Here in some of the larger production gardens at Pine Mountain, we have had troubles with raccoons in the corn this year. I have experienced this on farms in central Kentucky as well. Of course, they wait until the corn is just about fully ripe, and start pulling down ears. Few things in farming and gardening are more frustrating than working hard to feed wildlife. As a farmer I once worked with plainly stated, “I’m not running a soup kitchen.” Raccoons and possums can be very frustrating if you are trying to raise poultry animals, because small, flightless birds which cannot see well at night are their natural prey.
Depending on your circumstances, there are multiple solutions to this problem. I have learned over time that it is important to use a combination of tactics in attempts to control any kind of pest. If you only use one control method, you are basically selecting for resistance to that method. At the college of agriculture, this was called “an integrated approach”. Wildlife is hungry, persistent, and they have all night to figure out how to get what they want. Our primary advantage is our intelligence.
The most commonly used raccoon control are traps. There are plenty of live traps which can be used to relocate nuisance animals, though it should be understood that while raccoons forage within a small area, they can range over several miles. Raccoons can learn to avoid or even disarm traps. Placement of traps has a lot to do with their effectiveness.
When I farmed in Japan, I noticed that most farmers up in the mountains had dogs on leashes clipped to a line running the length of the garden, which were used to keep out nuisance animals like rabbits and smaller predators. The dogs basically lived most of their entire lives in the gardens and were very protective of those spaces. It seemed to be a very effective solution.
At the University of Kentucky Horticulture Research Farm, we often used exclusion fences when we had problems with raccoons. Essentially, an exclusion fence is a physical barrier around the area you want protected. As raccoons are great climbers, only electric fencing would work. This can be done with rebar, insulators, and woven polywire or one could use electric fence netting. Either way, this is a fairly expensive solution, but they are very effective at keeping wildlife out. For this and many other uses (excluding other wildlife and livestock management), I would recommend electric fencing as a sound, long term investment for farming.
Other tactics are considered to be passive measures, but should be considered when planning and managing your seasonal garden. Keep your fence lines clean, keep open ground between your garden and the forest cut short. Smaller predators like raccoons do not like traveling long distances over open ground. Put as much open ground distance as you can between these “high energy” crops (like sweet corn) and wildlife habitats like streams and treelines. I like to think of streams as highways for wildlife. I don’t want my garden to be seen as a 24-hour convenience store. I’ve heard and personally had mixed results with fake predators like statues of owls, flashing eyes, and similar tools. Sometimes they seem to work, but it seems as though after a while, the animals get used to them.
To me, the best solution for your garden is going to be specific to your circumstances while incorporating as many of these tactics as you can manage.