D is for Destruction

Oh, woe! Disaster struck overnight in the corn patch. The bad news is two fine corn stalks were struck down by a Dastardly Destroyer, one of the local raccoon mob. These corn plants were snapped right off and cannot be rescued. The good news is fifty stalks are still standing…so far…[cue ominous music]…

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I sigh and hang my head in desperation. “Why, why, why?” I ask the Universe. There is no answer.

The corn plants haven’t yet tasseled or formed cobs so there’s nothing on the plant to benefit the raccoon. By killing the plants, the critter has guaranteed that they never will produce succulent kernels for it to devour. Not the brightest move on the part of Procyon lotor.

Scientifically, the raccoon family is closely related to the bear family. That may explain its bent toward wanton destruction. Have you seen what a bear can do to an automobile if there’s the slightest whiff of a tidbit inside or even a glimpse of something that looks like a cooler? Not pretty. If a grizzly can’t shatter a side window by pushing its considerable weight (upwards of 270 kg or 600 pounds) against it, it will simply rip off the door. The bear doesn’t care if it destroyed the car and found nothing to eat inside of it. There are plenty of other cars in the campground.

By contrast, a raccoon weighs up to 9 kg or 20 pounds, which fortunately keeps it out of the door-ripping business. Still, the coon has plenty of body weight to push over a corn stalk. I want to grab that rapscallion by the scruff of the neck and scream into its face, “It’s too early! There is no corn on the corn stalks. Stop killing them!”

It would be a waste of breath, of course. The raccoon would take exception to my violation of its personal space, and would respond with hissing and biting. Communication would fail utterly.

The devastation could be worse. Five years ago, a raccoon came through the neighbourhood one night and pushed over one entire row of corn plants in my garden and all of my neighbour’s corn. Again, it was too early for the stalks to be bearing food. That’s when I started experimenting with ways to protect the stalks.

Today, all I can do is increase the defenses in the corn. I will get out my trusty roll of twine and run another line of support along each row, cinching it tight at the ends. I am determined to get a few delectable cobs of corn for myself and my friends. Delicious!

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Some “d” words for children can be found at my video, Letter D and the Secret Window:

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C is for Coddle

When a friend asked the status of my vegetable garden yesterday, I talked about my recent work in the corn patch. I had weeded, side-dressed, hilled, and twined the corn. In a couple of weeks, the stalks will tassel, and I’ll side-dress, hill, and twine it a second time.

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“Wow, you really coddle your corn,” said my friend.

Coddle? Me? I was shocked at the word. I’ve always considered myself more of a slacker than a keener in the garden. Oh, I have great intentions to be a candidate for World’s Best Gardener, but I am too much the expert in procrastinating, especially in the domain of weeding. When I cleared the ground around the young corn two days ago, some of the pigweed stood as tall as the crop I was rescuing.

No, I don’t coddle. But I do want my garden investments to pay off. Corn is a big investment in space and produces modestly per unit area compared to big producers like chard or zucchini. A stalk of corn that is neglected may only produce one cob, while a stalk that has no weedy competitors for food and water, and is given extra food when it’s having a growth spurt will produce two or even three hearty cobs dense with juicy kernels.

The hilling and twining are to prevent stalks from falling over in wet, windy weather, or being pushed flat onto the ground by overly zealous raccoons. Prevent? Heh, it should work so flawlessly as all that. I’ve not lost any to weather lately, but even with the double strands of twine to hold the plants in position, raccoons will bend a few into awkward poses.

Hilling and side-dressing are standard procedures for corn growers, but my Great Twine Defense is a strategy I developed in desperation. It came about as another of those “good news, bad news” scenarios. The good news is that wildlife like raccoons and coyotes are moving into our cities and using this environment to be fruitful and multiply. The more good news is creatures who live in cities learn, think, and develop new strategies for survival. They get smarter, too.

Which brings me to the bad news. For the first ten years of my vegetable garden, the corn patch was unscathed by pests. Wait, wait, I am getting to the bad news. Then the odd raccoon would wander through my garden at corn harvest time, push over a stalk, and eat a bit of its corn. No, that’s not the BAD news. Not yet.

Over time, the raccoon issue worsened. In recent years, they would come through the corn when the stalks were small – long before any cobs had formed – and they pushed over plant after plant after plant, snapping them off at their bases. The result? Many dead and dying plants. No corn on the cob from the fallen soldiers. Not for me, not for the raccoons.

A war of escalating violence between myself and the raccoons was out of the question. Who could bear to raise a hand against Rascal the Raccoon? Not I. Instead, I had to resort to guile. We humans are good at guile.

So, after trying a few strategies that didn’t work, I now use the Twine Method. When I first plant the corn, I drive in a tall rebar post at each end of each row. As the corn stalks grow, I run taut lines of hardy twine on each side of each row at nine inch intervals.

It’s not foolproof, but it has reduced my losses to a delightfully low level.

For now.

I warily anticipate the next move by my furry opponent.

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Corn, crop, coddle, and cob are all “c” words. For young children and grandchildren, here is a video hunt for c words.