In all my years of gardening, never have I failed to harvest a bumper crops of beans until this year and wouldn’t you know that the National Garden Bureau had declared 2021, the year of the garden bean! Beans are easy to grow. Beans are prolific. Fresh beans, just picked, lightly cooked, and served with a bit of butter and salt are delectable. Not to mention, they are essential items in 4 bean salads, green bean potato salad, and green bean casseroles. Also, they freeze nicely for winter soups and stews.

Usually I grow some bush beans and some pole beans. For bush beans, I am partial to Provider, Nickel and French Fillet although I do try others from time to time. I look for good flavor, big harvests, and disease resistance.

As far as pole beans go, I plant a mixture of green (Kentucky Blue) and wax beans (Monte Gusto) along with one scarlet runner bean (Lady Di) per pole. Three tree saplings are dug into the ground with their tops tied together forming a bean pole teepee. Six to 8 seeds are planted at the base of each pole.  I plant scarlet runner beans not for me but for the hummingbirds as they love those red blossoms.

Bean trellis before planting. Photo by dmp2021

This year the garden started off fantastic. Seeds of warm season crops like beans and zucchini were planted the weekend after Memorial Day (as you might remember that was cold and rainy). June was sunny and dry but with moist soils, so seeds germinated, and plants grew.

Beans looked great by early July. Photo by dmp2021

All was well until we spotted the cutest little rabbit nibbling on clover and plantain by the driveway. How much damage could one rabbit do? Every few years we would spot a rabbit or even two but usually they disappeared after a few weeks perhaps due to hawks, foxes, or other predators. Heavily forested land, in back of our property, was cleared this past year to put up solar panels and I have not heard nor seen the red-tailed hawks that used to patrol our property. Their nesting sites had probably been destroyed.  

Bunny eating clover. Photo by dmp2021.

There are two species of rabbits found in Connecticut and surrounding states. The New England cottontail is native to this area while the eastern cottontail was introduced. Both species look quite similar but apparently about half of the eastern cottontails have a white marking on their foreheads. Native New England cottontails, however, are in precipitous decline and CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has been creating and managing sites for early successional growth and young forests to encourage good habitat for this species.  

For a few weeks, the rabbits – now there were two – stayed out of the garden area. My bush beans were thriving and my pole beans were starting to climb. I was hoping they would quickly reach heights beyond a rabbit’s reach. All the rain in July lead to one soggy garden and the plants received too much water and too little sun to develop in a rapid manner.

Checking my garden after work one day, it looked like the bush beans had been discovered and feasted upon and all I was left with was a measly handful as my 2021 green bean harvest.

These were all the beans the rabbits left. Photo by dmp2021

Not really having proper fencing materials on hand, I surrounded my pole bean teepee with some short picket fencing with row cover draped over it thinking that should keep the rabbits out until the beans start climbing up the poles. The next day we could see bunny standing on his/her hind leg legs with the front paws on the makeshift fence and the day after that all the pole beans were gone to.

Rabbit by pole bean makeshift fence. Photo by dmp2021.

Between the rain, heat, and mosquitoes this has been a tough year on many gardeners. It was good for pesto, pickles, and peppers but the tomatoes and summer squash, in my gardens at least, succumbed early to disease. I decided to stop fighting Mother Nature and just start cleaning up the garden beds. Next year will be a more bountiful one – at least as far as beans go – says the ever-optimistic gardener!

Dawn P.

Even before last February’s blizzard we were visited regularly by robins who were meticulously combing through the holly hedge in search of berries. I don’t know if these were winter robins or if they just decided to migrate north a bit earlier than usual. At any rate, they looked a little forlorn after consuming all the berries and their furtive searches for food tugged at my heartstrings. What could I feed them? I started putting purple grapes on the hedge and that didn’t work. Scattered handfuls of blueberries and strawberries did not pique their interest either although I always seem to be competing with wildlife for these fruits in my garden.

Robins looking for holly berries.

Robins looking for holly berries.

My last attempt at food offerings was a handful of old craisins and raisins. It worked!  They gobbled up the craisins first and then picked at the raisins. Who knew robins were such picky eaters! So I have been buying a couple of packs of craisins each week and tossing some out by the holly hedge each morning much to the delight of our resident robin flock.

A few weeks ago, shortly after putting out the daily craisin supply, I looked out the back door and there was the cutest rabbit, happily munching on the craisins much to the dismay of the robins who were still brave enough to grab any 3 or more feet away from the rabbit. He (or she) has been coming back pretty much every morning for breakfast. We have also noticed him under the bird feeder so it seems that lack of food is not a problem for this bunny.

 

Waiting for the daily Craisins! DMP2013

Waiting for the daily Craisins! DMP2013

Most likely the rabbit is an Eastern Cottontail although I can’t rule out the slighter possibility of him being a New England Cottontail. These are the only 2 species of rabbits in our region with the New England cottontail the only species native to Connecticut. Apparently the Eastern cottontail was introduced sometime in the late 1800’s or so. Both increased in population until farms started to decline and agricultural lands were overtaken by shrubs and trees. Now the New England cottontail is in decline and in 2008 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated it as a candidate for threatened or endangered status. The Eastern cottontail is holding its own.

