Summer is time for baseball, swimming, and sweet corn. There's nothing better than biting into a fresh, juicy, sweet ear of corn on a hot summer night. However, you may not be the only one interested in your sweet corn patch. Raccoons, corn earworms, and birds all have their sights on your tasty corn as well. So unless you're feeling very generous and want to share, you'll have to be clever about warding off these pests.
Confounding the Coons
Raccoons have an eerie sense of knowing when sweet corn will be ripe. I've grown corn and not seen a raccoon in the area until the night before I'm ready to pick. Somehow they know what I'm planning and end up raiding the patch. It wouldn't be so bad if they ate just a few ears, but raccoons tend to take tastes of every ear and break corn stalks in the process.
There are many repellents, such as cayenne pepper, moth balls, human hair, playing a radio all night, and wild animal urine, that supposedly keep raccoons away. If they do work, it isn't for long. Raccoons are smart and will quickly adapt to anything new in the garden. The best control is a good electric fence. Place wires 6 inches and 12 inches high. Since raccoons are nocturnal, you only have to keep it on at night, making it less likely you or your family accidentally gets shocked. Build the fence before you see signs of raccoons for the most effective control.
If you find small worms in the ear end of your corn, it's probably the larvae form of the corn earworm. The adult moth lays eggs on corn silks. The eggs hatch and the young feed on the silks and the corn kernels in the tip of the corn. This pest is more of an annoyance than a serious problem. If you don't care about a few worms, simply cut off the tip of the corn ear to remove the earworm. If you are looking for the perfect ear of corn, squirt half a medicine dropper of mineral oil into the tip of each ear of corn after the silks have wilted and begun to turn brown. The oil should kill the earworm. Clean up plant debris in fall so fewer earworms overwinter.
There's nothing more frustrating than seeing a blackbird hanging on an ear of corn in the morning pecking away. To prevent birds from raiding your corn patch, try using scare techniques, such as scare eye balloons and reflective tape. These provide the illusion of motion and activity in the corn patch, making it less likely the birds will land. In a small patch, consider taping the ear of corn shut with duct tape. Wait until the ear is pollinated and starts to size up, then tape half of the ear, starting at the silk end. Birds will likely go elsewhere for their meal.
For more on growing sweet corn, go to the Virtual Vegetable Guide (www.willhiteseed.com/store/asp/guides.asp).
Question of the Week
Q. This spring we planted an asparagus bed and it's growing well. The ferns are tall and full. What should I do with the foliage this fall?
A. Once frost has killed back the foliage, you can leave it alone until spring or trim it off and remove it. Many gardeners remove the foliage to avoid harboring pests and diseases over the winter. On the other hand, the old stems will catch and hold snow, adding a bit of insulating mulch to the beds. So some gardeners opt to leave healthy ones in place until spring. In spring, be sure to remove all the old stems to the ground.