Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Garden Tips for the Hare-ied

It's the time of year when I gaze out onto my small vegetable garden and think, "What will I kill this year?" My little patch is pretty lame, compared to the verdant garden of my childhood. But it's not my fault; we had a secret weapon back then, one that I only fully appreciate now. 

I speak, of course, of the Davis Family Rabbits. 

When my older sister Sally got the first black and white Dutch rabbit – Powder, called Powdy for short – back in the early 1970s, we needed to keep them protected from upstate New York winters so harsh they used to make board games about them. (What? You didn't grow up playing "Blizzard of '77"?)

So Dad, an engineer and tinkerer extraordinaire, constructed a rabbit run from two by fours and metal mesh that ran the entire width of one of the garages, tucked right up against the cement wall. A divider in the middle made it possible for us to house more than one rabbit at a time, and each side of the hutch had a plywood box for bunny privacy. Eventually Powdy moved on and Daisy and Indy moved in, each taking their own studio apartment.

Underneath the whole kit and caboodle were The Trays. These were three sheet metal trays fabricated especially for us by a friend of Dad’s from Kodak, or maybe from golf, or from the Volunteer Fire Department. They were each about 5 feet long, three feet wide, and had a lip an inch high. Each Tray weighed about 40 pounds empty. Bunny business dropped through the straw-covered mesh into The Trays, and every couple of weeks we had to slide them out, carry them into the vegetable garden, and dump them.

Carrying the heavy, goop filled trays required extreme precision if you didn’t want their contents dribbling onto you like a bad horror movie effect. As the youngest and shortest child, I dreaded cleaning the rabbit cage. All my brother or sister had to do was shrug their shoulders an inch so their Tray end rose up, and it was all over for me. Hands, cuffs, shoes, legs – at some point every part of me has been hit by rabbit pee, much to the amusement of my family members. You'd almost think they did it to me on purpose.

On the plus side was the fact that over the years, our vegetable garden plot was so fertile that if you threw a seed in, it bloomed before it landed. We grew zucchini the size of those yellow bananas that tourists ride through tropical waters behind speedboats. Tomatoes like melons. Melons like basketballs.

I think that the secret to the Davis rabbit poop fertilizer was a practice that, in retrospect, seems like one of those things that could only have happened during the '70s, like kids flying around car backseats without seatbelts, or an African Print 70's pantsuit. See, we regularly asphyxiated the rabbits with gas fumes.

Yes, they were kept warm in the garage, but a lot of that warmth came from a Buick station wagon tailpipe that stood about 18 inches away from the hutch. Particularly in the winter, when it was de rigueur to run the car engine in the closed garage for 10 minutes to warm it up before Dad left for Kodak Park, those rabbits got a nice healthy dose of carbon monoxide poisoning each morning.

On the surface, I know, that sounds awful. But maybe it was the CO poisoning that accounted for the rabbits' freakishly long lifespan. The average rabbit lives 7-12 years. When Indy, the last survivor, was 12 years old, I left for college, my parents’ empty nest technically still occupied by rabbits. Freshman year, sophomore year, junior year – my weekly phone calls home inevitably ended with my dad saying, “And the goddamned rabbit is still alive.” My sister even remembers an inquiry from the University of Rochester, a scientist who wanted to examine our elderly rabbit, but I think she may have dreamt that. At any rate, when Indy finally died, my dad had the cage removed and dismantled before you can say "Watership Down."

Our neighbors now have a rabbit who is the sweetest being ever. I could ask them for bunny poop for the garden. But without the tailpipe emissions, I'm just not sure it would be the same.


  1. You can have as much of Ira's poop as you'd like.

  2. I'd love to see the four girls balancing the tray of bunny poop as they move through the neighborhood. No potential for disaster there.

  3. Nice story - a little distraught at the thought of those furry beings getting a "healthy" dose of carbon monoxide in the morning...

  4. believe me, Amy, this definitely falls under the "Mortifying Disclosure" category...though at the time we never thought there was anything wrong with it! Then again we had a neighbor who kept their dog tied to a tree, and another who trained their dog not to chase cars by having the teenaged sons in the house drive past at high speeds and throw buckets of water at it. So, you know, kind of the way of the times...


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