Corn planting time

My taste in corn have changed over the years.  No more of eating funky GMO corn for me.  Home grown is always better, and having a variety of heirloom corn to grow makes it even better.  Last year I got a pack of a variety called Abenaki.  This corn is an open-pollinated flint corn originally cultivated by the western Abenaki (Sokoki) people in Vermont, and subsequently grown and maintained by pioneer farmers.  It comes in three colors with the entire cob being a single color.  The red color is a recessive gene so you need to plant a higher proportion of it to keep it coming back.  For those of you who do not have any biology back ground that means there are three possible gene combinations possible responsable for color.  It takes two recessive genes to give red color, one of each pair for orange, and both dominate genes will give yellow.  There is a lot of statistics that go into figuring out what percentage will come out any one color.  First studied by a monk named Gregor Mendel if you are interested in more information on it.

Red and yellow ears of Abenaki corn. The 3rd color is an in between of the two
Red and yellow ears of Abenaki corn. The 3rd color is an in between of the two

Last years planting was in a spot that was so windy that it kept knocking the plants over.  It looked like it also prevented some pollination of the ears that developed.  I rotated out the location to put them in a more sheltered section.  Hopefully this will make a large different in my final harvest.  Off of roughly 100 plants I harvested about 1 1/2 gallons of kernels.  Which is still not a bad quantity, but if all the ears were fully developed it would have been close to triple that.  To prep the soil i added in one cubic yard of composed barnyard manure to the garden spot, and then tilled it into the soil.  Total seeds planted was around 200 this year.  The nice thing about flint corn is that after you dry it on the cob you will have a storage life of over 10 years if stored in an airtight container.

Now for a little history and background on this wonderful corn:

The strain is somewhat variable, but plants typically grow 6 to 7 feet tall and bear 8 to 12-inch-long ears with eight rows of kernels that vary in color from golden-yellow to dark maroon red. The red gene is recessive, and a higher percentage of red kernels must be planted to maintain the color variation.

In taste evaluations of different corns conducted by Fedco Seeds, the cornmeal ground from Abenaki flint corn has proven superior in terms of taste and nutritional quality. A little sticky it can be eaten as a sweet corn, but is mostly used for posole or hominy. Its protein content is significantly higher than most flint corns (11% to 12% instead of 9%). It is rendered more nutritious through the process of nixtamalization, which involves soaking the seeds overnight in water and a small amount of fine wood ashes or hydrated lime, then slow-cooking in the same way as soaked dried beans. The resulting hominy (posole) is rich in niacin and complex protein, and it can be used in many dishes (soups and stews, polenta) and as masa flour for tortillas or tamales. The corn has a buttery aroma and a rich, creamy flavor.

The history and cultural significance of this corn is great. Bands of the western Abenaki (Sokoki) people grew corn and other crops (including beans and squash) for centuries, and it is estimated that some 250 acres of land east of Lake Champlain was under cultivation at one time.

This flint corn, or some closely related variety, was the only type to survive and produce a crop in Vermont during the infamous Year Without a Summer (1816), when snow fell in June and killing frosts struck in every summer month. The unusually cold weather resulted from the ash cloud that filled the upper atmosphere and blanketed the Northern Hemisphere following the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora—located halfway around the globe, on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies.

You can see why I have fallen in love with this variety of corn.  It is extremely hardy and has a very short growing period.  Both of these qualities make it a great corn for the unpredictable spring and early summer weather that we have in Oregon.  I was able to get the entire garden area worked up and planted while we had the strange dry weather this spring.  After my corn gets to be about a foot tall I am going to plant bush beans at the base of the plants.  Correct companion plantings to get the highest yield of a section while still replenishing the soil with nitrogen fixed by the beans into the soil.

My short little rows of corn.  all of them about 4 ft long
My short little rows of corn. all of them about 4 ft long

Potato planting with leaf mulch

multiple varieties of potatoes. There are over 4000 varieties
multiple varieties of potatoes. There are over 4000 varieties

This year I decided to try something different with my potatoes.  Mostly because I have about three yards of composted leaves that I need to do something with.  With potatoes what you have them planted in is as important as what kind of nutrients that you have for them. The method that I am trying is called the Stout method, named after the old-time popular organic gardener Ruth Stout.  Perform the Stout method on great soil and expect great yields of delicious potatoes. But try the technique on old worn out and unimproved ground and get ready to learn some patience and gain some humility. Potatoes are heavy feeders and they will respond dramatically to good fertility and tilth. Your yield will suffer to the extent that the soil you plant in lacks proper fertility and water. The one thing about potatoes that I have found over the years is that if you fertilize heavy with a manure based compost you will get scabs on the potatoes.  The scabs don’t cause any problems but they make peeling potatoes a pain.  Stout’s deep mulching technique will help you build wonderful soil fertility plus conserve water. In the meantime, working some organic fertilizer (fish meal works great) into the soil while you are building the organic matter and fertility will pay big dividends with any method of growing potatoes.

