Minneapolis Gardening: The Rabbit Wars

June 27, 2016
Rabbit in your yard

Before I met my wife I’d always thought about gardening in the abstract. I’d never owned a home or had a useable yard, so growing anything on purpose, let alone vegetables, had always been in the “that’d be nice someday” category. And, admittedly, when we first lived together and had a house and a yard of our own, I really didn’t think there was all that much to it. Just buy some seeds, stick ‘em in the ground, let them grow, and then suddenly you have a bounty of delicious vegetables. Or so I thought.

After tinkering with a few herbs and vegetables in planters high above the ground our first year, we hatched a plan to put raised planting beds in our backyard. Our growing capacity expanded to about 20 times what it had been and the growing possibilities seemed limitless. I mean, who wouldn’t want more vegetables?

But that’s when I learned the true secret of successful gardening (at least in South Minneapolis). It’s not the amount of sunlight or water or even weeding. It’s trying, over and over, and often in vain, to keep the damned rabbits from eating everything. I now view gardening as having less to do with plants and more to do with defending a portion of our backyard from hordes of adorable, fluffy little animals who love nothing more than ruining all of our hard work the second we turn our backs.

So, that battle is on. And it’s taken more of my nights and weekends than I care to admit.

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Dean, on rabbit watch

Our first line of defense, Dean, isn’t quite as fast as he used to be. Now and again you’ll see him stalking a bunny, but it’s usually a drawn-out affair that ends with a valiant chase but Dean getting no closer than 30 feet from the rabbit. I think his effective rabbit-catching range can be measured in inches these days. But, if a rabbit actually walked up to him during a patio nap, watch out.

Our next idea was to turn our raised beds into small, wooden versions of Fort Knox. We spent entire days building removable wire panels. We reinforced our existing fence with rabbit-proof mesh and tried to cover every conceivable way they could get in. And, at least for most of the beds, this has been pretty effective so far. Finally, we thought, we’d figured out a way to keep the rabbits at bay.

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And that’s when those crafty little bastards completely change their line of attack. Take away our access to your delicious vegetables? Fine. We’ll just start eating all of the other plants in your yard. Of course we can’t fence off every plant and all the landscaping in our yard, so we had to find other methods. The battle had now expanded.

Our first option was to plant a bunch of marigolds. Rabbits apparently don’t like the smell, and we heard they can be effective. Well, within a day, the rabbits hopped right past them, ate a bunch of other plants, and even had a few bites of the marigolds for good measure (I think to taunt us a bit).

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That’s when things got a little more serious and a little more disgusting. We tried a product that is a concentrate of, among other things, coyote and fox urine that is sprayed around the perimeter of the yard. It smells like holy hell at first and . . . it didn’t work at all. Rabbits were back the next morning. As of today, we’re trying something called RABBIT SCRAM (great name), which is a powder made primarily of dried blood and “meat product” from rabbits’ natural predators. A little weird, a bit disgusting, but the lady at the garden center swore by it so we have high hopes. Fingers crossed.

If that doesn’t work, I think our only remaining options are feral cats, actual weapons, or hiring 24-hour armed guards. Almost anything sounds reasonable at this point.

So, for now, the battle continues. If you have any secrets that actually work, pass them on!