Since 2000, the CT DEEP has been documenting the distribution of the 2 rabbit species and working with other state, federal and non-profit agencies to restore habitat and provide New England rabbit education to land owners. Since 90% of land in Connecticut is privately owned, it is critical that private landowners also participate in restoration efforts. The decline of New England cottontails is thought to be due to habitat loss and fragmentation and possibly linked to the spread of some invasive plant species like multiflora rose. While not mentioned in their report, I wonder if predators like coyotes and feral cats might also be contributing to the decline of the New England cottontail?

Physically there is not much difference between the 2 species. Both are between 1 ½ and 3 pounds with reddish-brown to greyish-brown fur and a short, fluffy tail. (Speaking of which, a fellow co-worker was teaching some children about plants and plant products but when she asked where cotton comes from one child answered cottontails!) According to the DEEP, about half of the Eastern cottontail population has a small white patch on its forehead. Other than that, differentiating between the New England and Eastern cottontails is difficult. DNA or skull comparisons are used to make positive identifications.

Young rabbit. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Young rabbit. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Apparently adults are solitary in nature and breeding season starts this month. Female rabbits will create nests in dense grass and line them with more grass and fur. They can have 2 to 4 litters per year averaging 3 to 8 young each. Amazingly the blind and helpless newborns are weaned and totally independent in just 4 to 5 weeks. During the summer they feed on grasses, clover and other herbaceous plants and have been known to sample tender vegetable crops like peas and beans. During the winter they feed on twigs, bark and buds – and craisins!It will be interesting to see how long our furry-eared friend stays around. I may need to think fencing options or planting lots of extra beans in areas away from the garden. Like the Easter bunny, I don’t want all my eggs in one basket!

Happy Spring!

Dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the past month or so I have just been visited by a myriad of bird species along with at least 3 gray squirrels that have feasted on seed and suet provisions from several feeders throughout the yard. It is really enjoyable to provide food for wild birds as they benefit from the supplemental food sources and are really a joy to behold. A window feeder in the kitchen gives me ample opportunity to look up in the Audubon field guide exactly who is coming for breakfast (or lunch or dinner!). I was really excited to see a red-bellied woodpecker working on the bacon fat last week and reports are that since some tree seed sources are scarcer in Canada this winter, we might find some more northern species at our New England feeders this year. Native plants in the yard and surrounding woods provide food as well.

Mr. or Ms. Rabbit has also been exploring and probably sampling the various forms of vegetation in the yard most likely holed up in a large azalea planting. Except for munching on my last bush green bean planting, I was able to ignore the small amount of rabbit damage done to the vegetable garden this past year. Probably it helps that the lawn has lots of clover growing in it. Now he is likely nibbling on bark, buds and seeds and grass in the shoveled path to the compost pile.

Because of the open winter last year, no deer damage was done to any of my plantings. I see this year, that will not be the case as on New Year’s Day, feeding is already evident on the yew hedge. We received about a foot of snow a few days before so the open areas the deer were feeding in are covered in white. Also some of the buds are missing on my deciduous azaleas – the ones with the most amazing spicy floral scent, of course!

Foraging For Food

Foraging For Food

                                       

Deer feeding signs on yew hedge

Deer feeding signs on yew hedge

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Because there is not a lot of deer damage in my gardens during the growing season, I probably am a bit more tolerant of their nibblings than gardeners who are constantly at war with them. I draw the line at this one arborvitae, however, that is recovering nicely from being on the deer menu a couple of winters back when the snow cover was heavy and persistent. Hopefully the trellising and soccer net will keep them away! Chicken wire works well too but it is best wrapped around the shrubs before they are covered with snow.

Deer Damaged Arborvitae with protection

Deer Damaged Arborvitae with protection

Except for physical barriers, reviews of deer repellents are mixed. The thinking goes that if the deer are hungry enough, they will eat just about anything. Probably this is true of most animals. A number of commercial products as well as homemade remedies can be found that may deter some deer from feeding. http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/factsheets/tp_05_deercontrol.html Switching products and reapplications may be the best method of limiting feeding.

Humans crave vegetation too and the cold winter months are perfect for homemade soups and stews filled with winter vegetables and dried herbs from the garden. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to make vegetables a much larger part of our daily meals. Using fresh vegetables does often require a bit more prep time when making dinner but the final result is worth it both in taste and nutrition. A dish that recently went over well with guests was a lentil stew filled with onions, garlic, winter squash, carrots, beets, turnips, kale and parsley. As you peruse the new seed catalogs and think about what to plant in your garden this year, try a few winter storage vegetables. Here’s hoping the New Year will provide us all with bountiful gardens and good memories.