To start the garden bed off this year to prepare for the potatoes I added a 3 inch layer of leaves across the top of the garden plot and then tilled it into the soil.  This part of the garden has only been planted once with corn last year, before that it was just a grassy spot on the side of the fence.  It is lacking a lot in organics inside the soil.  Even after tilling the leaves in I could tell that it was still a heavy river clay section.  It will take several years of adding leaves and mint compost before it is up to where I would like to see it.  But with the leaves it still adds a lot to the soil.  Using the stout method you put the potato start on top of the and add a 2-3 inch layer of mulch on top of it.  This keeps moisture in and adds nutrients to the soil as the potato grows.  I changed the method a little bit.  My tiller made some nice furrows in the soil so I put the potato in the bottom and added 3 inches of leaf mulch on top of them.  As they grow and develop I will continue to add more mulch to them.

Potatoes planted and covered in leaf mulch
Potatoes planted and covered in leaf mulch

Updates:  3 inches of mulch was not enough.  Many of the potatoes had brown areas inside them after harvesting.  This tends to be a sign that the potatoes had got to hot during the growing season.  They were extremely easy to dig up though.  None of them were very large either.  Normally I get a few up to a pound in size.  All of them were a quarter or smaller in size.  I think next year I will plant them in the dirt and just add a thick layer of mulch on top.  In addition a side fertilizer of some kind that will add potassium to the soil will help with the small size.

spring garden start up phase I

With this week turning nice, warm, and dry it is time to start on the garden make over and preparation for the growing season.  Yes I know that in the Willamete valley that you can grow some type of veggie all year round if you want to.  This is my warm weather veggie garden section though.  And this year I have actually planned out what will be planted where instead of planting as I get veggies.  Because of a fence on the west side of the garden I found out when I planted corn in the back of the garden that it gets a large amount of afternoon shade.  Which is not the best for corn, but is great for potatoes.  So this year I am swapping the corn and potatoes.  Potatoes do better with a little afternoon shade.  The front side of the garden gets sun all day long so is perfect for those plants that need the heat and sunshine all day.  If you look at the layout you will notice that the shorter plants are on the south side and the large to the north.  This will keep the larger tomatoes from growing too high and shading out the peppers.

My rough little layout for the garden
My rough little layout for the garden

The entire garden was multched in the winter/early spring with a 4 inch layer of leaves to increase the organic content of the soil.  Most of the soil in the area is river bottom clay so it can use a large amount organics to break it up and to hold moisture when the dry part of summer hits.  I am trying to not use chemical fertilizers for any of my gardening.  Everything is as organic as I can make it.  Keeping it this way is hard due to the large amounts of weeds that were in the garden last year.  So this year I put down a layer of black plastic and sealed along the edges.  On a warm day with direct sunlight the temperature under the plastic will get hot enough to cook any plants and seeds that are underneath.  This only gets any on the surface so any big root weeds like dandelion will most likely survive.  But at least it will kill off the grass and chickweed hopefully.  If not then I have a lot of weeding to do this season.

plastic removed and it is ready to start tilling up. I still have a nice bit of leaves left over to mulch the potatoes later in the season
plastic removed and it is ready to start tilling up. I still have a nice bit of leaves left over to mulch the potatoes later in the season

You can see in the picture that at least one dandelion was still alive after I took the plastic off.  All of the grass and chickweed seem to be dead.  Hopefully the seeds are sterilized from the heat and wont be growing back this year..

Garden after one pass through with tiller
Garden after one pass through with tiller

And that’s all for phase one.  Mostly because my wrists and arms are hurting from two hours of using the rototiller.  That and I hiked 10 miles yesterday. Now to let the soil keep drying for the next couple days then time to till one more time.  After that I will be putting up a small fence up to keep out the passing kids that vandalized my plants last year.  But that will be part of phase II postings.