Ron Kujawski | Man: two dozen ears of corn; Raccoon: 10 dozen

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Though there are still many weeks left to the growing season, Labor Day weekend is when I begin to take stock of the successes and failures in this year's gardens, especially in the vegetable garden. At the top of the list of failures is the corn patch, actually an ongoing failure. It's a failure which, in frustration, I refer to as an epic battle of Man versus Raccoons.

Over the years I've tried many tactics to deter the critters. I thought I had some success a few years ago after planting pumpkins and winter squash amidst the sweet corn. According to published tales, raccoons do not like treading on the foliage of these vine crops. Surprisingly, I was able to harvest the early and most of the mid-season varieties but the entire crop of late season corn was lost to the masked marauders. Still, I considered it a mild success.

The following year, my daughter gave me several seed packets of sunflower seeds to plant in the garden. Having no other space available, I sowed the seeds in a double row around the corn planting. For whatever reason, the raccoons avoided the corn. However, the dense planting of the very tall sunflowers interfered with pollination and development of the corn. The ears were small and not completely filled.

This year, the plan was to combine these two techniques, that is, plant a shorter variety of sunflower in a single row around the corn and interplant with pumpkins and winter squash. The harvest is in and the score is: Man with two dozen ears of corn; Raccoons with 10 dozen. Could raccoons be smarter than man?

The battle will go on. Next year, it's the electric fence.

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Relax this Labor Day weekend by engaging in these tension relieving tasks:

- Look for kidney-shaped or spherical growths (3/4 - 1 inch in diameter) on stems of blueberry plants. These growths, called galls, are caused by the Blueberry Stem Gall Wasp. The wasp lays its eggs in the succulent growth of new shoots on blueberry bushes and the resulting larvae release a chemical that induces growth of the gall. Presence of the galls gradually reduces the vigor of growth and production of blueberries. Therefore, prune out the galls when seen and destroy them.

- Be sure to apply insect repellents when working outdoors. Deer tick and mosquito populations are high at this time of year. Note that dark clothing and floral scented lotions and soaps attract mosquitoes, and dark clothing makes it more difficult to detect ticks which have hitched a ride.

- Be absolutely sure you know an edible mushroom from a poisonous one. With soils as moist as they have been this summer, the appearance of mushrooms in lawns and gardens has been quite common and may lead to one viewing these as a "free" treat. Just keep repeating this adage: "There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters."

- Tie shots of herbs into small bundles and hang them in a warm, airy location out of direct sunlight to dry. Another option is to chop herbs such as parsley, chives, and dill and then pack them into ice cube trays; cover with water and place in the freezer.

- Harvest acorn squash when the bottom of the fruit in contact with the soil (commonly referred to as the ground color) turns yellow. Cure this and other winter squash in full sun for about ten days before storing in a cool location.

- Consider planting shellbark hickory or Carpathian walnut if you want to add some shade trees to your property. These trees will not only provide shade but also nutritious nuts.

- Dig and divide peonies if they are overcrowded. When dividing the thick fleshy roots, use a hatchet or large knife to cut the roots into sections, each of which has at least 3 eyes. When planting, place a section no more than an inch or two below ground. Peonies usually do not need dividing very often. The plants may go 10 or 15 years before division is needed. Now is also a good time to buy and plant new peonies.

- Keep mowing your lawn at the same height as you did during the spring and summer, that is if the mowing height has been at least 2 inches. Don't lower the mowing height other than to prepare for overseeding the lawn. If overseeding, be sure to first loosen the soil surface with a rake of other scarifying device.

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