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Growing Corn

 
George Collins
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Location: South Central Mississippi
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I have friend recently introduced to the world of permaculture. I loaned him my ruth stout book which he quickly devoured. Being the smart feller he is, he instantly recognized the merits of her system. Being the type A person that he is, he went out and immediately purchased several large, round bales of hay and started laying it on thick. I was on the phone with him just now when he told me that there was but one problem he saw with the ruth stout method: corn.

I have never grown corn before beyond a couple 3-sisters test plots this past summer so I was out of my league when he began telling me why the Ruth Stout method was unsuitable for corn. The only thing I knew was that she did grow corn and reminded him of such but he countered that the corn she grew was merely enough for personal consumption whereas he wants to plant enough to use as feed to over-winter livestock. I tried to get him to register here and post his questions about the permaculture answer to growing corn but he wouldn't citing a lack of time so I agreed to make the inquiry for my interest is piqued also.

I know that permaculture addresses the growing of large acreage crops in principle (per wikipedia) but I don't know that I have yet come across a solid, detailed answer here on the forums (and I have read much) about growing large acreage crops such as corn.

So, what is the permaculture answer to growing acres of corn?
 
Jason Mendes
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Hi, I just found this forum today searching for permaculture information. It's awesome!

I have recently read sepp holzer's book "Permaculture" and though he does not give a lot of detail about how he grows corn, it is possible it is similar to how he detailed growing other grain/cereal crops:

The corn could be inter-planted with other grain/cereals and beans/peas and squash. The other grain/cereal would be ideally planted to line up with the harvest of the corn? And then shortly before the harvest, "catch crops" as Sepp calls them, would be planted, so when the over story of the corn and other grain are cut down, the catch crop would thrive with added light. Sepp gave examples of radishes and lettuces, if i recall correctly.

So.. I am just theorizing here!

Digression:
I am in Arizona right now, and about a month ago I planted buckwheat and rye along with carrots, onions and a lettuce mixture. The rye and buckwheat came up very strong, very quickly. But now that it is getting very cold, the buckwheat is withering, and I noticed one had flowered. The rye is still thriving. I think next season, if i am still around here, I will plant the buckwheat much sooner, then near the harvest of it, i will scatter the carrots, onions, and lettuce, and probably other things like kale. And then grow the rye somewhere else, as it should grow through the winter, but i am feeling it might not let in much light for the carrots and other things?
 
William James
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George Collins wrote:So, what is the permaculture answer to growing acres of corn?


That's the question, isn't it?

If your friend's goal is to grow acres and acres of field corn to feed his cows through the winter, permaculture will probably have few or really thorny questions to answer his questions.

My questions would be:
1. Why would you feed cows corn? They don't prefer corn naturally, so why feed it to them them, even if it's only through the winter?
Wanting to feed them corn is, I believe, against the idea of animal care: Giving animals what they naturally want. Cows naturally want grass.

2. Why would you want to grow corn in the first place? I love corn. I also understand that corn is a problem. Corn is an annual crop. It doesn't reseed. It NEEDS and is DEPENDENT ON humans. It implicitly involves: more work. more equipment. more oil to power the equipment. more tilling (annuals love disturbed soil). So for small scale personal consumption, okay. For large acreage field crops, not really wise.

Permaculture shoots for perennial crops that can take care of themselves. If your goal is to depend on annuals, that means your goal is to maintain an early-succession plot. In my opinion, if you want to do this, you can within the scope of permaculture if it is part of a long-term, succession-based, rotating plot program. Every 10 or 20 years you hack down the food-forest and plant annuals for a few years. Then you build the food forest again.

Not exactly the answer most people get jazzed up about, because it involves really knowing what you're doing on a long-term basis.

An easier answer, and one which essentially does away with the above meanderings about permaculture is this:

Poly-crop.

Find the plants you need to support your goal of growing corn. That means doing an analysis of what nutrients corn needs. Various clovers, other plants with roots to pull up water and nutrients. Find a workable pattern such as mowing rows where you then plant corn. Three sisters, too.

the answer might be as simple as: get more land. That way you can have pockets of intensive annual corn production and it won't affect the system as a whole they way mono-cropping does. You get your corn for your cows (and the cows will still be annoyed you didn't feed them grass) and your system still can get on with its succession. It would be at least a step in the right direction.

