No Rabbits in the Garden

June 01, 2017 Posted by: Jan Elder and Ellen Jones

“The gardens yielded radishes, lettuce, and onions … and peas, beans, cabbages, & onions … began to grow well.”
Assistant Surgeon A. A. Woodhull, June 1870

The good news is the "bunny fence" was a success for the second year—no rabbit damage in the garden this spring! The peas (greatly loved by rabbits in early spring) are blooming and we should be harvesting peas within two weeks. So, what is the "bunny fence"? It is long strips of old sheets and drapery lining, about 15 inches high, which is tied with string to the inside of the low trellis fence on the north and east sides of the garden. It is a fencing option that would have been available to 19th century gardeners. (The reports from the Assistant Surgeons at Fort Larned do not mention rabbit damage to the garden. At that time there were numerous dogs and humans (who were looking for the makings of a good rabbit stew) at the fort. The 19th century rabbits did not enjoy the luxury of a quiet evening of eating in the vegetable garden!)

Most of the early radishes have been harvested; the few remaining will be left to bloom to help attract beneficial insects to the garden. We are now harvesting the second planting of radishes, also the few remaining lettuce plants, and the spinach.      
The garden is looking good, tomato plants have grown tall enough to be tied to stakes, and two of the plants are already blooming. The "tops" of the beets and turnips have grown well—hopefully we will find a good harvest when we begin digging these vegetables in the next few weeks.

But—the bad news—the first planting of corn was almost a total failure; only two plants survived. The days of cold and wet weather that have been frequent this spring were too much for the "warm-weather" corn. We tried a second planting; if the weather stays warm and there is enough rain, we may still get a corn crop this summer.

The Kentucky Wonder and Speckled Cranberry pole beans planted in early May are several inches tall. Last year we tried growing the pole beans up the corn stalks—a total disaster as the raccoons bent the stalks to get to the corn—we had pole beans growing in a tangled mess! This year we have wooden poles in the garden for the plants to climb and hope this will make bean harvesting much easier.

The idea of growing pole beans up corn stalks—that we tried last year—was based on the "Three Sisters" method used by Eastern Native American tribes. Corn, beans, and squash were considered a gift from the gods to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together. Corn was the older sister who gave support to the younger sister, bean. Bean was the giving sister who took nitrogen from the air and gave it to the ground to support all three sisters. Squash provided the large leaves that shaded the ground, keeping it cool and moist. If this method worked for Native American tribes for centuries, why did it not work for us? The difference was the damage caused by the local raccoons breaking the corn stalks to get to the corn. (Jan used this method in her own garden several years ago and it worked, but Jan also had a large farm dog called Majorette who guarded the garden at night!). If you would like to know more about the "Three Sisters" method of growing corn, beans, and squash, you can do something our 19th century gardeners could not do—search online for "Three Sisters Garden".

gardening, historic gardens, 19th century gardening, Fort Larned garden

Leave this field empty
Required information

Post A Comment

Last updated: June 1, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1767 KS Hwy 156
Larned, KS 67550


(620) 285-6911
This phone is answered during regular business hours. After hours calls will be answered the next day. Please select a mailbox or leave a message on the main extension when the fort is closed.

Contact Us