In A Permanent Home, John David goes out one morning to find some damage to ears of corn in his field. Because he’s living in the contested area of Lovely’s Purchase, he’s not sure if the damage has been done by animals or humans. Well, I recently found damage in my own corn patch, and the culprit is clear – we’d been visited by raccoons.
This picture was taken in the patch of yellow sweet corn in early July. We had two fairly long rows, and the damage was at the end of both rows. Really, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been; only a few stalks of corn were pulled down, and maybe a dozen ears had been pulled off and gnawed. I got right to work that morning and harvested around 75-100 ears (I didn’t count this year because I used the corn for whole-kernel corn rather than corn on the cob). I got plenty, even with the raccoons having their party.
Of course, as I was harvesting the corn, I was thinking about the scene in the novel, and I decided the book took some liberties with reality (unintentionally). For one thing, I was harvesting my corn to use fresh and to put in the freezer. Someone raising corn in the early nineteenth century would more than likely have waited until the corn kernels had dried on the stalk to harvest it, since there really was no good way to store fresh corn. Once it was dry, corn could be shelled off the cob; from that point, it could be stored whole, or it could be ground into cornmeal. So John David’s corn wouldn’t have been ready for harvesting for another month or so. That’s a long time to keep raccoons away from a corn patch.
That brings me to another point – keeping the raccoons out. My husband and I have a six-foot hog-wire fence around the entire three-acre patch where we raise the blueberries and other vegetables. The fence has been generally effective in keeping deer out, but obviously raccoons can climb hog-wire. (In fact, one morning recently we actually saw three raccoons climbing the fence when our dog Fiona “treed” them.) Just imagine how difficult it would be to keep any kind of wildlife out of a garden patch bordered by a split-rail fence. Most split-rail fences I’ve seen are no more than three feet tall. I’ve also seen some fences made of sticks or staves pushed into the ground around a garden to make a picket fence. But a deer could easily jump over either of those kinds of fence, and neither would keep the raccoons out. Honestly, I don’t see how a nineteenth-century farmer would have managed it. With a good guard dog and a rifle, I suppose. The strategy might have been to simply keep the population of potential pests down to a level that would still allow the farmer to get a decent crop. So maybe many a farmer spent a night (or several) guarding a corn crop on a summer night, just as John David did in the novel.
One thing makes me laugh about this whole incident. Earlier in the summer, I was talking to my uncle about the produce patch, and he advised me that raccoons always know when corn is ready for harvest. “The day you plan to pick your corn – the night before, the raccoons will come and pick it first,” he said. I guess that’s true – or is it (as in my case) that the day after the night the raccoons pick the corn is harvest day?