I have been gardening now for two days, and already I wonder how humankind ever survived rabbits.
Oh, I have dabbled in gardening before. At various rentals, I planted pumpkins in pots and radishes in the landlord’s raised box, and I grew nothing much besides an eternal frustration for chipmunks (and solid aim with small rocks).
This time, gardening is different. I’m starting sprouts in egg cartons indoors, and I bought an actual hose, and I catch myself daydreaming about different varieties and maturities of melons. I have no idea where this bug came from; it’s like a tomato worm. And also like tomato worms, I can’t bring myself to cut it in half with scissors no matter how much grief and heartbreak it brings me.
Take my planting medium. My garden does not have what gardeners, in their industry lingo, call “soil.” I would grow watercress in a sandbox at the park better than anything at all in my garden. This hindrance ought to have quashed the bug. But instead, it motivated me to try straw bale gardening.
The principle behind straw bale gardening is that it gets people like me, born and bred among concrete and asphalt but also in possession of a ball cap from a farm supply chain, to visit a local feed store and have any idea how to purchase straw.
Go big or go home, as gardeners probably say. So I went bold. “Yeah,” I said. “I need to buy some straw.”
The clerk parried: “How many?”
I adjusted my farm supply ball cap, like I imagine seasoned farmers do when assessing their plots in their minds. I eventually reeled in my casual far-away stare to say, “However many will fit.”
I backed my car up to the barn and learned that the answer to that puzzle was “Not enough.” But the next two trips, I could confidently order the correct lowsingle- digit quantity of bales without faking confidence. One of those trips, I bought a metal pail too, just because it felt like a real reason for a gardener to make a trip into town besides needing yet again to buy some small quantity of straw.
If I had actually known what real gardener reasons were, I would have asked for rabbit repellant.
The rabbits are no secret. They frequent my yard, by which I mean my dog’s yard. Being a Good Boy, when he sees a rabbit, he runs for his orange rubber toy and shakes it violently, no doubt informing the rabbit how violently it would be shaken if my dog wanted to catch it, which fortunately for the rabbit he clearly does not.
His pacifist ways were okay by me, because the added benefit of straw bale gardening is that their nearly two feet in height is insurmountable to most rabbits, hares, bunnies, jackrabbits, jackalopes, and other assorted creatures known by and large for jumping.
Plus, before actually planting anything, the straw bale gardener must “condition the bales by composting them in place with gratuitous amounts of water and blood meal.”
I thought blood meal was a euphemism, like most British food. I was wrong. These 50-pound sacks contained genuine, organic pig blood, leading me to wonder— between blood meal and manure—if vegetables are actually vegan-friendly.
But! The internet touts blood meal as a pest deterrent. So when I graduated from “garden-prepper” to “gardener” two days ago, I planted four entire marigolds in my straw bales, safe in my self-assurance that no rabbits would dare trespass upon my works.
Yesterday, when I watered my marigolds, one had disappeared. Today, the rest disappeared. I have zero marigolds. My pride, my investment, and my flowers— all gnawed beneath the stump.
How did humans ever develop agriculture in the first place? When the first gardeners planted the first starts from the first garden center, and they awoke the next morning to find prehistoric sabertoothed rabbits had chomped their efforts down to the richly amended soil, how did they find the will and the strength to buy more starts and begin all over again?
The answer, I’m almost certain, is that they invented the shotgun and the rabbit stew all in one go. I myself am highly tempted to purchase my first double-barrel and open a side business in fur caps. I would no doubt evolve an entire new persona— one that fits underneath that farm-supply ball cap, and knows instinctively how many straw bales will fit in the farm truck, and drives an actual farm truck in the first place.
But developing a New Me feels like a lot more effort even than taking up gardening. So perhaps I will persevere by planting my sprouts and hoping, if I have led a good clean life, that owls will murder all the rabbits to little pieces. If nothing else, I will learn from the heartache. I don’t know what I will learn, exactly. But I will learn it better than any store-bought lesson.
Zach Hively writes from Abiquiu, N.M. He can be read and reached through http://zachhively.com and on Twitter @zachhively.