Then again, the best answer might be: grow grass better.

There is a video out there of a farmer (in rainy england) that has developed a way to keep his cows on the paddock ALL YEAR! No more tilling, no more grass harvesting. He organized the grass seed he grows in such a way that it doesn't get spongy in the winter and the cows don't sink into the mud. And some grasses are hardy enough that they grow in winter. The cows stay outside all year. Animals don't have winter homes with a fireplace, they stay outside.

Then again, another answer might be: don't let too many cows see winter.

If you plan your cow-killing to coincide with winter, maybe instead of growing more corn, you just limit the number of cows that you have to support over the winter. Are they dairy cows or meat cows? If they are meat-cows perhaps that is a viable plan. Overwinter the less demanding calfs.

Yet another answer: move to a climate that allows the animals to eat grass year-round so you don't have to "overwinter" them.
Yet another answer: change animals to something that eats corn. Get in on the "sweetcorn maggot" niche market.

...but I digress.

In my opinion, the "permaculture answer" to growing corn is to just think about what you're doing and why you need to do it. If you're willing to do that, you will find an answer that is suitable to you, your animals, and your landbase. Most of the time people just want a quick solution to "fix" the problem they have created, in this case it's "find me a way to grow acres of corn for my cows". They don't care that what they are doing might not be the optimal way to do things. In fact, I see a lot of people who are convinced that their way is the best, so all this jibber-jabber about permaculture is a waste of their time.

Permaculture seeks to do away with the problem by re-thinking the question completely in the hopes of finding a better way. And every system (even a permaculture one) can be improved upon.

-william
 
Tyler Ludens
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Seems like it might be worthwhile to do some trials of growing corn in the manner Fukuoka grew other annual grains, and see what other plants will grow will corn successfully, as William mentions. Maybe a sort of prairie system which happens to also grow corn. Of course one has to keep in mind that corn will not plant itself, again as William points out, corn is so domesticated it cannot live without human help.

Cows can eat a lot of things besides corn. Even for dairy cows corn might not be the best choice of grain to try to grow for them.
 
Leila Rich
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George, what is the species makeup of your friend's livestock?
As William says, feeding ruminants grain is extremely bad for them, despite it being standard practice in the US.
Good hay containing a variety of grasses, legumes and forbs when harvested and stored correctly, is highly nutricious and energy-dense.
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
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Cows will choose corn over grass every time I know because I feed them both.
I grow corn with pole beans and squash. I still till the soil. I have been growing some experimental no till plots with little success even if the soil is high in organic matter. For no till corn I have yet to find a viable system but I don't think we should give up so easily. The aztecs grew corn on lake bottoms in black muck the black muck is now gone due to constant turning of the soil. The best hope for improving corn imo is Zea mays diploperennis, unfortunately it's not on the market yet. If anyone knows where to get Zea mays diploperennis seed please post a link
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
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Tillage radishes are a step in the right direction. Is your friend using the tillage radish?
 
Fred Morgan
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Jeffrey Hodgins wrote:
Cows will choose corn over grass every time I know because I feed them both.
I grow corn with pole beans and squash. I still till the soil. I have been growing some experimental no till plots with little success even if the soil is high in organic matter. For no till corn I have yet to find a viable system but I don't think we should give up so easily. The aztecs grew corn on lake bottoms in black muck the black muck is now gone due to constant turning of the soil. The best hope for improving corn imo is Zea mays diploperennis, unfortunately it's not on the market yet. If anyone knows where to get Zea mays diploperennis seed please post a link


And most kids will take coke over fruit too. Doesn't mean it is good for them.

We grow our animals on grasses (though corn is a grass too) - and they do just fine. We add a little sweetener(the leftovers from making sugar from sugar cane) so they eat more. Most of the time, they graze.

We also have found having lots of tree leaves which fall improves considerably the health, and the taste of the sheep we raise.

 
George Collins
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Thanks y'all for all the feedback.

The livestock inquestion isn't cows, rather it's hogs.

My friend lives in the middle of a large pine desert with some pockets of fertility.

I know that growing large plots of corn is generally frowned upon by many in the Permaculture community.

While tis true that growing a large plot of corn might cause one to fall short of that perfect ten on the Wheaton eco scale, might one be able to grow broad acre crops in a way that trends toward sustainability without taking the position that anything less than absolute perpetuity is not Permaculture?

