The Rabbit Debacle

The Rabbit Debacle started with a packet of free Swiss chard seeds given to me by the Morgan County Master Gardeners at the Berkeley Springs Apple Butter Festival. The seeds, ridged and brown, had been properly cured. I imagined the volume of mouth-watering Swiss chard I’d harvest. Except I didn’t get to pick even one leaf of it.

Swiss chard is a productive, reliable summer green, delicious in salads and sautés.

Late last spring, when the weather heated and the lettuce started to stretch, I poked holes in the compost-rich ground with my index finger and planted the Swiss chard seeds between the lettuces.

It took ten days for the decorative seedlings to emerge, bright red stems with dark green leaves. My timing was perfect. I’d be pulling the bolting lettuce out by the time the seedlings were big enough to fill the space.

Within two weeks of seedling emergence, they began to disappear. I couldn’t understand why. I’d coddled them with rain barrel water gently sprinkled from the watering can rose. I didn’t over water them. Had cutworms chewed the plants off at the base? My husband, Jerry said. “I don’t think it’s cutworms. I’ve seen rabbits.”

Rabbits? Now we have rabbit problems? Voracious deer aren’t enough of a plague?

We’ve lived on our country place for 40 years and we have, of course, seen rabbits. They have happily lived quite a distance from the house in a nice little planting of naked jasmine that arches over a bank. Now, somehow, they’d discovered my vegetable garden.

Jerry dutifully installed rabbit fence around the garden as I started the second round of seedlings in pots. I would transplant them to the garden when they had their true leaves and some sizeable growth.

Daily, I patrolled the garden. Lettuce was untouched as were the bush beans, squash and cucumber plants. Good to go with the Swiss chard planting, I thought, ever the optimist. I set them out and the next morning, five of the 20 seedlings were gone.

“I saw a rabbit in the garden,” Jerry said. “Squeezed right through the fence. Skinny thing, it was. Should I add chicken wire?”

“No point spending more money,” I responded. I’d cover my plants each night with overturned plastic pots with a few stones on top. That would do it.

The next morning, most of the pots had been knocked over and the Swiss Chard was gone. I had malevolent bunnies. I had to step up my game.

I started my third planting of Swiss chard and dug big nursery pots out of the pile. Soon the seedlings were ready to plant. That night, I put them to bed, covering each with a nursery pot with bricks on top. No little rabbit was going to be able to move that!

And they couldn’t. My Swiss chard was perky the next morning and so was I. I’d won, I’d won, I’d won! Until… I came home from town one afternoon and discovered the rabbits had emerged in broad daylight and chomped off all of the third planting. Demoralized, I was done.

Last spring, I visited my friend Darrell, who had moved into a rental house with only a tiny speck of land available to garden. Undeterred, he converted the flat roof of a garage into a garden using vegetable trugs, V-shaped wooden structures on three feet tall legs that hold plenty of potting mix and compost. His trugs were bursting with spring onions, basil, parsley, kale, lettuce, broccoli, beets and yes, Swiss chard. The plants were huge, healthy and cheek by jowl in the trug.

I took pictures and showed them to Jerry. “Nice,” he said . “I can build them. Winter project.” When winter came, I urged Jerry to get started. He responded by ordering a vegetable trug from Gardener’s Supply. The trug now sits along the walkway of our vegetable garden.

Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit will need to pole vault to eat this year’s plantings. And I’ll need to harvest an awful lot of Swiss chard to break even on those free seeds.

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