After a bumper crop of early Painted Serpent Cucumbers back in June, we’ve been struggling to harvest enough for all your boxes. The culprit is our farm’s healthy population of (very large) jackrabbits.
Painted Serpents — or more correctly, their seedlings — appear to be the rabbits’ favorite food this time of year. They snip off the baby leaves in the first week or two after the seeds sprout above the soil, effectively killing a certain percentage of the plants. And they continue to feed on the plants that survive, biting off the most tender growth at the end of the vines.
We plant cucumbers in the midst of our other “cucurbit” crops — melons, watermelons and summer squash — but the jackrabbits only eat the cukes. Because we know they prefer them, we actually plant 3x as much cucumber seed as we need, hoping they will leave us a third.
When the seedlings are growing more slowly, as they were in the early spring when we did our first planting, the rabbits destroy much larger percentage of the plants. For this reason, we transplant the first planting every year — that was the field we were picking in June.
But they devastated the second planting, mowing down almost three-quarters of the seedlings. That is the planting we have been picking lately. Beginning this week, we started harvest of the third planting.
Prior to their feeding frenzy in the cucumbers this year, the jackrabbits had been ravaging our lettuce field. Except they didn’t eat all the lettuce. Instead, they were biting off the tips of the most tender leaves at the center of the plants of a single variety, Little Gem baby romaine — effectively ruining the entire head of lettuce.
I guess it’s not surprising that our jackrabbit population has developed such exacting tastes, given how many different crops and varieties we farm. I just wish I could teach them to eat some of the many weeds we have growing, instead of the crops.