Garden Plots

Corn-eating crows periodically challenge rural Columbia County gardeners.

If crows have lived around your garden for very long, they watch you plant. The most curious of them will poke their beaks into the soil to find the kernels the day you plant. They have quite an ability to locate seeds with few false stabs. Other crows wait until seedlings emerge and methodically remove the new green shoots and what is left of the seeds. It is apparently considered to be the height of gourmet dining in the crow world.

So, what can a gardener do? One dubious solution is to plant lots of seed and hope the crows leave you a few. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, and in a corn-challenged summer, losing growing weeks to crows isn’t helpful. Treated seed appears to be less vulnerable to crow predation but that protection isn’t absolute. If you don’t grow huge blocks of corn, covering the newly planted seeds with row (crow) covers is very effective. It will speed corn emergence and then, when seedlings are 4 inches tall, the cover can be safely removed. Crow confusion and possible crow therapy ensues.

One old technique is to soak corn seed in turpentine overnight or kerosene more briefly and then plant. A few gardeners tell me that it really works and there is no impact on the corn itself. It must taste bad to the crows. This is offered as an historic artifact, not a modern seed treatment recommendation. One very old and definitely odd technique from when more people had horses and apparently much more time, was to drill tiny holes in some corn seed and tie a large loop of horse hair in each kernel. Then plant these seeds about a week before you really planned to plant. According to old texts, crows would dig up the seed and gag on the horsehair. In theory, they would avoid your corn when you really plant your garden.

Garden topics

Two weeks ago, I would have predicted relatively scab-free apples. Apple scab fungi make little progress in dry weather. Then the rain began. The scab potential is definitely higher. Let’s hope that we get a little drying soon to limit the disease. Summer rate dilutions of lime sulfur may still help. Many apple varieties are scab r5esistant and need no spraying. Also, scab damage is a surface blemish and can be peeled away before eating.

Codling moth adults have emerged. If you don’t want their larvae in your apples (the “worm”) you need to start control measures. Insecticides with spinosad are probably the best option for home gardeners. They need to be applied several times. Surround is a kaolin clay that when sprayed on the fruit and leaves a film on that the moths don’t seem to like so they go somewhere else. Again, this needs to be re-applied periodically. Results have been mixed.

Horsetail or equisetum is a gardener’s nightmare. The plant emerges from the ground looking something like asparagus. It spreads from underground roots and from spores released as the plant matures. Sadly, it is the worst of all weeds, an herbaceous perennial. It gives every indication of dying in the fall, but that is a ruse. It returns from the root system next year and for every year thereafter unless you make it miserable.

Equally sadly, it is very hard to make horsetail miserable. Continuous pulling may reduce its vigor. Planting with a heavy sod tends to reduce its vigor as well. Herbicide treatments options except in exclusively woody landscape beds are almost non-existent.

Much horsetail comes from imported topsoil. Look at the topsoil on site before you buy. Look very carefully for horsetail. If it is there, don’t buy it.

Keep new trees and shrubs watered throughout the first growing summer. The evidence is very convincing that trees properly watered and mulched will out-perform and out survive trees that weren’t. the recent rain was nice but not enough to make up for much less rain to date.

Upcoming programs

  • Rural Fire Safety

7 p.m. May 23 at Fern Hill Grange outside of Rainier. Fire safety for rural landowners presented by Eric Smythe of Columbia River Fire and Rescue and Kelly Niles of Oregon Department of Forestry. With a dry spring, this information could save lives.

  • Planting for Bees

6:30 p.m. May 23 at OSU Extension office, St. Helens. Planting for bees (of all sorts) by Mathew Shepard, conservation biologist with the internationally famous and Portland-based Xerces Society. Free and open to all.

  • Columbia County Beekeepers Group

6 p.m. June 6 the Columbia River PUD on Highway 30 in Deer Island.

Chip Bubl is with the OSU Extension/Columbia County, 505 N. Columbia River Highway, St. Helens. He may be reached at 503-397-3462, or at


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