It's not been an easy growing season this summer for both flower and vegetable garden beds at the farm, while facing a growing rabbit population nibbling away the hard work of the past three months.
Earlier this month, rabbits leveled all of my mom's red salvia flowers, around her rock gardens and favorite bird bath, as well as the glowing white borders of dusty miller plants.
And in my dad's gardens in back, rabbits have eaten all the tops off of the rows of beets, chewed up the heads of cabbage and noshed on two rows of stringbeans, which have already been planted twice since May.
In past years, the coyotes and foxes in our woods have kept crowds of rabbits and squirrels at a minimum. But not this year.
My dad's sister, Aunt Wanda, 88, and Uncle Bob, 90, suggested we use "blood meal" to scatter around the garden and flowers to ward off rabbits. (Blood meal is a dry, inert powder made from the blood of cattle as a slaughterhouse by-product.)
But instead, for my dad's 84th birthday on July 12, his gift was my purchase of rolls of nylon netting to place over all of the flower beds and garden vegetable rows. I helped my mom replace all of the salvias with red geraniums, since they seem to have less appeal. However, while watering, my mom has already had to free one ground gopher tangled in the netting. (If my dad had discovered this struggling captive responsible for holes in the lawn, he would likely have not been so forgiving.)
Hungry garden rabbits and protective netting are not new topics for farm encounters.
It reminds me of the favorite childhood tale from 1902 written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter about Peter Rabbit.
In "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," a widowed mother rabbit cautions her young against entering a vegetable garden grown by a man named Mr. McGregor, whose wife baked their father into a pie. When sent to pick blackberries, while his three sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail mind their mother, Peter disobeys. He trespasses by squeezing under the garden gate and eats so much lettuce, French beans and radishes that he feels ill. While looking for rows of parsley to cure his stomach ache, he is spotted by the farmer and while fleeing, discovers he can no longer fit back under the garden gate. When he attempts to escape another way, he becomes tangled in the invisible netting because of the buttons on the tiny jacket he is wearing. By slipping off his jacket and leaving it behind, he escapes, only to be scolded by his mother and put to bed with only chamomile tea for his supper, while his sisters enjoy a sumptuous meal of fresh cream and the blackberries they've picked.
Of course, if any readers have a good recipe for "hassenpfeffer" (the German rabbit stew made with onions, braised hare, wine, sour cream and paprika), I'm all ears!
For now, I'll share two rabbit worthy recipes from my now retired 5th grade music teacher, Valerie Putsey, 72, of Winamac, who was a national finalist in 1988 for the 33rd Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off held in San Diego. Today's two recipes netted Mrs. Putsey $5,000 in 1993 when she won the "Cooking with Miracle Whip" national contest for her zippy roasted vegetable salad and a moist "quick-to-make" carrot cake.
Roasted Vegetable Salad
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 bunch of fresh basil chopped, to make 1/3 cup
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Miracle Whip Salad Dressing
1/4 pound (about 3/4 cup) yellow squash, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 pound (about 3/4 cup) green zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 baby eggplant, cut into rounds, about 1/4-inch thick to make about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients and set aside. Prepare vegetables and combine together in a large roasting pan. Reserve and set aside 1/4 of the dressing and chill in refrigerator. Pour the remaining dressing on the vegetables and toss to coat. Roast uncovered for 35 to 45 minutes or until potatoes test tender. Serve warm, pouring reserved dressing over salad. Makes 6 servings.
Easy Carrot Cake
1 1/4 cups Miracle Whip Salad Dressing
1 (14 ounce) box yellow cake mix
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups finely shredded carrots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 (8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 to 3 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
DIRECTIONS: To make cake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat salad dressing, cake mix, eggs, water and cinnamon at medium speed with an electric mixer until well blended. Fold in carrots and walnuts. Pour into greased 13-inch by 9-inch pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely. To make frosting, beat cream cheese and vanilla at medium speed with electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Frost cooled cake. Makes 12 servings.