Benjamin Franklin once remarked, “Experience is a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.” Put another way, knowledge can be expensive, but a little pain can make it stick. Put a third way, I will never again — even in the fall, no matter how busy this busy time always is — go for a week or two without observing my vegetable garden in any meaningful way. I had wondered what that one elusive rabbit I kept seeing (even after all my rabbit-proofing! even after a successful catch or two by the cat!) was eating. And now I know.
My beets. Three rows of beautiful, lush Chioggias and Detroit Dark Reds that I had been waiting to harvest, watching the shoulders nudge up above the dirt, watching them, Keatsianly, swell and plump with ripeness. Three whole rows of beets grown painstakingly from seed. The biggest and nicest ones I had ever grown. And they all look like this, or worse. Every last one.
No Elmer-Fudd or Mr. McGregor joke describes the depth of a gardener’s rage. Bastards! You little bastards!
Hunkered over the lush green tops that had hidden (all too successfully) the devastation underneath, pulling out one ruined beet after another, I felt the atavistic spurt of fear that those without my twenty-first-century, First World good luck would have felt even more deeply and totally at the ruination of a crop: what will we eat this winter? This was our food, we were counting on it – how will we LIVE?! I can buy more from the co-op when I want them. But it was not a pleasant feeling. And as any gardener knows, there is a kind of grief when your crop doesn’t come out, when you have planted and hoped and watered and watched the little beet-shoulders come up and it’s come to nothing.
So let’s think about lessons learned here.
1) Don’t go without observing your garden, even in the fall, even when you assume (mistakenly) that anything rabbits could eat is pretty much done with and your beets are safe because the rabbits have never bothered them before. A wise gardener once told me that being a successful gardener is all about noticing. He’s right.
2) Let the big cat stay out as much as he wants. Consider the loan of a terrier, if only for intimidation purposes.
3) Come the spring, walk your fenceline again and keep digging in the wire along the bottom. Again.
4) Sing “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…” in Elmer Fudd/ Ride of the Valkyries style so the rabbits will think you are dangerously, rodenticidally insane and leave you alone.
5) Put the beets along with the potatoes in the raised bed, which is too tall for rabbits to reach. It’s outside the backyard fence, so you’ll have to build a deer shield. But having your own nice beets in the winter will be worth it.
6) And remember the gardener’s ultimate consolation: there’s always next year.
And just for old times’ sake…