Serendipity Among the Corn

Serendipity. A wonderful word, to be sure. But what does it mean, and how does it relate to gardening? Have patience, young grasshopper, and I will enlighten you.

Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as, “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” A lucky accident, in other words. The word comes from the three princes of Serendip, who were known for having lucky accidents and having the brains to realize their value. The classic example of serendipity is Charles Goodyear, who accidentally allowed a mixture of sulfur, India rubber, and white lead to come in contact with a hot stove. He saw this mixture melt and form the stable rubber product that he’d been trying unsuccessfully to make for years.

Charles Goodyear
So, what does, all this have to do with gardening? Plenty. Last summer, I had my own lucky accident within my garden. For the past several years, I’ve had the misfortune of having all my corn stolen by squirrels. Nothing kept them away — repellent sprays, fences — they defied it all. And the empty cobs and destroyed stalks were the squirrel’s way of giving me the middle finger. Putting it another way, they took the corn and gave me the bird.

In all of my gardening classes, I’ve been teaching my students that one way to keep squirrels from destroying your garden was to feed (a.k.a. bribe) them. Provide squirrel corn or something else to fill their bellies, and they would be less likely to feast on your garden vegetables. I based this on the words of former Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, who once stated, “A dog with a bone in its mouth neither kills nor steals.” Diaz kept his political enemies at bay by making sure that they all had important positions within his government. Likewise, I figured that I could keep my enemies (the squirrels) at bay from my garden by making sure they all had food to fill their bellies.

That was my hypothesis. However, I had no real proof that this would work. Until last year, that is. In my garden, I had planted some Hopi Blue flint corn, along with some sunflowers. I noticed that the sunflowers were being eaten, but the corn remained intact. Although I hadn’t planned on using the sunflowers as bones for the squirrels mouths, it appeared that I may have accidentally proven my hypothesis correct. And that’s where the serendipity comes in.

Of course, hand-pollinating the ears and covering them with paper bags and rubber-banding the bags to the ears may have also helped. But that still doesn’t change the fact that, by accident, I may have finally discovered a way to protect my corn from the squirrels.

Now, I will not go on record as stating this as a foolproof sure-fire method. Before going out on such a limb, I would have to be able to repeat the experiment and yield the same results year after year. And even then, I still wouldn’t call it a sure thing. Because, one of these years, the squirrels may get wise. But if, like me, you’ve had problems with marauding squirrels making your garden their personal grocery, then may I humbly invite you to try what I’ve described above? It appears to work, costs little or nothing to implement, and may very well improve things next year.

So gardeners of the world, rise up, bag up, and feed the invaders! You have nothing to lose but your vegetables — which you’re already losing, so it certainly can’t get any worse!

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