Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective

Corn Battles pt 1

Corn Battles part 1 of 3 


I love eating sweet corn.  A dinner of fried red tomatoes and corn on the cob is what I dream about during the winter months when snow is on the ground or I’m out chopping wood.  So too do our raccoons, in February they sit in their dens with listening devices waiting for us to discuss corn placement during our planning sessions.  I know once we finalize our plans they start on theirs.  We are brighter than the raccoons but they win more times then they loose.

The first time we ever grew sweet corn was in a little plot in our kitchen garden at our old house.  We lived on four acres with 3.9 of it being woods.   It was four rows by six plants; it didn't get enough sun and wasn't pollinated very well. We got one ear of corn out of the entire crop.  But that one ear changed my view of fresh sweet corn for ever.  We did harvest it and I cut it in half for my wife and me to share.  Off the stalk and in the water it was our introduction to really fresh corn.  From that point on it was puppy love.

By 2007 we were getting better at growing corn but we had more to learn about keeping critters out of it long enough for us to harvest.  One thought I had was to plant as much as we could, the rational being the wildlife would eat some and we'd get the rest.  At least at the time it seemed like a reasonable plan.  We planted eighty rows by sixty feet. As it grew we strung over ten thousand feet of electric fencing around it.  I babied it, it was fertilized with 9-0-0, watered, weeded, mounded, I did everything but sleep with it.  

We plant corn in stages, every two weeks we plant another equal size plot of corn.  That way you get corn through out the season instead of all at one time.  It was a hot summer and the corn wasn't coming in strong but it was coming in.  Pollination was a problem in the first batch so we went through shaking the stalks to help with the other plantings.  We watered every seven days but we quickly found we were running out of our rain water barrels.  We have two; each one holds 3,000 gallons of rain water collected off of the barn roof. Even though we were watering it wasn't enough.  Because there wasn't sufficient water the corn growth was stagnant.  When we got water all the corn started to sprout together.  Succession planting went out the window and all the corn started coming in at once. 

It was a Monday; I went out to look at the corn to see if it was close to picking.  I picked a dozen that we ate at dinner that night.  It was good, sweet and tender not all the kernels were full but the taste was good.  We would harvest the rest in four days for Saturday’s market.

The corn was planted in an area that we could not see from the house.  Hence, the 10,000 feet of electric wire around the perimeter. One strand was six inches off the ground; the second was fourteen inches off the ground.  We did this because of a conversation we had with a full-time farmer.

Friday night the same week we took big tubs out to harvest the corn.  There wasn't any.  I mean there wasn't any, none.  Our jaws dropped as we went from row to row and saw clean cobs on the ground.  It was one of the lowest points we've had since we started growing professionally.  We were stunned and dismayed, which then led to depression.  I don't say this lightly.  It was one of the few times we ever contemplated throwing in the towel.  It was a low point.  Not only did we lose a lot of money, we lost confidence in our selves and our ability. 

After a couple of days we regrouped and set about finding out where we failed.  We learned that it was raccoons and groundhogs that did the most severe damage not the deer that I had suspected.  We learned this because of the way the cobs looked, picked clean.  A deer will eat the corn from the top.  These cobs were pulled from the stalk and eaten clean, much like you or I would eat.  That meant it was raccoons and groundhogs.  I called Dave at Nicks Organic and asked him about it.

He asked if I had strung electric fencing like he suggested.  I had and he asked if there was a high spot.  "What's a high spot?" I asked.  He went on to tell me that the wire has to be no higher than six inches off the ground.  A high spot would be anything higher than that.  "No," I replied but I wasn't completely sure.  I inspected the perimeter all 4,800 feet.  To my dismay I found a spot where I had brought the lowest strand of wire up to meet the solar battery.  The gap was less than twelve inches but enough to let them in.

Believe it or not that made me feel better.  At least I could explain and identify were the problem was, had I not been able to do that we probably would have given up on growing corn.  Having identified the problem it renewed my spirit to at least continue next year to fight the corn battles.

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