Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Culling

Despite the supposed scarcity of honey bees, the majority of blooms on my two little apple trees managed to get fertilized. When the petals fell off, each former flower cluster turned into a cluster of baby apples, five or six to a cluster.

If left to their own devices, a lot of these infant fruits would wither and drop from the branch, but even if only a couple remained per cluster there would still be too many clusters and too many apples for the tree to nourish, resulting in an undersized, unhealthy crop and possible damage to the tree from too much weight on its branches.

So every year, after blossom time, I go out and, armed with nothing but my God-given fingernails, cull the apple crop.

This is light, pleasant work, especially since, true to my European heritage, I believe strongly in pruning, and the tops of my semi-dwarf trees are within comfortable reach of my outstretched arms. Slowly I part the foliage, looking for apple clumps. If any two are closer than six inches, I pinch off one. And for each clump that I leave on, I look for the plumpest baby, and I get rid of the rest.

The job is soon finished, as I only have the two little trees, but every minute that I'm culling apples I think back to the time, many years ago, when I culled...baby rabbits.

This was back in the 1970s, when, having read in The Mother Earth News that rabbit meat offered a higher-quality protein than even chicken or fish, I decided that I owed it to my husband and children to raise rabbits for our table. You couldn't go wrong with rabbits: they would fatten on yard and garden waste; they made the best compost in the world (with which to grow more veggies, to feed more rabbits); and they reproduced in the proverbial manner.

I had grown up, in Spain, on my grandmother's home-grown and -processed rabbit meat, and I remembered that it was delicious. I wasn't ready to tackle the slaughtering--something my grandmother accomplished quickly and without fuss--but the rabbit man who sold me the pregnant New Zealand Red doe assured me that he would be glad to do the job for me.

The girls and I had fun feeding the big fluffy doe green treats from the yard in addition to her rabbit chow. We gave her lots of water and made sure her cage was sheltered from the sun. And a month later, just as the rabbit man said they would, the bunnies came--twelve of them, pink and hairless and hungry.

I went back to the original article to read what to do next. And what came next was culling. A doe, even a big one, could only successfully raise a maximum of eight rabbits, so it behooved the rabbit husbandry-person to cull the litter at the earliest possible moment.

I was, I thought, serious about raising rabbits, as I was serious about most everything in those days. My vision of homesteading on our 1 1/2 acres was as solemn as it was heartfelt. I was determined to escape the tyranny of agribusiness, and felt it my duty as a mother to feed my kids stuff that I grew with my own hands, whether they liked it or not. As for culling the baby rabbits, was I a real homesteader, or was I just channeling Marie Antoinette?

Back from teaching my classes the next afternoon, I parked the girls in front of Sesame Street, got into my jeans and boots, and strode to the rabbit cage. The mother was eating, so I had clear access to the nest box. There they were, all twelve of them, squirming in a cloud of fluff, their heartbeat visible under their paper-thin skin.

I took a breath, closed my eyes, and reached into the nest. I carried the four bunnies into the chicken yard, set them down on a brick, grabbed another brick, struck...and, leaving the remains for the hens, ran into the house and poured myself a glass of sherry.

And that is what I think about every spring, the whole time I'm culling apples.

5 comments :

  1. Lali, you amaze me with your knowledge and talents and energy and courage.

    I have a rabbit man story. I told it on my 365, but it is gone now. Maybe I'll retell it.

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  2. Eh. You've cured me of any desire to raise rabbits. Eh.

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  3. I really don't know that (short of starving) I could make myself do this, despite the fact that I know I am hypocritical and not taking responsibility for my own food choices.

    However, I must say, whenever rabbit is on the menu, I am one thrilled bunny.

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  4. Horripilante! La historia tiene elementos macabramente tremendistas. Humor y tragedia.
    Allez, Lali

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  5. Dona, please tell the story. Maybe we have the same rabbit man? Mine was in Maryland.

    Bridgett, they are really hard to keep clean, too. And hard to keep cool in the summer. And their water is forever freezing in the winter, and so on.

    Indigo, I don't know what the answer to all this is. I eat things I wouldn't want to kill every day too.

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