Scarecrows have been scaring birds away, or, in some cases amusing them, for as long as man has grown crops. Some say these whimsical creatures were first used by tribes in central or northern Europe; others claim that Indians were the first to employ them. Wherever the origin, the scarecrow has been used on farms and in Open Pollinated / Heirloom vegetable gardens across the country for many years.
Why build a Scarecrow for your Garden?
Building a scarecrow can be a family event. With just a little straw, wood, and some old clothes, it’s amazing what interesting designs some gardeners come up with. Not only are they guided by creativity, they’re also an excellent way to involve children in the garden. Young would-be gardeners who flinch at the idea of helping in the family vegetable garden are easily overcome by the idea of a scarecrow making project.
Yet, scarecrows do have a serious side, too. Every year birds destroy millions of dollars worth of crops including wheat, corn, sunflowers, and various kinds of fruit. Individual farmers have experienced losses of up to 75 percent or more due to the monstrous appetite of birds. The family Heirloom vegetable garden is a favorite place for birds to hang out, too. Birds pose a threat to tender young plants. Crows, blackbirds, blue jays, and many other winged creatures have been known to swoop down and snatch seedlings from the ground or to peck holes in newly ripened fruit. Thanks to scarecrows, farmers and Heirloom gardeners have a fighting chance to save their crops from being destroyed by birds.
How a Scarecrow Works
It is a common joke that scarecrows attract more birds than they frighten (Wizard of OZ anyone?). Indeed, it is not unusual to see a scarecrow with several birds perched on its shoulders. If properly designed and utilized in your vegetable garden, however, these human look alike’s can be fairly effective in protecting your heirloom vegetable garden.
The idea behind scarecrows is simple. Put up a figure that resembles a human being (One of the birds’ predators), and the birds
will stay away. But there’s a catch, sooner or later, birds wise up and realize that your creative masterpiece will not harm them; in fact, it takes some birds less than a week to figure things out. So you must try to be as ingenious as possible in the short time you have to scare them away. For example, by hanging aluminum cans or other shiny objects from your scarecrow’s arms, you may be able to buy yourself and your vegetable plants a few days time. Noisemakers, including aluminum pie plates banging together in the breeze, can also help to ward birds off a little longer.
The timing of your scarecrow’s entrance into the vegetable garden is important. You may want to bring your straw man out as soon as your seeds begin to germinate. Or if the birds in your area seem to go more for the ripe heirloom tomatoes or cantaloupes than for the vegetable seedlings, try putting it up in your heirloom garden just as the vegetable begins to mature. The key is to use the novelty of your scarecrow’s presence for all it’s worth.
How to Build a Scarecrow
To build a scarecrow from scratch, you need only a few materials and a willingness to use your imagination.
- Select two 2 x 4 stakes measuring about 4 to 5 feet long to serve as the legs. Sharpen the ends so that they can be driven into the ground easily.
- Find an old pair of pants and put them on over the stakes.
- Put the stakes into the ground at an angle so that they join at the top.
- For the backbone, take a 2 x 4 measuring about 3 feet long and nail it to the top of the legs.
- To make the arms, take a 2 x 4 measuring about 4 feet long and nail it perpendicular to the -backbone, above the legs.
- Stuff the pants with straw, then slip a shirt on over the shoulders and fill it with straw.
- Fill an old pillowcase with straw to make the head, and tie the pillowcase opening closed around the top of the backbone.
- For the hands, stuff some gloves with straw, then fasten them on the ends of the arms.
- Draw a face and add any embellishments you like, such as hair, a hat, or a pipe. Don’t forget about aluminum pie plates or other amenity’s that might give your scarecrow that extra kick to keep the birds out of your vegetable garden a little longer.