Rabbits! They are ravenous in the spring when greens like spinach and lettuce are just coming up. For years I kept them at bay with a simple 2-foot high chicken wire fence held in place with thin bamboo stakes. It surprised me that even though I saw them jumping at least that high during late winter mating dances that they would not jump over my fence. I would see them nibble their way up to the fence and turn away rather than jump over it. The fence below protected us from ravenous rabbits for seven years.
This year was different! I had just planted some potted lettuce starts spaced about two feet apart in a row. In between the starts I planted seeds for a multitude of lettuce varieties. I started to notice that pieces were missing from the leaves of the newly planted lettuce. In my garden, when large chunks of leaves are missing, I usually have slugs. I immediately put in a slug trap.
A slug trap consists of a beer drinker's delight. First buy some beer or raid you home brew stock. Use a beer made with lots of hops. When I first got into beer bait slug traps, I went to the beer store and told the old timer behind the counter what I was there for. He told me his grandpa always used Budweiser and I immediately flashed on the hops fields I had seen on my Colorado Mountain wanderings and the giant beer factory near Fort Collins that purchased those hops. The price was right so I snapped up a six pack.
It turns out that since those early days of slug traps there are 10,000 new local breweries, some of whom brag about their hopped up beer so our choice of beers has been vastly enlarged. If you drink beer, or still drink beer it goes like this.
Step #1. In the area where slugs are doing their damage, dig a shallow hole and sink a bowl or flower pot saucer into the ground so the top edge is even with the dirt. Taste the beer. Pour some in for the slugs. Put a small stick across the saucer and place an inverted flower put over the beer bait. The flower pot keeps the rain and garden water out while the stick keeps the flower pot just above the surface allowing the slugs to slither along, slime and all, into the beer and drown. This is what it looks like when completed.
Step # 2. Repeat Step #1 on the other side of your garden plot and maybe put one in the middle.
This is the saucer level with the ground, now full of slugs.
Mr. Slug about to go swimming – after five years of trapping slugs this size and larger, they have begun to taper off. The foam indicates that the saucer needs to be emptied into the compost pile, washed off and more beer added.
Hint: Some garden pests are elusive. If you do not see them in daylight, go out in the early morning dew, just before dawn with a flashlight and get up close and look under, over, and around the leaves of your plants. Some garden pests do the most damage before the hot sun dries things off.
Back to the Rabbits - The Rabbit-Proof Fence
The picture below shows the remains of a lettuce plant after a rabbit raid on the garden. Lettuce sprouts are visible to the right.
After putting out the slug traps I was surprised to find only a few slugs. I came to the conclusion that the rabbit(s) had learned to jump the fence. What to do? I made a triangular shaped fence. Two sides chicken wire, one side, the bottom, the garden. This was accomplished by taking a 24-inch-wide roll of chicken wire the length of the garden and folding it in half.
Weaving thin bamboo rod, available at most garden supply shops, through the chicken wire, supports the ridge. Supports for the sides were placed 2 -3 three feet apart. The ends were wired into the chicken wire surrounding the perimeter of the garden. (The wire that until this year kept the rabbits out.)
Within weeks the lettuce recovered and grew new leaves.
The lettuce in was planted in mid August for a fall crop. It was still growing at the end of October as frost has been coming later due to climate change. The peppers were still fruiting as well and the beginning of a yummy salad can be seen below thanks to the rabbit -proof fence.
Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group. Read all of Toby's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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