Summer means outwitting those 'wascally wabbits,' plus deer, raccoons and skunks

The past two years, as the number of coyotes in our neighborhood has decreased, there has been a commensurate increase in the rabbits.

The leaves of a green gladiola plant stick out of the dirt. The leaves have bite marks out of them.
Ann Bailey's gladiolas have been among the victims of the critters inhabiting her garden.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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Farmers constantly battle insects, nature’s little critters, that want to devour their crops. As country dwellers, my husband, Brian, and I are vying with furry, four-legged creatures for a share of our garden’s production, and sometimes, the roads we travel.

Years ago, when we moved to the farm from the city, our garden still was a well-kept secret from the deer, and we didn’t have the problem with them that our neighbors did. Some of them had built fences around their gardens and some had given up entirely, instead buying their summer and fall produce from farmers markets.

Eventually, the deer also found our garden, and we employed our own strategies of keeping them from trespassing, which include hollering at them and waving our arms if we saw them during daylight hours, scattering human hair around their favorite salad bar choices and covering their favorite plants with chicken wire. That worked pretty well because we always erred on the side of planting more fruits and vegetables than we needed, anyway.

While the deer enjoy the garden when the plants are young and tender, we also get visited by raccoons that wait until the end of the summer when the sweet corn is ripe. We haven’t really figured out a control method with them because the many things we’ve tried, including letting our dogs roam around in the garden during the day, playing a radio at high volume at night and scattering the dogs’ fur between the plants, didn’t work.

We battle it out with the raccoons by picking all that we can and inviting our friends and neighbors to take what they want. Sometimes the humans get what remains after the bandits steal corn and sometimes the thieves get what remains after we visit the corn patch.


Another recent garden competitor is rabbits. The past two years, as the number of coyotes in our neighborhood has decreased, there has been a commensurate increase in the rabbits. Their population on our farm exploded this spring, and there are big bunnies, medium-sized bunnies, and little bunnies hopping about the farmstead during the day and munching on our garden at night.

The rabbits’ size gives them an advantage over the deer when it comes to outwitting our chicken wire game plan for keeping our garden rows safe from four-legged marauders. The bunnies figured out how to belly under the wire and ate our beets tops down to the ground. My hunch is that without the tops, the beets won’t produce roots, so we will be going the farmers market route for the vegetable this year.

Much to my surprise and dismay, the bunnies also tore into a couple of my gladiola plants. They ate the stalks halfway to the ground, so I assume I will be getting two less glads for my bouquets. I’m miffed about that because I planted them specifically so I could make them into bouquets to decorate my home and to give them to others who can do the same.

A control option that we could try next year would be using the Mr. McGregor method, but because we prefer to deter, not destroy the rabbits, next year we plan to stake down the wire over the rows and to apply a stinky commercial liquid spray designed to convince them to move along.

We know that smelly odors can be a strong motivator because Brian, Ellen, and I caught a glimpse of a skunk and its family a few yards down in the ditch the other night when we were taking my golden retriever Nova for a walk down our gravel road. I called Nova, who, fortunately for all of us, hadn’t seen the skunk, and put the leash on her, then we moved to the opposite side of the road from the skunks and quickly tiptoed by them.

We made it past them with no repercussions and since then have taken a road less traveled by skunks — at least so far — on our evening walks.

Whether it be deer, raccoons, bunnies or skunks, unless the four-legged “friends” that share the neighborhood with us are posing an imminent threat to the safety of our family or pets, I prefer to live in relative harmony with them. After all, if you can’t “beet 'em, join ‘em.”

Ann Bailey lives on a farmstead near Larimore, N.D., that has been in her family since 1911. You can reach her at 218-779-8093 or

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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