Our house rabbits play a significant role in one of our contributions to creation care. In fact, their contribution is tied my second least favorite chore: cleaning out the rabbits’ litter box.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blast to have rabbits as house pets. Our friends’ children lose their minds (in a mostly good way) when we turn the rabbits loose. They, the rabbits that is, provide endless amusement for our son without all of the sneezing that comes with cats.
The rabbits even venture into the kitchen to lick up the crumbs he left behind at dinner time. They’re less aloof than a cat but not as “in your face” as a dog.
Rabbits are fun pets, but my gosh, their litter stinks. I wish I could just dump their litter in the trash and be done with it, but their litter is far too valuable for that. Using a cat litter box scoop, I drop piles of rabbit manure straight into our garden all fall, winter, and spring. In the summer time I drop their litter into a bucket to make manure tea (my #1 least favorite chore). You see, rabbit manure is the black gold of animal manure.
Our rabbits help us mightily with creation care, but I can assure you that effective creation care really stinks, literally.
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We didn’t have this in mind when we adopted these rabbits from the House Rabbit Society. We just wanted pets around to amuse us. While they’ve provided no end of amusement and have posed for a variety of hilarious pictures, they’ve also tried my patience by chewing on the rugs and furniture. We’ve lost two chairs to them. Nevertheless, when I read the chapter on manure in our Organic Gardening guide, I realized that we were sitting on a fertilizing goldmine.
I would MUCH rather just buy the bag of white fertilizing pellets from the garden store. It’s far more dignifying to just sprinkle that stuff in the garden. Chemicals are so clean and simple. Nevertheless, I can’t escape the fact that we have the best manure around in our rabbit cage. I’d be a fool to let it go to waste, right?
As I’ve rooted through the rabbit’s litter to dump their precious manure in our garden, I’ve had a little time to reflect on how much we’ve drifted away from the natural world. How we’ve sanitized ourselves to the point of being sick and unhealthy sometimes.
Lakes and rivers are polluted from the run off from fertilizers that cause algae growth. Writers such as Wendell Berry have criticized our dependence on fertilizers that fail to build up the quality of the soil, only depleting it without a long term plan for combating erosion.
If I want to garden naturally without man-made chemicals, I have to face the stench of our rabbits and keep piling their manure into our garden with a mix of leaves and hay. Our tiny plants this spring will find all of the nutrients they need without having to touch synthetic fertilizer—provided I make manure tea, the single most terrible thing about organic gardening.
Manure tea is exactly what it sounds like: manure that’s been “steeping” in water for a week.
Brewing manure tea each week in the heat of the summer creates a pungent stew that you really don’t want to splash on your clothes. I often hold my breath as I dump the “tea” on our tomato plants from its five gallon bucket.
If you see a five gallon bucket on the side of our house this summer, keep away!
After several unfortunate incidents, I learned to change out of my nicer clothes, put on my work boots, and brave the stink of the manure tea. However, it’s not just good for the plants. It’s good for me.
It’s good to remember that there’s a high cost to living in a sanitized, modern world. And most importantly, that God has provided our natural world with the exact things we need to grow healthy food. We just have to be willing to stick our hands in some manure.
It’s humbling to muck around in poop, dirt, and stinky, home-brewed fertilizer. And that is exactly why I need to do it. There’s nothing like spilling manure tea on your clothes to drive home the cost of creation care. It’s not the worst thing in the world to deal with manure tea, but it requires taking myself a little less seriously.
We have been shaped from the dirt in the ground and will one day return to it, but those of us in the first world spend our lives working hard to avoid getting near dirt and especially the life-giving manure from animals. Who wouldn’t prefer simple, convenient, and specially designed fertilizer that comes in a bag?
When life is sanitized and separated from the natural world, anything that could take us down a peg is removed. While I applaud anyone who gardens, conventionally or organically, I can’t escape my own responsibility to use the resources sitting right in our living room.
If I fail to dump that manure in my garden and opt to buy a bag of fertilizer instead, my reasons are tied to pride, selfishness, and a failure to look ahead to the consequences of my lifestyle. This is something I feel called to do, and facing the litter each week has benefited my garden and my spirituality.
Making my own fertilizer from rabbit manure is a small step toward sustainability and creation care, but it is also one of the smelliest.