Every gardener discovers upon planting a vegetable garden that they are unwittingly forced into battle for sovereignty over that very garden, for control, for first rights to the harvest. They must protect their beans.
The enemy? Take your pick. Raccoons, birds, woodchucks, deer, a variety of insects, and, of course, rabbits, to name a few. Though we gardeners walk upright, presumably are smarter, and have opposable thumbs, our victory is not guaranteed. The enemy has both small size and instinct on their side, and at least the raccoons have thumbs, though not opposable thumbs like ours.
We may not have to battle all of these enemies at once, but over time, we will face one or more and be tested beyond our wildest imaginations. We have to learn to protect our beans, by any means necessary.
In my own garden, my most epic battles, my greatest tests, have been against the rabbits. I have many stories to share of battles past and present, of what has worked and what has failed, leaving me empty-handed in my own bean patch.
Fencing? There’s nothing more disheartening than to walk out to your garden, surrounded by a fence, and find a rabbit or two inside the fence, oblivious to your presence, calmly eating the last of a long row of green bean plants. I've used a variety of fencing techniques, and none has been impenetrable. Somehow, a rabbit or two figures out how to get under, over, or through the fence. I don't trust fences.
Smelly stuff? I’ve used blood meal and cayenne pepper on some individual plants to keep the rabbits from eating them. I’ve never tried a commercially prepared product because the thought of the smell of “putrid egg solids” or whatever the spray is made of, makes me gag, and besides, I don’t want to attract the attention of neighbors who perhaps already wonder what I’m doing in my garden behind the privacy fence. Anyway, these concoctions seem to work for awhile, but must be reapplied frequently, especially after it rains. I gave up on them because I can’t always be in the garden right after the rain.
Row cover? Though it isn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, row cover actually works pretty well to keep the rabbits out, at least while the plants are small. Once the plants grow to a certain size, the row cover has to be removed or a structure built to use the row cover as more of a tent. I’ve never built such a structure, so row cover has only worked for awhile for me.
Trapping? I am a poor trapper at best. For whatever reason, I have only occasionally been able to set a trap that a rabbit fell for and got caught in. The few I did catch, I took to a park about two miles away and released them, but I felt guilty about doing so. Then a few years ago, I caught a big rabbit, in the rain, and when I picked up the trap to take it to the park, the rabbit shot out of it like a cannonball out of a cannon because I had not locked down the trap door. I no longer wish to be caught standing in the rain, holding an umbrella in one hand and an empty trap in the other.
Scare tactics? I have a plastic owl mounted on a stick in the garden. Owls are supposedly a natural predator of rabbits, so the assumption is that my plastic owl will scare them away. It does no such thing, but I put it out every year, just in case a really dumb rabbit shows up. Ditto snakes. I've never seen a real snake in my garden, ever, but I have cut up old garden hoses and left sections of them in the garden as fake snakes, thinking that might scare the rabbits. It did not, so I don't do that anymore. Those rabbits are training me quite well.
A fortress? I got the idea last year to build a small fortress around the bean plants using plastic spoons. It seemed to work, though I will be the first to admit that it looked odd and whenever anyone saw it, I had to explain what I was doing. Before anyone copies this technique, please be aware that I lack actual scientific proof that it kept the rabbits away. I never saw a rabbit mosey up to the row of spoons and then leave, and without this evidence, I am hesitant to recommend this method to others, though I may try it again. But next time I will use forks.
This year's battle against the rabbits may be the most trying of all. All is quiet and I see very little evidence of rabbits eating in my garden. I have yet to even see a rabbit anywhere. I keep asking myself why? Where are they? Are they still here? If they aren’t here, what happened to them? If they are here, what are they doing, where are they eating?
Clearly, the rabbits appear to be using stealth techniques.
I feel vulnerable doing nothing. I know I must remain vigilant. I must protect my beans. But how should I protect my beans?
After considering all my past successes, and failures, I decided to at least cover the young green bean plants with row cover, for another week or so. And once I remove the row cover, yes, I might set up a perimeter defense with plastic forks.
The green bean patch in my garden. All the beans are up!
The green bean patch under row cover. Yes, that's what row cover looks like.
Last year's bean patch protected with a plastic spoon fortress.I think plastic forks might make a better fortress than spoons.