Perhaps nothing gives a vegetable gardener more cause to fume than learning that the harvest has begun prematurely. Take, for instance, my own discovery last week that the top leaves from about a dozen bean plants had gone missing.
This produced an Elmer Fudd moment, during which I immediately concluded that the culprit was a "wascawwy wabbit." Like Elmer, I was hopping mad and had steam coming out of my ears.
Not that I actually saw a rabbit nibbling on my bean plants, but I am convinced that the local bunny population is to blame. For starters, whatever ate the leaves off those bean plants was too small to leave tracks in dry soil. When deer jump the fence around my garden, they always leave hoof prints.
Second, the circumstantial evidence suggests that rabbits did the crime because rabbits are everywhere this year. When I drive down my driveway or on a road near my house, little bunnies hop in front of the car, acting like they have the right of way. These are small, not-quite-full-grown cottontails, which suggests they were born this spring.
Third, bean leaves are a rabbit delicacy, according to several gardening guides. Rabbits also like lettuce, peas and the tops on carrots and beets, as well as the bark of young trees and flowers. Tulips rate especially high on a rabbit's menu.
According to sources on rabbit reproduction, the rabbit population spikes in times of drought, as has been the case in recent years. Legendary rabbit population explosions occurred during the droughts of the 1930s and 1950s.
Obviously, rabbits are greater in number when the population of predators is low. Snakes, foxes and other critters that eat rabbits are chased away by development, which allows rabbits to live longer and reproduce more. As a result, rabbits have become a greater threat to urban and suburban gardeners.
Rabbit breeding season runs from February to autumn, and in that time a female might bear six or seven litters, with five to six garden-snarfing bunnies in every batch. A female can begin bearing litters before the end of her first summer.
Astonishingly, my dogs seem unconcerned about the bunny invasion, as if they have been transported to a fairy tale land where all the beasts of the forest live in harmony. On the rare occasion when a dog of mine might engage in a chase, the pursuit seems far too sporting to pose a real threat.
If your pets, like mine, are too well-fed and complacent to scare away rabbits, you do have other options. A pamphlet produced in 1911 by the Kansas State Agricultural College listed the following as rabbit repellents: rabbit blood, a paste of tallow and tobacco, a mixture of ground lime and sulfur, and a disgusting concoction made from a gallon of buttermilk mixed with a half pound of common stove soot boiled together for 20 minutes.
Fast-forward 85 years and the solutions include pepper sprays and an electric fence. If you have an existing fence with a wider mesh, you also can attach chicken wire over the bottom few feet.
These tend to be fairly labor-intensive or expensive solutions. Less complicated deterrents include rubber snakes and any kind of wire mesh laid on the ground around the garden. The mesh functions on the cattle-guard principle, and rabbits will not hop across it.
The good news is that rabbits tend to be nibblers rather than chompers. When they took the top leaves off those bean plants, they didn't bite off the stem or kill the plant. In a few days, another set of leaves appeared, and the plants are picking up where it left off.