As long-timer readers of this column already know, I despise blackbirds, particularly starlings and grackles, because they are essentially flying rats and should be, in my opinion, listed as species of vermin in places that categorize such creatures.
My biggest quarrel with them has to do with the annual damage they usually do to my sweet-corn crop. I also despise grackles because they are too darn lazy to rear their own young and propagate their species by destroying robins’ eggs and laying their own eggs back in the robin’s nest, whereupon the poor robin incubates the eggs for a couple or three weeks and then wonders why her babies turned out to be so ugly. But, ugly or not, like any responsible mother, she will feed and see them through childhood until she has unleashed her brood of criminals on the world, at large.
Over the years, I have discovered that such things as disposable, aluminum pie pans, blank or even used compact computer/recording discs and other reflecting devices will scare them out of my sweet corn. Unfortunately the first really gusty wind tends to blow them off my corn tassels despite my best efforts.
But this year, I found a 290-foot roll of ribbon-like stuff called “Bird Scare Tape” that really did the trick. It’s about the size of a small roll of Scotch adhesive tape, except it has no adhesive. Red on one side and silver on the other, it glistens like the bright side of aluminum foil.
It easily attaches to corn tassels by tying it to the top of a row end stalk and then making a single loop every 10 feet or so around a tassel as you walk down the row. I only put it on the outside perimeter rows and I never saw a single flying rat or mourning dove (also notorious corn pests) in my garden throughout the growing season.
Several smart alecks asked if I was getting an early start on Christmas by decorating my corn patch because it certainly looked that way, and then I got to thinking that the cheapo aluminum “icicles” that many folks use as a final touch to their Christmas trees would serve the same purpose and be even cheaper and easier to use than the bird scare ribbon. If I’m alive and able to garden come 2017, I will certainly find out. Last year Dollar Tree had the icicles two packs for a dollar and that ought to do me.
Here’s another inexpensive sweet corn tip for you. Neem oil is a nontoxic, organic combo insect repellant and fungi preventer. It won’t kill anything that I know of, but it will keep insects away and it will prevent most plant diseases. You can find it at most garden centers. It mixes with water and comes highly concentrated so you only have to use a very few ounces per gallon of water. Best of all, it has no dangerous chemicals.
The downside is that it washes off after even a light rain. I probably applied it half a dozen times to my sweet corn and beans and never had a corn worm, silk fly or bean bug in my garden. Potato bugs got to my potatoes and eggplant before I knew they were there. I did use Bug Stop on them and then sprayed with Neem oil and the bugs did not come back.
Several years ago I found a little one-quart pressure sprayer at a Dollar Store for less than three bucks and had been looking all over for another one for the last three or four years. They were available all over eBay for much higher prices than I was willing to pay and then, one day last month, Loretta came out of the Lancaster Rite Aid with a bag under her arm and wearing that grin that lets me know she’s pulled a fast one.
Turns out, she had found the last two of those little sprayers, exactly like the one I already had, marked down to less than what I’d paid for the first one. They’d been there all along but it never crossed my mind to look for them in a drugstore.
They are handier than pockets on a shirt. I keep one full of spot kill weed killer, another for Neem oil, another for insecticide, etc. They would also be very handy for window washing, car waxing and about anything that needs spraying, which may explain why the drugstore had them in stock.
I can’t promise that you will find them in any other Rite Aids and I know, for sure, that my wife scarfed up the last two in Lancaster.