How to Make a Scarecrow That Actually Works
How to Scare Crows Away and Successfully Grow Sweet Corn
By Nathan Griffith – The best yields and the best quality of corn come from planting short-, mid- and long-season varieties all at once, not from planting the same variety every week or two. The latter method is just not in tune with nature’s rhythm and the harvest shows it. The real challenge is learning how to make a scarecrow to keep the crows away.
To reap the advantages of this single sowing, the corn should be planted at exactly the right time: when the sugar maple leaves are just about the size of a squirrel’s ear. This gives a window of about two weeks, because the leaves emerge differently at the top of the tree than near the ground.
If this planting fails, the yields cannot be guaranteed if there’s drought or cool weather in the summer. Only planting on time is proof against weather.
The first planting takes about 10 days to two weeks to sprout.
Between sprouting and about eight inches worth of growth the plant is very sweet.
Learning how to grow sweet corn and keeping it safe from crows can be a challenge. Crows have a “sweet tooth,” along with superb eyesight, and will come from miles around to a newly sprouted early planting. Learn how to make a scarecrow to keep the crows away.
By the time this occurs, a re-planting (which may also be destroyed by the crows) is definitely going to yield less, and probably of lesser quality. This is true of field corn, popcorn, sweet corn and ornamental corn.
For years we tried all kinds of shenanigans to learn how to scare crows away and stop them from destroying our corn plantings. I vividly remember the first year we had trouble from them. One day, just after sun-up, I heard the merry call of “sis’ Crow” out in one of our fields: “Cawn! Cawn!”
“Not to worry,” I thought, “they’ll be gone by the time I get over there while doing my chores.”
I was right about that, but they were only gone because there wasn’t any more corn. The quarter-acre we’d planted for feeding green to our Cotswold sheep flock during the dry times of July and August was totally destroyed.
The crows had walked methodically down the rows, pulling up the just-emerged corn (couldn’t have been longer than a half-inch!) and eating the kernel at the bottom. Easy pickin’s.
We’ve all seen a set of old clothes, stuffed with straw, crucified on a pole out in a garden. Sometimes the crows land on them to survey the garden before they set about their digging.
We’ve seen those inflatable eyeballs and owl decoys. How decorative they are with the happy sounds of crows cheerfully bobbing all around them after only a few days!
And how about those rubber snakes? I had never tried ’em. If the other methods didn’t work, why should this one?
One old-timer advised me to soak the seed kernels in Warbex® cattle-grub killer before planting. The way he gleefully described the helter-skelter carcasses of dead and dying crows flopping around his corn patch about made me puke. Besides, just like you and me, plants are what they eat: and I didn’t want to eat that stuff. Unlike animals, plants don’t have livers and kidneys to filter out the poisons from their systems, so I was sure I’d be eating bug killer. (This is one of the reasons to feel safer with store-bought meat and milk than with store-bought vegetables, though we grow practically all we need of both.)
Years ago, a similar treatment was advocated by a so-called “organic” garden magazine. Except they recommended kerosene. I don’t want that kind of stuff in my dirt. We spent years learning to breed our own corn, harvest, select, save seeds, test and improve it. I explained all this in my book Husbandry—I certainly wasn’t interested in messing with all those “quick fixes.”
I sat for hours, no, days, in my old-fashioned slat-sided corncrib, which overlooks the main corn planting. I shot one crow. From that time on, they waited in the trees, just out of range of the old “shootin’ iron,” until I left. (Alas, I’ve never fooled much with scopes, decoys, calls or stuff like that.)
One year I even carefully buried a bunch of steel traps (#1-1/2 and #2 coil-spring and #1-1/2 single-long spring) besides the corn the way you do for trapping foxes, with a treadle-cover and the dirt sifted through ¼-inch rat-wire so stones wouldn’t clog it. Yep, now that surely caught crows. Usually by both feet and never with any broken bones or bloody skin, like the ARPI (Animal Rights Protest Industry) type-folks claim it “always” does. I just came along periodically and put ’em out of my misery. But you know what? That attracted more crows! Not less. Besides, it was way too much work, and quite distasteful at that.
