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The bean-eating bunnies of Belmont

You’re all somewhat familiar with the tale of Peter Rabbit. Well, I’m here to tell you, it is based in reality.

The story by British author Beatrix Potter begins with young Peter Rabbit and his sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, passing their days with mischievous behavior. Peter finds that he can’t resist the temptation of fresh vegetables and disobeys his mother, invading the garden of old Mr. McGregor.

One day while raiding McGregor’s produce supply, Peter overdoes it. He eats too much and has trouble escaping when spotted by the landowner. He gets away and receives soothing tea from his mother before she puts him to bed without any supper, but he loses his clothing to McGregor’s scarecrow in the process.

Well, I don’t have a scarecrow, but I definitely have a garden that has been under assault.

Our garden got off to a rough start this year, and we’ve had trouble keeping up with its maintenance. My brother, Larry Compston, and I planted our garden in Belmont late to begin with. And ever since we put our plants and seeds in the ground, we have struggled to find the time to keep weeds from overtaking them.

We also neglected to install a fence this year, hoping that our location in the center of the village and the “liquid fence” that we sprinkled around the perimeter would discourage animals from entering our little plot.

Early on, it appeared that deer were helping themselves to some of our goodies. In particular, our tomato plants were being clipped off at the top – seemingly too high for a rabbit or groundhog to reach. That problem subsided, but soon another crop was under siege.

We planted a small variety of plants this year, starting with white and yellow onions. We added a lettuce mix, beets, radishes, several types of peppers, carrots, tomatoes and, finally, beans.

Some things are doing better than others. We didn’t thin the radishes and beets properly, and they are showing it. We probably won’ t be happy with our yield of those veggies.

The tomatoes and peppers, on the other hand, are doing well. We are eagerly waiting on more of them to ripen. I am not a fan of tomatoes in general, but I don’t think there’s anything better than a red, ripe tomato from your own garden.

Garden fresh beans, however, will not be on the menu at our homes this year.

Initially, our bean plants were thriving. It didn’t take long at all for them to become tall and bushy and covered with blossoms. But one day I came home to discover that they had been decimated.

Each and every bean plant had been clipped off hard at the top, and all the blossoms (and probably many small beans) had been consumed. The leaves had been largely stripped away, and as the plants have tried to recover it just keeps happening again and again.

I am no detective, and I haven’t been lucky enough to catch the garden raiders in the act, but I am convinced that rabbits are the culprits. Everywhere you look in this little community, where lawns are green and mostly well maintained, rabbits can be seen nibbling their way across people’s yards. You see them on sidewalks and at the edges of alleys – and if you see one, you can almost always spot three or four more nearby if you look closely.

As I said, I haven’t caught any rabbits eating beans or bean plants, but I have seen them staking out our garden. I have noticed them acting almost as a cute, fuzzy, covert military unit, approaching from three for four sides of the garden at once. They keep an eye on one another, and when one twitches in alarm, they all respond to the alert — turning their backs nonchalantly as if they don’t know the garden is there or running a short distance away and keeping a wary eye on anyone who approaches.

On one occasion, I did actually did catch up to a rabbit that was just setting foot in the garden. But he was gone in an instant when he realized I was on to him.

I don’t know what I would do about it anyway if I did catch a rabbit eating our beans.

I have a soft spot for wild bunnies, perhaps because my dad, the late Jim Compston, once brought me a box full of baby rabbits that he had saved from certain death. Dad worked for Ohio River Collieries, and one day he happened to be on hand when a piece of mining machinery working in a strip pit struck a rabbit’s nest, accidentally killing the mother but leaving at least four babies alive.

Dad and I raised them together for a short time. We gave them water and vegetable matter to nibble on and kept them safe and warm. I’m not sure how long we kept them, but when Dad thought they were big enough to get by on their own, he and I took them to a nice green field and let them go.

So, I don’t think I would have the heart to hurt a rabbit today. If I caught one in the act of consuming our garden products, I would probably yell and stomp my feet to scare it away and then think about how I should put up a fence.

But since I have no real evidence that bunnies are eating our beans and probably won’t put forth the effort to install a fence this year, I’ll just have to live without having fresh beans for dinner. And I will blame Peter Rabbit.

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