-to-be-named predator. I ran to its rescue and Roger quickly appeared with a box filled with straw bedding. We made a safe space for the wee-rabbit to recover. Knowing it would one day mature into its reproductive years, we threw caution to the wind and provided it water and nourishment in the form of fresh, tender lettuce leaves from our garden. At the time, we felt good about our efforts to save this injured rabbit. In hindsight, I wonder if we weren’t the classic marks in a short con game as we now have dozens of rabbits testing our garden and our patience.
Just the other morning, I saw four baby rabbits eating grass among the chickens. Our chickens have made peace, and yet we cannot. Then again, the chickens have been known to do some serious damage on the garden beds, too, so perhaps they are allies. And our dog Sam has a deep reverence for life. A lot of traditional dog stuff is missing from him. He never chases squirrels or birds. And when it comes to rabbits, I recently caught him laying in the sun just napping while a rabbit nibbled at plants only a few feet away.
In truth, we could live with all of this if they would just stay out of our vegetable beds. Last year, we surrounded the vegetable beds with seemingly impenetrable fencing. Despite the fencing, one particularly cunning rabbit has repeatedly found her way onto one of the raised beds. Each morning these last few days, we would see her on top of the same plot, scratching at the surface. We hadn’t yet planted these beds, so there is nothing but dirt and a few weeds. Beatrix Potter lovingly referred to all those rabbits in Mr. McGregor’s garden as “improvident and cheerful.” With all due respect to Ms. Potter, I would quickly amend improvident to Grifter! These little tricksters, driven by the need to frustrate and annoy, seem capable of all manner of magic and sleight of hand. How else to explain their determination for jumping onto an unplanted garden bed? What’s in it for them? There’s nothing there to eat.
We needed a new game plan. We needed to think rabbit. And we need to do this before planting out all our tender plants this season. Purchasing more scaffolding planks, compost and chicken wire, we doubled the height of the raised beds. We secured the perimeter fencing. We waited and watched. And much like the magician who pulls a rabbit out of his hat, there suddenly appeared a rabbit on top of the same bed. I watched her one morning as she dug a small area and sat in it. She reminded me of our chickens when they are laying an egg or having a dust bath. I called Roger to show him this behaviour, and in that moment, she had disappeared.
The following day, when I returned from a morning walk with Sam, there was a deep and perfectly formed tunnel in the very same vegetable bed. Again, with some form of misdirection, when I turned to reveal the tunnel to Roger, it had been covered up with soil. A smooth, seemingly untouched surface left behind. Where had the tunnel gone? Where was the rabbit? What was going on?
Like forensic scientists, we examined every corner, and possible access spot. We eventually discovered a small hole where the rabbit was burrowing up under the bed. A difficult to access spot as there was a giant boulder buried under the ground at that point. Difficult, that is, unless you are a rabbit. So, in a flash of genius, we blocked off the hole with rocks. In another, somewhat dimmer flash of genius, we fenced off all the beds, barring this one as we had a plan. Roger dug up a ton of compost and soil, laid chicken wire into the bottom of the bed, and returned the soil. Job done.
That night, as we nodded off to sleep, we listened to the sounds of owls in the trees and another strange sound we couldn’t identify. It wasn’t an owl, nor did it sound like a fox, and as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
By early morning, I looked out the window and saw the rabbit once again by the vegetable bed. Not on top, but a tunnel dug nonetheless. With her dirty little paws, she was by the edge where we had placed the stones. She had moved the small stones and by her side were three baby rabbits! When I went to investigate, the four of them were gone.
This is the classic magician’s illusion: Rabbits appearing from tall silk hats. They appear. They disappear. The single rabbit suddenly becomes four.
After confirming there were no baby rabbits left behind, we added new and larger stones on this potential breach. Wilful and unaffected by our prevention efforts of the past year, the rabbits seem reluctant to grasp our efforts. They come in droves, like creatures in a horror film. We’re engaged in furious combat. I don’t wish a family of foxes to return and jeopardise our chickens, but I wouldn’t mind them passing by and helping to return the rabbit population to a more manageable number. The rabbits have rightly identified Roger and me as easy marks and we could use a little back up. Clearly, this is going to be a long battle. The enemy may never run out of soldiers to occupy our gardens, but we are stubborn and will never surrender!