Monday, January 20, 2014

Permaculture corn? Why not!

I am more and more interested in Permaculture. With the perennials I have established, I can harvest with my cane in one hand and grocery bags in the other. Corn is not generally grown using Permaculture, as it is an annual. Still I see no reason why it cannot be grown as part of a Permaculture guild! (A guild is a variety of plants that support each other's growth and health).
An exciting development at my place has occurred: my husband and son want to raise and sell sweet corn! And, none of us are very physical. So, I thought long and hard about how corn could be raised in a Permaculture fashion. And, I came up with some very interesting ideas.

The first thing to do is to scatter fertilizer and then till the ground, let it rest a week so any weed seeds can germinate then till it again as shallowly as possible. Grass is a formidable weed here in Kansas: the pioneers who said grass grew "as high as a horses withers " was not kidding! I hope that tilling twice will do a good job at killing the grass.

Then, clover seeds can be scattered and lightly raked in, as any bare spots will not stay bare for long. Hopefully by seeding it with a short, vigorous plant like clover I can prevent the growth of anything nasty! The clover will be allowed to live: its job is to cover the soil and shade out any weed seeds that grow. After the sweet corn has been harvested the clover will be treated as the rest of the lawn is: it will be left alone excepting for regular mowing.

After the clover seed has been raked in, the corn can be planted by hand. I also have some squash seeds and such to start: as the corn comes up any gaps can receive a squash seedling or some other seedling. Squash has grown under corn for centuries: we will see if the newer varieties do as well! 

The main crop will be corn because early corn sells very well. Honestly, the other plants will be more of a test-the-market crop than anything else. I also intend to add onions if I can get the bed of onions the house uses large enough to sell when the corn is ready. I have always known my onions were underfertilized but I do not mind small onions when I cook. The onions all get chopped up anyways. Customers, however, tend to like onions that are fat and attractive.

We will not be weeding: we will be watering. Mineral oil can be applied to the ears of corn when they silk to prevent worms.

After the harvest I can use the riding lawn mower to mow everything down and let the clover take over. The clover and mowed over corn stalks will act as a fertilizer for next year: clover is a legume and it should fix some nitrogen.

I hope that I do not have to till again the next year: if the clover is strong enough then I should not have to!

I chose Permaculture partly because it is cool and I want to see if this works. The other reason is that nobody in my home is particularly healthy: DH and I have our middle-aged type problems and my son has never been that strong *AND* he does not like gardening! While I expect him to do the lion's share of the tilling I know him too well to think he will weed for hours on a hot day. The kid was a micro-preemie and, well, he runs but not very fast: he lifts weights but not as heavy as a person who has never been sick: he gets out of breath more quickly than any other kid his age, and so forth. If he is doing something he likes then he will put his back to what he is doing but he does not like to weed.

I believe that running a tiller will be dramatic enough so that he will work hard: weeding with a hoe can be dull. I know him too well to believe he will pull many weeds. He is OK with a chain saw and I think he will be OK with a tiller but with a hoe? PFFFT! On the good side the kid likes drama as much as any other young man in his late teens, and he would rather use a chain saw than a hoe! And neither DH or I are fit enough to keep the corn weeded. So, for weed control we will need to use Permaculture.

We will be selling at the Farmer's Market, and splitting the money. My son will do most of the tilling and his share of the watering and other work, and my husband and I will cover the expenses and some of the watering and harvesting. Paying for everything is made easy for my husband and I because we already own the tiller and we have a fair amount of leftover fertilizer in the garage. The seeds are not cheap but because I paid for them I also chose them, and I have firm ideas about which varieties are best! I did not want the newest on the market (I wanted something proven), but I also wanted some of the NEWISH short-season hybrids to get in the early corn.

By the time the summer heat gets bad I hope to have gotten all of the corn sold: we will not work the market garden all summer. By the time the corn is ready I hope to just need to pick and sell, and then the stalks can be mown down and we can have the rest of the summer off.