Part 3 of 3
We learned with corn the best sustainable practice is called field rotation. We let our soils rest for two years after it has been used to grow vegetables. With cover cropping, planting green manures (grasses and legumes) and letting the chickens graze on them minerals, nutrients and tilth are replenished naturally. We don't fertilize mostly because of these practices. The corn, because it is such a heavy feeder, does get organic fertilizer once or twice during the growing season. Other than that we rely on Mother Nature and the chickens for soil fertility.
We sell more organic fertilizer than we use but it was not always that way. It has only been since getting the chickens and adding them to the rotational practice that we found soil fertility to be adequate for corn. This past winter we had the chickens in the garden for over five months. Once the new rye and hairy vetch came up the chickens were moved in. We moved them once every two days up and down the length of the garden. People tell us that our eggs have the best taste, once a customer compared ours to fresh eggs she had while in Italy. Getting compliments like that is a humbling experience for a city boy. I always thank our customers for their feedback and point out the chickens did most of the work. I can't help but think the grasses and legumes are what make the eggs taste like they do. One day I'll write about garlic eggs.
This year's production garden was tilled and ready for spring planting in March. This was all good but I was waiting to plant the corn. We had the garden mapped out and had our seed ready. This year I kept the seed in the house instead of the barn. Did you know that mice can tell good corn from not so good corn even when it is dry? I didn't, so when I went to get my saved seeds from the barn two years ago I found that the yellow corn was mostly left alone. Not true for the white sugar pearl. They cleaned the cobs perfectly. The mice climbed up a metal shelving unit to the top and over the basket that held the corn. I had to give it to them, determined little (insert cussword of your choice here).
2009 was going to be a different year. We had seed, a strong chicken wire fence and great soil. We planted the first batch in April and followed those two weeks later with another planting. The first started to coming up in nice rows. The second planting didn't budge, and it didn't budge and didn't budge; after 3 weeks I tilled and replanted.
We weeded, watered, mounded and I watched over like it was gold. I am proud to say that when the Maryland Small Farm Co-op had its field day at Foxhaven Farm on July 12th we took corn to sell. Not just any corn but certified organic, white, sugar pearl sweet corn. I had trouble getting in the truck my head was so big. The question everyone asked was "Is that yours?" followed up by "How did you do it?" Man that was a great feeling. We took twenty dozen ears of corn that day and sold every last one. I still have a Cheshire grin going. We had a customer come up to my wife the following week at the Urbana Farmers Market and told her the corn she bought was the best she had ever tasted.
But being that it is farming, a couple of days later we found that the raccoons had defeated our perimeter defenses. They cleaned out what was left of the first planting and are now waiting for the second planting to come in. I got the tractor out and started dumping dirt around the bottom of the fences, and where the fence was old we added new chicken wire and placed posts around to keep the fence up. So the corn battle still rages, but for one fleeting second my head was too big to fit inside the truck.
Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain store advertising "local."