If you can’t beat ’em, feed ’em?
That’s the idea behind decoy gardens, or trap gardens. These are where growers plant edible crops to lure critters away from their primary crops. It’s a sort of detente with rabbits, deer, squirrels, hornworms, or whatever else you might be trying to beat to your plants so you can harvest before they gobble down your goods. It’s a planned “acceptable loss” for your harvest.
As more and more folks are interested in pesticide-free pest control, decoy gardens are gaining popularity, along with tactics like companion planting (Which is about planting stuff that pests hate among the same thing they love in order to keep them at bay. Companion planting, it should be plainly stated, is not a means of disposing of evidence of your deceased loved one. Sorry, Miss Emily).
At The Dew, our crops are small enough that we can rely mostly on our dog and our hand-picking of hornworms to keep most pests at bay, but some people swear by these other tactics.
My sister, for one, planted a little decoy garden for a pesky rabbit in her backyard as a way to keep it out of her big garden. And it worked great until, well, the rabbit decided that all her carrot are belong to it, and it migrated to munching on her big garden goods too.
I’m not saying that decoy gardens can’t work. But I’m not sure sis was doing enough to deter the rabbit. Which is to say she clicked and cooed to it, encouraged it to come out, desensitized it to people and, essentially, befriended it. I’m trying to get inside the bunny’s head after the second week or so:
These are the nice people who call to me and speak softly every day. I wonder if they planted this little garden for me. Let me nibble a little bit and see what’s up… Hey, she’s making more happy sounds! This is great! I’ll come back here tomorrow.
And the next day:
[Nibble nibble nibble.] Well, that little cabbage is gone now. But look over there at that HUGE garden the nice people planted! I wonder if that’s for NOM NOM NOM NOM!
My sister doesn’t seem to really mind. She’s admitted they treat it as a pet as much as a pest. And I don’t think this chain of events will lead to anything as dastardly as a rabbit uprising on her estate.
But having learned from her experience I’d suggest maybe keeping your decoy garden very far from the plot you plan to cultivate for yourself. And maybe chase off the wabbits when you see them in your stuff. In truth, decoy gardens might be most useful against insects. The folks at Gardening Know How have culled a pretty good list of what crops attract which which critters. But as to how successful even these tactics will be, they sort of shrug.
And, because rabbits really are adorable, here’s a minute or so of footage of my sister’s new pet mugging for the camera-phone.