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You win again, raccoons. We'll see you next sweet corn season

As the summer waned, Jenny Schlecht thought she had won the battle against garden pests and looked forward to a feast of sweet corn. The area raccoons made sure to let her know that she was wrong.

A human shadow is over the shredded and knocked over remains of a sweet corn field.
Raccoons made quick work of destroying Jenny Schlecht's four rows of sweet corn.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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Early in the growing season, when everything looked green and bright but little creatures (including my children) kept beating me to early season produce from the garden , I was quite pessimistic about the harvest to come in the fall.

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As it turned out, some hastily made barriers around green beans and peppers protected my plants. And I just had to sneak to the strawberry planter before my daughters had time to pillage all of the ripe fruits.

In no time, radishes, green beans, peas and lettuce we had grown were making it onto our supper plates. Then, the onions and peppers were ready, and it's been a month or more since I've purchased either in the store. The yellow summer squashes, often sauteed with the onions and peppers, were a tasty side dish for me and my older daughter. The tomatoes, while less abundant than in some years, have made it onto the menu and into little mouths who walk by and gobble them up.

But the sweet corn and the potatoes appeared to be the real gems of the garden, and we were happily waiting for both.

And while I'm happy to say that the potatoes appear likely to be plentiful and should be ready for digging soon, the sweet corn fell in the eleventh hour to an old familiar foe: Raccoons.

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When I was a kid, Dad always planted at least a few rows to sweet corn. In good years, we filled the beds of pickups and sold it by the dozen. Even in good years, we had to dodge bent, twisted and broken stalks, dragged down by the destructive trash pandas. But in bad years, we barely had enough corn to freeze for ourselves.

Grandpa tried a variety of things to keep the raccoons out, things like lights and keeping a radio playing. On the latter attempt, he declared that the raccoons likely just danced as they destroyed the corn, because it certainly didn't keep them away.

Since I've been an adult, I've planted sweet corn in small quantities a time or two. It has never amounted to much and barely seemed worth the effort. But this year, my younger daughter grabbed a package of sweet corn seed and threw it in our cart. She — being 6 and not overly enthused for things that don't involve play — doesn't get too excited about planting and transplanting, watering and weeding. So, I figured, if she wants to try, let's do it.

The little packet of seeds held enough for four 10-foot rows. The little plants emerged quickly and grew at a steady pace, thanks to my mother-in-law being much better than me at remembering to water. I diligently weeded every few days early on to make sure the little plants didn't get shaded out.

It was evident early that we had planted our new garden spot in a regular through-way for deer, as a few stalks got tipped over here and there throughout the summer.

But, as the corn tassled and the ears began to grow, I thought we'd at least have enough for a few meals for both my in-laws and us. Probably not enough to freeze any for the winter, but I had visions of expanding our little plot for next year. I checked cobs every few days, trying to beat the raccoons to the harvest.

Alas, they are less discerning than me. And one morning, my mother-in-law met me in the yard with a disappointed look. "Have you seen the corn?"

Every stalk with at least an ear nearing maturity had been flattened and torn apart. The only ones standing had tiny ears or none at all. In a single night of raccoon revelry, our crop was gone.

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My daughters' calves will get the flattened stalks when we clean it up, so our work won't go to waste entirely. But we will not feast on homegrown sweet corn this year, relying instead on farmers markets and fundraisers.

Will we try again? Probably. I'm no quitter. But my mother-in-law and I have talked about putting up snow fence or electric fence or some other barrier. I'm open to suggestions.

But I won't try the radio. No sense giving the little bandits entertainment while they steal my corn.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.

Opinion by Jenny Schlecht
Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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