A family of rabbits hopped across fields and meadows looking for a nice place to set up their new home. They were expecting their family to grow in the spring and their old burrow was much too small for them all.
They discovered an old, abandoned shed at the edge of a field. It was surrounded by an overgrown garden.
“This could be just the place for us,” father rabbit exclaimed.
“Yes, let’s take a closer look at this shed,” suggested mother rabbit.
When they got closer, they were amazed to see that nothing had been changed here for a long time and the high hedges and bushes had grown tall and wide. The first buds were showing on their branches and some old fruit trees were slowly awakening from their long winter sleep.
It was clear that there used to be tidy vegetable garden beds underneath all the overgrowth. They were now overrun with weeds and covered with fallen branches and leaves.
“Let’s stay here!” mother rabbit said excitedly. “This is exactly what we’ve been looking for. We’ll have lots of privacy and our little ones can grow up in the protection of these hedges and trees. I can restore this old vegetable garden, too. I think it will feel like home in no time.”
Father rabbit agreed. The young bunnies were excited to explore the surroundings and started a big game of hide and seek. Father rabbit unpacked his tools and began fixing up the inside of the old shed. Mother rabbit swept and mopped, prepared cozy sleeping places, and began to set up the small kitchenette. She carefully stacked canning jars, cups, and plates on a small shelf, as well as clean pots and pans, and imagined the future harvest in her new garden.
Every day, mother rabbit could be found in the garden clearing the beds and sowing different varieties of lettuce, radishes and all sorts of beets. Growing new varieties of beets was a particular specialty of hers. She was known in her circle of friends for the many delicacies she made from colorful beets and was often asked for advice and help.
Mother rabbit kept the seeds of orange, yellow, purple and dark red beets in small bags and guarded them like treasure. There was one particularly tasty and rare variety that she was still missing—the black truffle beet. She had been searching for these seeds for a long time, but had not had any luck in finding them.
This year, the rabbit community asked mother rabbit to bake a delicious beet cake for the summer festival. She was proud to be entrusted with this task and wanted to prepare something very special. She loved the summer festival because it was a nice opportunity to get together with friends and extended family.
She paid extra close attention to how her beets were growing. She pulled one beet every day to get an impression of the quality, taste and color.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” she shouted one day while she was in the garden. Her family rushed over and found an angry mother rabbit holding a nibbled beet in her paw.
“Who did this?” she asked, looking at her children. All of them put on their most innocent faces and held up their paws.
“Hmm, well, it actually couldn’t have been any of you since the beet was nibbled from underneath,” mother rabbit realized. “But then, who might it have been?”
The young rabbits tried to reassure her. “Don’t be sad,” they all said at once.
The eldest said, “We’ll find the thief!”
The next day, there was another nibbled beet in the garden. Mother rabbit started finding one almost every day but no one could find the sneaky thief. They kept a close watch. Each of the children took turns watching, but they couldn’t see anything during the day.
Father rabbit decided to stay up and watch through the night. But when it got dark, he accidentally fell asleep.
Mother rabbit looked sadly at the dwindling beets in her garden.
“It can’t go on like this,” she said. “There won’t be enough for my beet cake!”
She disappeared into the shed and took out a bunch of little tinkling bells. Before dark, she carefully tied a little bell to each of the remaining beets so that as soon as someone pulled the beet, the whole garden would start ringing. She was sure she’d catch the thief now.
That night, mother rabbit and father rabbit stayed outside the shed and waited. Just as their eyes started to close, there was a soft tinkling sound. They saw a very small head with tight, pointed ears peek out a small opening in the flowerbed. The little creature squinted its eyes as the rabbits shone their lantern in its direction.
Father rabbit hopped as fast as he could to the garden and confronted the little creature.
“Who are you?” he asked in a stern voice.
“I am the beet counter,” said the little animal.
“Oh, is that what thieves who help themselves to other people’s vegetables call themselves now?” said mother rabbit angrily.
The little creature was confused. “I am not a thief. I’m a root mouse. I counts beets.”
“Well what is a beet counter doing in our garden?” asked father rabbit.
“I teach the young root mice and we’re currently learning how to count,” the root mouse explained. “The beets in your garden are so colorful. Not like the black ones in your neighbor’s field. Such colorful beets are rare and are much more fun for the young ones to count. We didn’t know they were yours. I thought they were wild.”
“I see,” said mother rabbit. “But why do you always eat just one?”
“When my students have counted correctly, they each get to bite off a piece of the beet as a reward. They take another piece home to dry. In order for us to survive the winter, each of us needs a certain number of dried beets. That’s why learning to count is so important! We have been practicing diligently but have only been able to gather a little so far.”
“Fortunately!” said father rabbit. “Otherwise our whole garden would have been harvested long ago.”
Mother rabbit gave some seeds from her collection to the root mouse so that her garden could be spared in the future and went inside with father rabbit. They were happy that the mystery was solved.
The summer festival was finally here and mother rabbit began to prepare the delicious beet cake. Suddenly she remembered something that the beet counter had said about black beets.
“Could it be the black truffle beets I’ve been searching for?” she thought. She ran to the neighboring field and could hardly believe her eyes. The field was full of black truffle beets.
“What luck it was to have met the beet counter,” she thought. “Otherwise, I’m sure I wouldn’t have found this rare beet so quickly.”
The harvest of black truffle beets was being brought in by a farmer on a large tractor. A few beets fell from the trailer as it passed by. Mother rabbit didn’t hesitate for long, hopping into the field to pick up the fallen beets. She also managed to find a few seeds and carefully stored them in a small bag. She couldn’t wait to plant this variety in her own garden next year.
At the summer festival feast, mother rabbit proudly presented her delicious black truffle beet cake to the others. Everyone was in awe of the beautiful cake. She told the story of her family’s encounter with the beet counter as the cake was passed around. No one had heard of the beet counter before, but they listened with rapt attention as they nibbled the delicious beet cake.