crows and countermeasures

with great appreciation to Sam Russell, who told me what to do; and Cornell University’s 1909 Circular No. 6, for explaining how.

I hustled to plant my colored corn at an auspicious time, just before a rainy spell around Memorial Day.  It sprouted right on schedule, but on the very day I admired rows of shoots gleaming in the morning sun, I came home in the evening to find fallen ranks of crow-plucked corn.  From fifteen long rows, I found less than fifteen survivors.  Livid and blue were the words of my mouth, yessir they were.

What to do?  I can’t just shoot the crows, tempted though I was.  For one thing, crows (and their Corvidae kin, bluejays and ravens) are smart and interesting birds.  For another, this is crow-rich territory:  if I shoot one crow, there will be two more applying for the vacancy.

Good advice from my dear friend Sam, and some facts pulled from Google’s stasis-box, convinced me to replant my corn…with a few changes, this time around.

I’ve planted twice as many rows:  32 rows in a 15 x 70 foot patch.

This is about as much square footage as I can cultivate with a hand-hoe before breakfast.

I’ve sowed more seeds per foot.

The sweet corn plate only drops seeds every three inches. The pea plate drops ’em every inch.  I used the pea plate this time.  “One for the blackbird, one for the crow, one for the cutworm, one to grow,” according to nursery-rhyme standards.

I’ve summoned the reserves.

My total force numbers two stationary and three mobile troops.

And I’ve booby-trapped the seed corn, based on a hundred-year-old circular from Cornell University’s Plant Physiology department.  It explained how to do what my dear friend Sam Russell told me his old-time farmers used to do years ago in Massachusetts:  coat the seeds with noxious-tasting tar.

Pine tar, something I keep on hand as conditioner for the horses’ hooves in dry years, is thicker than molasses, twice as sticky, and has a foul fume-y taste. I checked.

I did as the circular directed:  I poured water over my corn, then added a spoonful of pine tar, and stirred till “practically every grain is covered.”

Though the book called for 2 tablespoons tar per bushel, or 1 tablespoon per 10 quarts of seed, my scant 2 quarts of corn got a whole tablespoonful of tar, because I couldn’t get the tar back off the spoon once I had dipped it in the tar-can.

If “properly spread on a dry floor” the seeds would have dried less sticky, but I opted for the other method, and dusted the corn with wood ashes so it could be “used immediately without serious inconvenience.”  I do despise serious inconvenience.

I tested a few kernels in some stove ashes. They went in bright and sticky…

…and came out coated and ready to flow easily through the planter.

When I filled the planter’s hopper, I spread some treated corn at the edge of the patch.  According to Cornell, this invites the crows to catch on ahead of time that the corn tastes terrible.

Grey, gruesome, and guaranteed to deter.

Into the ground it went.  Now, after a day of soaking rain and three consecutive days of Juneglorious sun, the corn is once again at the vulnerable stage.

I don’t understand why crows think that withered kernel below the sprout is such a delicacy.  From this stage until the second leaf unfurls, cornlings are imperiled.

One of the survivors of the first Blitzcaw:

My garden should be under a sea of these half-foot juveniles…

…but alas, it is only abristle with little green stubs.

Painted Mountain corn is bred to be dry on the stalk at about 85 days, so I am optimistic this planting will mature before the worst of autumn frosts.

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