Sunday, July 06, 2008

My war against the rabbits

This morning at 5:00am I was out in the garden, dressed only in a bathrobe, wielding a large stick and for half an hour I chased a rabbit with murder in my heart!

The little B*##~% got away!

It all started when we moved to a new house out in the country. There was a lot to do in the house but outside - the garden could only be described as a disaster area. It was a wilderness of weeds, grass, stone, wire a ramshackle shed/greenhouse and a mound of bricks. There were rabbits everywhere.

I suppose that's what comes of living on a hill between a derelict railway line(at the left of the picture) and a main road (on the right) with a forest on the other side of the rail bed. The soil contains a lot of ash from the steam trains which used to run here and in the trees surrounding us on both sides there are rabbit warrens.

At first we thought they were cute. They had been undisturbed for a while and didn't seem too concerned by our presence. They just kept about 10 yards away and kept on nibbling. When we came home in the car there were usually four or five running along the drive (the old rail bed) in front of us.

For a while they didn't annoy us. We were too busy working on fixing up the house inside to bother with the garden. It was April - warm and wet this year - the grass was growing fast but I didn't have to mow the lawn, the rabbits did that for us. Eventually we just had to do something about that garden. It was obvious that with so many rabbits around vegetables were out of the question so we mowed the lawn, used some of the bricks to make a path and planted a few flowers. The flowers were promptly eaten.

"Oh well" we thought, "once we can let the cats out they'll chase the rabbits off and we can just plant stuff the rabbits won't eat for now." A little research on Internet soon told us however that rabbits are a gardeners WORST enemy but that they wouldn't eat daffodils, forget-me-nots or roses. Daffodils and forget-me-nots abounded in the garden already so we bought some roses and planted those. By morning there were just the stems left. Rabbits WILL eat roses!

"Oh there are lots of things they won't eat" said a guy in our local garden centre. "Its just that no one is quite sure just what they don't like. We have chicken wire that keeps them out though."
"They won't eat marigolds" said a customer at the checkout. We bought chicken wire, marigolds and some begonias which we thought we could protect.

Back home we planted the marigolds and started work on surrounding the garden with a 'rabbit proof' fence. It was obvious that this would take some time so we built a cage with some old wire we found to surround the begonias. The next morning we discovered that rabbits do not like marigolds - in fact they hate them so much they bite the flowers off and drop them so that they don't produce seed and spread further.

I used more of the bricks to build a section of wall on the side next to the road and used corrugated iron sheets too. On the railway line side we repaired the fence already there and used more bricks dug down into the ground to stop the rabbits digging under it. Next to the house and at the far end of the garden we completed a new fence and two gates across the paths. "That should do it." we thought after we blocked up the rabbit holes with bricks and finally let our two cats loose.

It was at this point that we discovered that rabbits can get through 50mm chicken wire!
Three of them got in; one escaped through the wire and two were caught alive when they chose to hide behind our garden table stacked on edge at the side of the fence. We used our cat box as a cage for them and started experimenting to see just what they would eat.

We bought 20mm rabbit wire, split the rolls down the middle and put it on top of our existing fence near the ground to keep out those young ones which could get through the 50mm wire. We reasoned that we didn't need the full height wire since the little ones couldn't reach the 50mm section at the top and the bigger ones which could would be too big to get through it. This time we thought we had done it.

Next morning the garden was still full of rabbits which disappeared under the garden shed when we chased them. They had dug a tunnel under it from the warren by the side of the road. I surrounded the shed base with a brick wall sealing them off.

Next morning at 5:00am our son woke me up to tell me there was squealing downstairs. It turned out that one of our cats had caught a rabbit and brought it into the house to play with. It was still alive but only just. I cleaned up the blood from the living room carpet and gave it the coupe de grasse.

The rabbit population started to drop. Our cats killed at least three that we know of, a family of weasels moved into our neighbourhood and a fox can be heard barking at night (much to the annoyance of the local gamekeeper who is rearing pheasants in our wood).

For a few days we thought we had them beaten. The grass on our lawn started to grow and dandelions started to appear. It seems dandelions are a rabbit favourite. Our experiments with the ones we captured seemed to show that they will eat just about anything if they are hungry enough unless the plant is poisonous e.g. foxgloves. Some plants they obviously don't like but will nibble at and drop. Some plants - like marigolds, they won't eat but do their best to destroy. We found a booklet 'Gardening With The Enemy' by Janet Thompson which was some help which has a list of rabbit resistant plants. It's list isn't perfect though since we found some plants they rate as 'rabbit safe' get eaten by ours and others they bite and spit out. We felt confident enough to buy over a hundred pounds worth of plants and plant out the sweet peas we knew they love above all other plants.

And that brings me to this morning when I got up to go to the bathroom and looked out of the window to see a rabbit eating the sweet peas ...aaaggghhh! The worst of it is that I can't find where it got in and it couldn't get out easily until it escaped over the remains of the brick pile.

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