Being basically a skinflint, I didn’t want to blow a hundred bucks or so on toy snakes for the whole field. But the toy snakes proved effective for one of our town-dwelling acquaintances, to keep pigeons from roosting on, breaking, and filling up his house’s gutters with the pigeons’ “you-know-what.”
I reflected, “If it works for pigeons, why not crows?”
So I rounded up some of that ubiquitous, brittle old garden hose one encounters on every small country place, and cut it into about eight to ten-foot lengths (guesstimated). I laid them out amid the corn rows, about one every 20-25 feet, each way. Mostly, I arranged them in “S” curves.
Presto! No crows!
Until a few days later. Then the crows pulled up all my corn.
I had to re-re-plant.
I wondered, “If I just stayed in the sweet-corn patch wheel-hoeing or otherwise puttering around, would those crows bother my just-sprouting corn?”
So I started cultivating the rows. To do that, I collected about eight rows worth of “snakes” and dragged ’em to the end of the rows, and began cultivating. Then I put the “snakes” back and went to lunch. When I got back, the crows had been at the other side of the patch, but not a single sprout had been bothered in the cultivated part.
Early next morning, all the corn was pulled up, except in the rows where the “snakes” had been relocated. Those rows hadn’t been bothered at all.
On a hunch, that evening I turned the “snakes” at right angles to where they’ve been that day.
Next day, I did the same. Again no crows.
I continued doing it each morning until the corn was about a foot high and the crows never bothered a single stalk.
It was a revelation! If at dawn, the “snakes” weren’t lying in the same position they had the day before, the crows left the place alone. Since discovering on how to make a scarecrow that actually worked, we’ve never had crows tear up our corn, even when they nest and play in the woods immediately adjacent to it.
Deer and Apple Trees
I must say, I left out something else about our scarecrow plan: an old book said to make a scarecrow like this, so I did:
- Take an old glass pop bottle, and sliding a metal rod down the bottle’s mouth, tap the bottom out.
- Tie some string ( I used 10-pound test nylon fishing line) around the bottle’s neck, and tie it to a pole.
- Drop the other end of the string down through the mouth of the bottle and tie a 20d (20-penny) nail to it so it’s hanging halfway past the bottom edges of the bottle, like a bell clapper.
- Tie another string to the bottom of the nail, and to that, tie a shiny pie pan (I used one of those CD computer programs that come in junk mail—a good use for it, I think.)
The slightest breeze sets the shiny thing to spinning and flailing, which jiggles the nail, and makes a “tink-tink” noise in the bottle that carries a surprisingly long distance, considering how quiet it is.
Well, I suspended this from a 10-foot rod of common concrete reinforcement bar (rebar) that costs about $2 or $3 new. Mine wasn’t new. This can be easily thrust into the ground and pulled up, as necessary. It’s springy enough that if you lean it at a slant of about 75° it makes the scarecrow bob up and down a bit.
As with the “snakes,” crows will get used to this unless you move it now and then. A hundred feet apart is a good distance to have them. I alternate this sophisticated scarecrow with a plain old aluminum foil pie-pan every 100 feet, by about 25 feet apart, to keep those crows a-thinking.
Once my corn was up high enough to remove these gadgets, I placed ’em under a wild sport apple tree. (Now let me tell you, the apples on this tree are so good that deer come from miles around, forsaking most other apple trees. Even the crows come for them—and the geese wait under this tree to eat what the crows knock loose!) But when I took the pop bottle scarecrow out of the field and placed it so the pop bottled dangled about eight feet away from this tree, the deer left that side alone. In fact, I don’t think they ever really got used to its erratic “tink-tink.”
Growing sweet corn (watch those sugar maples!) on time will always give you more and better corn, especially if it’s unique growing conditions. The biggest problem with pests is they get your planting’s timing out of tune with nature’s rhythm, so you not only get less corn, but of lesser quality, too. Now that you know how to make a scarecrow for garden use that works you can use that instead of poisons, store-bought gadgets, cartridges, traps, or straw men.
Originally published in Countryside July / August 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.