Updated: Jun 19
When I started my first plot in the garden, I was expecting to do battle with bugs, slugs, and other creepy crawlies. I didn’t know my nemesis would be Bugs Bunny. But Bugs—or his cotton-tailed cousins—taught me several valuable lessons my first week.
I was thrilled to join the CACG in the winter of 2022 and eager to put in some cold-weather crops. In preparation, I spent a day turning over all the soil in my box twice and removing the dead roots of past plantings. I carefully sifted several wheelbarrows full of compost and worked it in, along with a layer of steer manure. I watered, letting the water soak in, and then watered again to make sure the soil was hydrated and ready for my Icelandic poppies and dill.
And here was my first mistake: Despite observing all the plots around me, I decided not to put up a fence. It made it harder to weed and harvest, I reckoned, and besides, it was unattractive. I went home that afternoon happy with my progress, dreaming of what else to plant. Radishes? Kale? A garden catalog’s worth of vegetables pranced through my head.
When I came back three days later, my plants were sheared almost to the ground. Attack of the killer bunnies—or at least the hungry bunnies. My seven plants would not have been more than an appetizer, since local cottontails will eat ½ to 1 pound of greens a day.
My fence went up the next day. Since then, I have not lost a plant to furry intruders. I left those first pathetic plants in the ground, hoping they would survive. The poppies came back strong, producing vibrant crepe-papery flowers for weeks. The dill sent up new, feathery fronds, but was frail until the end of its short life.
I didn’t know it at the time, but a fence is a form of mechanical control, one of the principles of integrated pest management (https://ipm.ucanr.edu/what-is-ipm/). The others are biological control, cultural control, and chemical control. Given the size of our plots, mechanical controls such as slug traps, bird nets, and mulch will take care of the majority of our pests. These low-impact methods are in keeping with our core values of sustainability and adhering to organic gardening principles.
Here are other things I learned:
Ask fellow gardeners for advice. They are a great resource. Although the fences around me should have been a tip off, I could have saved myself some trouble by asking why everyone had fences.
Do your homework. I added a high fence around my plot, but could probably have gotten away with something less imposing. The most likely culprits, local cottontails or brush rabbits (a subgroup of cottontails), will not hop a two-foot fence.
If you would like to learn more about rabbits as pests rather than bringers of Easter baskets, visit: