Badgered by Bunnies

Since COVID put a damper on our normal summer travel plans, we decided to plant a garden. A proper garden. Normally, we throw some seed potatoes in the ground and head off with our little travel trailer because potatoes pretty much grow themselves with only a minimal amount of tending.

No, this summer we were going to plant a variety of vegetables: lettuce, radishes, spinach, carrots, swiss chard (why is it “Swiss?”), onions, squash, beans and peas.

“Not peas,” said my husband. “Sparrows eat them.”

“The pods?” I had never heard of this. In all my years growing up on the farm and planting what seemed like mile-long rows of peas and other vegetables – rows seem a mile long when you have to weed them – I had never heard of sparrows eating peas.

“No, they eat the tender little leaves after the peas germinate.”

He was joking, right? I was having none of it. We planted a row of peas.

One morning after the peas – and everything else – had germinated, I went out for my routine garden visit. Yep, everything’s up. But wait, where were the peas? I bent closer. Good heavens! My husband was right! Something was eating the peas!

After a brief consultation, we threw a net over them. That will keep the sparrows out. Nasty sparrows!

A few days later, another routine garden inspection. Good heavens! Something has eaten the beans! Right down to the stalk! Sparrows eat beans, too?

But wait! The spinach is eaten down, too!

I called over my husband. He was mystified. He hadn’t heard of sparrows eating beans, but well, if peas were off the menu, then perhaps they were willing to diversity their diet.

Just then, the culprit hopped by.

The zoologists among you will know this beast as a species of Hare, Lepus townsendii, also called White-Tailed Jackrabbit. Prairie people know it as “varmit.”

According to A.W.F. Banfield’s The Mammals of Canada, Jackrabbits prefer “a variety of green foliage . . . [and] vegetable greens such as lettuce and cabbage.” Add beans to the list. And spinach.

We looked at Jackrabbit. He sat there, chewing his cud, looking back at us with a “What? Me?” look on his face.

“Git!” we yelled. Jackrabbit “gitted.”

We covered all the rows of beans and peas with a garden net. We put plastic fencing over the spinach and lettuce. We covered everything that we thought nasty Jackrabbit might eat.

Bunny-Proofed Garden

Weeding is a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, nothing’s been eating our now-thriving vegies.

Until the cutworms arrive.

(P.S. The zoologists among you will be going “Tsk! Tsk!” about the title because “Bunnies” are not Lepus sp., they’re Sylvilagus sp. To which I reply: Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story.

Or a good title.)

Gardening #Jackrabbits #LepusTownsendii #VegetableGarden #GardenPests #MargaretGHanna #Humour #NonFiction


Hail Season

“Insured 290 acres crop at $4.50 per acre.”
Abraham Hanna diary, June 24, 1922

Farmers call it “the great white combine.” They fear it. They plan for it.

From early June to the end of August, they scan the sky, hoping they will not see what they are looking for.

The crop is up and growing well. By July, the wind sends waves billowing across the grain field. The heads are emerging. The farmer dreams of a bumper crop. Of full granaries. Bills paid. Money in the bank. Dreams hedged with caution – the crop is not yet in the bin.

The day begins normally. It is hot, humid. Cumulus clouds gather in the west, grow larger, higher. Farmers check the weather report: “Severe weather advisory. Thunderstorms with heavy rain and possibility of hail.” They hope it will pass them by.

From a distance the storm is beautiful – huge, shimmering, pearlescent, anvil-shaped clouds reaching high into the sky. They loom closer, growing in size, becoming darker, blacker, more threatening. The sky darkens, the air chills. The wind picks up. Distant thunder rolls closer and closer. The first rain drops fall.

“Severe electric storm with heavy rain & hail at 1 am.”
Abraham Hanna diary, June 17, 1929

Rain pelts down, harder and harder. The terror arrives.

The advance guard is pea-sized, rattling down against roofs and windows. Everything that can move scurries to shelter. Huddles. Shivers. Hopes for the best. Fears the worst.

No longer pea-size. They grow, the size of golf balls, tennis balls, even larger. The wind howls, blowing rain and hail sideways in great gusts. The rattling becomes a deafening pounding, a hammering accompanied by the sound of shattering glass, shredding siding. The ground whitens. Drifts form in corners. It lasts an eternity.

“Hot with showers and heavy rain in eve with some hail & very high wind. A large area in 9-7 [the township north of the farm] was hailed out by a storm which swept from Leader to south of Willow Bunch.”
Abraham Hanna diary, July 19, 1927

It is over. The rainbow in the sky belies the devastation below. Leaves and branches ripped from trees. Dead birds. A kitten that didn’t make it to the barn in time. Shattered windows. Dented vehicles.

Worst of all, garden and crop destroyed. Hopes and dreams destroyed. Hail insurance will pay some of the bills but it is no substitute for a full grain bin.

The farmer walks through the jagged stubble, fingers some of the shattered stalks and heads. He mourns his lost crop but already he is thinking of next year.

(I started writing this before the hail storm of June 13 that hit northeast Calgary and caused a preliminary estimate of at least $1 billion in damages)

HailStorm #FarmLife #PrairieLife #DreamsShattered #MargaretGHanna #HannaFamilyHistory #PrairieWeather

Rhubarb Season

Garnet (my dad) aged about 4 or 5. Caption on the back of the photo reads “rhubarb 4’10” high, a good crop in one of the good years.” Photo probably taken about 1927 or 1928.

When I was growing up on the farm, there were two sure-fire signs of spring – the first feed of asparagus and the first feed of rhubarb. Daily, we visited the two longs rows of asparagus, the one long row of rhubarb, searching for those first nubbins breaking through the soil. Especially the rhubarb.

And then, there it was! We yanked an armload of rhubarb stalks and marched triumphantly to the house, precious booty in hand.

Our rhubarb was the old-fashioned green kind, to be eaten only with generous amounts of added sugar. The first feed was always plain and simple — stewed rhubarb, often served with cream. Real cream! The so-called whipping cream you buy in the store is a mere pale imitation of the cream from our Jersey and Guernsey cows. So thick, you could stand a spoon in it. You could cut it with a knife.

Or so I recall.

Only after we had sated our appetite for rhubarb on its own did Mom then turn to rhubarb crisp and rhubarb pie. We filled numerous freezer bags with chopped rhubarb to see us through the winter.

And then rhubarb season was over. But we had memories of what had been, memories that would remind us of what was to come.

A couple of springs ago, when rhubarb season was at its peak, our writing group decided to collect rhubarb recipes. And so I give you:

Rhubarb Pie, a recipe (sort of)
(With apologies to William Shakespeare)

How shall I make thee on a summer’s day?
The day’s so hot and sultry, yet my mouth
Doth water at the thought of rhubarb pie.
I don my hat and brave the summer heat.
I pluck an armful, and with sharpened knife
Cut thee in dice like rubies shining red.
Thy tangy taste I soften some with sugar
And flour holds thy juices well at bay.
Thy pastry bed I make with flour and lard
That glistens like a pearl ‘neath summer moon.
Once mounded in the dish, I crown thee last
With butter and with nutmeg and a cap.
Then bake one hour full, and when ‘tis done
The joy of eating pie is soon begun.

#Rhubarb #RhubarbPieRecipe #Sonnet #HannaFamilyHistory #ChildhoodMemories #WilliamShakespeare #MargaretGHanna #FarmLife #MeyronneHistory #PrairieLife


Sweet scent fills the air
Wind-blown white flurries drift by.
Blizzard of blossoms

The pear tree is always the first to bloom. She stands vainly, a glory of white when other trees sport only the meagerest green haze. Bees and wasps nuzzle her blossoms and, intoxicated with pollen and nectar, buzz drunkenly back to their nest. Waxwings whistle as they chow down on her blossoms. A robin proclaims her as part of his territory and defies anyone to take her from him. The heady smell of spring foretells the promise of autumn bounty.

The west wind arrives. It goes where it will, and everything in its way must survive or bow before it. It cares naught for beauty or vanity. The wind strips her blossoms, tears her dress to tatters, flings petals thither and yon, not caring where they fall. They gather in drifts or lie trapped in the grass, shreds and patches of past glory.

The wind departs. Her glory is gone. She is just an ordinary tree, clothed in green, humbled until next spring.

(This is my first attempt at haibun, a Japanese literary form combing prose and haiku.)

#Haibun #Haiku #PearBlossoms #Fiction #Spring #Poetry #Prose #MargaretGHanna