How we outsmarted the corn-loving raccoons

Every year my husband, John, and I struggle to guard our sweet corn from furry masked bandits. I've tried various tactics, from sprinkling cayenne pepper on the ripening ears to sowing a later variety in outside rows that encircle the main planting. The logic behind this scheme is that when the thieves sample the outside rows, they reckon the corn is not yet ripe enough to call for a party.

But the clever raccoons that prowled our farm saw through my deception. When I walked out to pick corn, I would find stalks snapped, half-stripped ears, and cleaned cobs tossed on the ground.

This year we borrowed a portable radio to place in our garden. Friends told us that raccoons dislike loud, grating, music, so we planned to leave the radio running during the night. We never used this trick, because another friend offered a less noisy idea.

"Raccoons hate the scratchy feel of squash vines and leaves," Phyllis said. "Plant squash or pumpkins around your patch as a barrier."

A dike of cucurbits to hold back the hungry flood of coons would also provide us with our winter squash supply. I planted hills of squash seeds in the center of the corn patch and allowed the vines to ramble through the rows. Because I like experimenting with different varieties, I chose a new hybrid. Rumbo was described as having sweet, orange flesh and pumpkin-type leaves - all the better to shield my corn from coons.

Rumbo the runaway crept between the rows with elephant-ear sized leaves and sent thick, scratchy vines in every direction. Green cables stretched upward across the corn plants; they roped and snarled, forming prickly webs. Huge orange blossoms filled with bees smiled from their perches on top of the cornstalks. Squash shaped like Cinderella's carriage dangled on high until their expanding girth bent the cornstalks.

No raccoons wanted to penetrate the tangle of vines and leaves. But when my husband went out to pick corn, he grumbled that the radio would be easier to navigate than the squash web.

Except for a few outside ears that they sampled and tossed, the raccoons retreated to some other gardener's Eden. Rumbo still thrives; it's creeping across the melons and toward the tomatoes.

John and I have polished off the sweet corn. And snug in my box of leftover seed packets wait the remaining squash seeds, ready to erupt over next year's garden.

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