Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Outdoors

Battling raccoons in garden - and losing

Wildside column: There are ways to keep critters at bay

Garden apprentice Michael Love, 7, of Ames, checks out a raccoon caught in a live trap in the Quasqueton garden of his grandfather. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
Garden apprentice Michael Love, 7, of Ames, checks out a raccoon caught in a live trap in the Quasqueton garden of his grandfather. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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QUASQUETON — After 35 years’ gardening in the geographic center of this Buchanan County town, I am at last confronted with the sweet corn grower’s worst nightmare — raccoons.

With the city limits no more than half a mile in any direction, I always have marveled that raccoons had never molested my genetically modified, sugary-enhanced sweet corn.

But now they’ve found me, and we are engaged in a struggle to see who will eat my State Fair-quality produce. So far they are winning.

The trouble started 10 days ago when my neighbor woke to discover half her sweet corn patch destroyed. Raccoons were suspected and confirmed the following morning when she caught one in a live trap after it had demolished the remainder of her crop.

My heart sank when I witnessed the carnage and knew my patch, a week behind hers in maturity, would be next.

On the night her patch was destroyed, one or more raccoons had sampled the most mature of my three sweet corn patches, felling several stalks and nibbling a few kernels before apparently deciding it wasn’t quite ready.

It (or they) came back the next night, knocked down a dozen stalks and cleaned the cobs.

I then installed two live traps baited with cat food in the patch and eagerly awaited the morrow. To my disappointment the traps were empty, but to my relief the corn had not been disturbed.

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The traps remained at the ready Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning one of them held a half-grown raccoon, which was deported several miles to a remote, wooded area.

Later that day, Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Supervisor Jim Jansen — an expert on wildlife, sweet corn and keeping the two separate — told me I likely had not seen the last of that corn-stealing raccoon.

“They have a strong homing instinct and will travel as much as 20 miles to return to their home range,” said Jansen, who earlier in his career served as a depredation officer, helping landowners prevent wildlife damage. In unfamiliar territory, many will get run over by vehicles along the way, he said.

Jansen said dispatching trapped raccoons (which is legal), rather than relocating them is probably preferable for people who value their sweet corn.

Exclusion is even more preferable, he said.

Two strands of electric fence — one six inches from the ground, the other 14 inches — is nearly raccoon proof, Jansen said.

They hate and fear electricity even more than they love sweet corn, he said.

“Put the fence in about two weeks before the corn is ripe. Once they get a taste of it, it becomes much harder to keep them out,” he said.

Jansen also advises attaching strips of aluminum foil smeared with peanut butter to the strands of wire. “That will attract them to the fence, and they’ll get their noses burned before they even try to get into the sweet corn,” he said.

Other home remedies — such as blaring radios, dogs tied in the patch, flashing lights and twinkling pie tins — can deter raccoons, but they lose effectiveness as the raccoons become acclimated to them, Jansen said.

“You need to change it up, move it around, turn it on and off,” he said.

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Going forward with three live traps in my patch, I will have to decide which is worse: Spending more than $100 on electric fencing for $50 worth of sweet corn or acknowledging that I, an experienced and determined gardener, cannot grow corn in Iowa.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.