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Monday, September 17, 2007

Raspberries, Rabbits, and Fire

Raspberries, rabbits, and fire. What do they have in common? . . . our ditch!

My husband is an associate pastor/youth pastor, and we have lived in this parsonage in town for 3 years. The property we are on borders the railroad tracks which comes along with a deep, thick, woody, weedy ditch. The police caught a fugitive 2 years ago in our ditch while my husband was on a mission trip and I was home alone with the kids, but that's another story!

Before we moved here, and a short while after, many of the church members would use that ditch for dumping brush and clippings. Thankfully, we receive no more outside yard waste, but there was quite the pile of brush that had accumulated in the ditch. Right beside the brush pile that first year, I found three raspberry vines.

For 4 summers now, I have been pruning those vines and allowing runners to root. I have also been weeding the area and cutting down saplings so they can get more light. Many of the tall weeds aren't around anymore, and creeping charlie is starting to take over the vacant ground around the vines, making a nice carpet to walk on. I now have so many vines that I don't even bother counting them.

There is one problem though. Since my raspberry patch has expanded so much, the rabbits found it last winter. They chewed almost all of my vines to the ground while the snow piled over their other choices of food. Needless to say, I didn't have very high yields in my berry patch this summer.

One of the big problems is that the brush piles that were dumped here make quite a nice home for little bunnies in the winter, and the biggest brush pile was just a couple feet from my berry patch. Very convenient for cold little rabbits who don't want to hop far in the snow to have their breakfast . . . or lunch . . . or supper.

Since one of the things we are interested in having is pick-your-own fruit, we decided this would be a good opportunity to do some experimenting and learning with pest control. We figured that we had two options. One was to fence in the raspberries, and the other was to wage war on the rabbits. A big aspect of alternative farming is keeping your inputs (expenses) low so your profits remain high. To fence in the raspberries, we would have to buy fence. So you guessed it, we decided to wage war on the rabbits.

Since we live in town and shooting them is legally out, to the disappointment of my husband, we started by destroying their shelter. Over the weekend we burned up and cleared out the brush pile by the berries. While Ethan was managing the fire, I took care of the fall pruning of our raspberries and cleared out some more saplings. When we were done, we were left with a nice clear area that has had decomposing matter on it for quite a few years and now ash, which is good for fertilizer. I will either trail some raspberry runners over to our newly cleared land to extend my patch or plant some blackberry starts from my mom's garden or my father-in-law's farm to experiment with.

As for now, we will start setting our rabbit trap to decrease the overrun rabbit population in our ditch and will take them to the woods. Sure, more rabbits may move in, but at least they won't have a house right next to my vines. We'll see if my berry plants survive this winter.

Here are some of my black raspberry plants all pruned up.

This is a picture of our ditch. In the foreground you can see the area we just cleared out and burned. The green growth behind the cleared area is part of my raspberry patch - all started from 3 vines!

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