Critter Crashes Corn Crop

Vineyard Victims

While I will leave for a future issue the economic analysis of my vegetable garden, suffice it to say that I am currently up to my elbows in Roma tomatoes and the freezer is filling with containers of tomato puree. The tomatoes, indeed, have been incredibly productive, but as I planned out the garden, it wasn’t really the tomatoes that I was seeking. In planning the plot and loading up on “butter and salt” sweet corn, I was looking forward to an endless supply of freshly plucked corn to be plunged moments later into boiling water and drizzled with melted sweet butter, then served up with tomatoes sliced with basil and mozzarella and drenched in balsamic. Little did I anticipate that others shared my thoughts.

As I watched the ears develop during July, I gauged the timetable when I would first be able to harvest that corn, and my mouth watered in anticipation of the sweet, fresh kernels popping into my mouth. One ear in particular, on the third row towards the end, became my barometer. In leaving my office on a Thursday evening, I realized that the following Friday night would be the first taste of the sweet corn that I had long anticipated. But, as so often occurs, when we are at the height of our revels and the anticipation is palatable, disaster struck.

Nature can be a cruel, cruel arbiter and in my mind, cruelest among nature’s denizens and agents is a particular female squirrel whose name is Devastation. As I walked up the sandstone path to my office's back door on that Friday morning, the barometer ear of corn was no longer in place. Oh yes, I found it, as it lay under the tree nicely stripped of what would have been absolutely delicious, fresh off the cob corn. At first, given the fact that the stalk had been neatly chewed off six inches from ground level, I felt that perhaps one of the beavers from Canada had somehow followed me home. It was later that same fateful day, as I surveyed the damage, that I noticed that not only were there remnants of a corn stalk high in the tree, but also the aforementioned squirrel enjoying yet another ear of my corn.

Mind you, this is not just any rodent – this cheeky, bushy-tailed varmint is truly devil spawn. As she sat on the branch, a mere five feet from my face, she scolded me for interfering with her picnic. I attempted to reason with her. I explained that she was welcome to whatever zucchini she desired, that there were more than enough tomatoes, and that she could help herself. I even offered up the jalapeños and Italian cherry peppers, but my offerings to this demon beast were of no avail. Even as I rushed to pick the not yet fully-matured ears so that I could salvage some of my buttery dreams, the pile of devastation mounted under that tree. She was far better at gauging when ears were ripe for picking than I, and the cobs from those ears mounted steadily. My maple tree was now decorated with hanging stalks and silk from discarded corn husks. My once proud field of corn was decimated, as stalk after stalk came under her cruel sharp teeth. Her appetite for my much anticipated delicacy was insatiable.

Even the small, underdeveloped ears, which were more suitable for pickling and serving with cocktails, fell prey to her ravenous appetite. My field of corn, which I had originally estimated would yield perhaps as much as fifteen dozen ears, resulted a harvest of only a few handfuls.

Even as the consternation over my corn crop continued, I realized that for the first time the grape vines that I had planted at my home were displaying huge clusters of grapes, which I anticipated would be ripening into clusters of green and red. While minding the grill, I would occasionally snatch a grape just to check for sugar content and I realized that I would soon be harvesting my first home-grown, fresh, sweet grapes.

It was with no little amount of anticipation that I gathered my kitchen shears and a large basket in which to hold my harvest, then proceeded out to the back yard that Saturday morning. As the screen door slammed behind me, a rather large flock of birds took wing from the arbor, the apparent ring-leader an incredibly saucy cardinal who refused to budge. Perhaps he was weighed down by the consumption of pound after pound of fresh, ripe green grapes.

While we like to consider our homes as a refuge, our castles, and shelter against the outside world, even here the forces of nature had played a cruel trick upon me. That cardinal and his friends had neatly stripped away what I had counted as over three dozen clusters of grapes, leaving only as unwanted the small, undeveloped, and sour remnants of the vine. This was the thanks that I received for the countless trips during blizzards, through snow drifts and freezing rain to keep my outdoor sanctuary full during the winter months. I returned to the house crestfallen.

As if all this were not enough, that squirrel still mocks me. Only now, after devastating the corn, she turns her attention to the tomatoes...and accompanying her is a cardinal.

Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 3, Issue 18, Posted 7:48 PM, 08.22.2007