Last year my friend was sweating on the business end of a hoe. I introduced him to Ruth Stout right after I was introduced and he jumped hard. I'm not saying that he SHOULD grow corn. I'm saying that he is GONNA grow corn and it won't be by way of Ruth Stout that he does so. Given that he is gonna grow it, I was hoping for something I might offer him to move him a notch or two towards the Sepp-end of the scale.

Ludi - sorry about the delayed response but the past two days have been consumed with gearing up my Ruth Stout plot (now 50ish x 50ish) a new Hugelkultur bed (21' x 4' x 4') all of which was done by hand and/or shovel and/or kid. But your advice is fairly close to what I did tell him (in addition to registering and becoming a participative member here).
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
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I think if you sprout the corn like I do than it makes it a much better food, for ruminants and people. I mostly feed grass to but I cut and carry. I just don't have enough land to convert any into pasture.
Back to corn as a crop, I think that we have work to do to improve no till corn growing polyculture methods and corn itself. A lack of species and money is what keep me from working more on this issue but I think we will succeed in finding more sustainable corn production methods.
We need to make Zea mays diploperennis seeds and other perennial grains easily available to farmers so we can do our own breeding. The more people working on plant breading the better the chances of improving species imo.
 
Leila Rich
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George, I'm pretty sure the 'don't feed em corn' type replies were assuming cattle and as far as I'm aware, pigs are a completely different story feed-wise.
Of course we're all perfect here on the forum, but my opinion is that out in the 'real world', there's no such thing...
I definitelythink that anything people do to work with rather than against their environments is great with me
Do you mean literally acres of corn? Cripes. That really is pushing it :
I don't know if its practical on a large scale, but I cut the bottoms out of medium-sized, old, black seedling pots, make a pot-sized hole in the much and poke it in, leaving a bit of a 'lip' above the mulch. I use a chopstick to poke a hole in the soil and insert the corn.
The pot overhang generally keeps the wind and birds from smothering the plants and at least I know where it's supposed to be if they do.
There must be a way of doing it large-scale without insane amounts of labour. No point telling someone they'll have to do a gazillion times the work for a similar output if they're not already sold on the idea!
 
Cj Sloane
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George Collins wrote:...he wants to plant enough to use as feed to over-winter livestock. ...
So, what is the permaculture answer to growing acres of corn?


More info is needed. What kind of livestock? Where does he live? How much/what kind of land does he have?

He really needs to question why he wants to grow corn. He'd probably be better off with varied, permanent (the "perm" in permaculture - remind him) pasture, and supplemental trees depending on the livestock. Acorns, nuts, apples, honeylocust, willow, hay, these are permanent solutions to livestock feed. Corn is a quick fix.
 
Abe Connally
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for hogs, there are lots of options, as they eat anything. If he has pine trees around, he can give them some pine nuts, and if there are oaks around, some acorns, and any mesquite around, and you give them mesquite beans.

The point being, give them what is already growing in your area. Hogs do well on nuts and grass.

If he s dead-set on corn, then he'll have his work cut out for him. If he's open to use whatever else is around, he'll spend and work less.

We gather crops for our hogs throughout the year. In summer, it's windfall fruit, mesquite beans (dried), food waste, grass. For fall, it's apples, acorns, grass and some hay. For winter it's hay, pine nuts, some grain, and composted manure/waste feed. For spring, it's roots, hay, and whatever else we can find (early spring greens, especially weeds are great).

Use what grows naturally as much as possible to diversify their diet.
 
Cj Sloane
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George Collins wrote:I have friend recently introduced to the world of permaculture. I loaned him my Ruth Stout book which he quickly devoured. Being the smart feller he is, he instantly recognized the merits of her system.


Something has been bothering me about this thread & I figured out what it is. I wouldn't really consider Ruth Stout a "permaculture" person so your friend is confusing her method of gardening with permaculture, which is so much more. Maybe it's time to lend him Introduction to Permaculture and then he'd understand why corn isn't the answer.
 
Cj Sloane
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George Collins wrote:The livestock inquestion isn't cows, rather it's hogs.

My friend lives in the middle of a large pine desert with some pockets of fertility.

I know that growing large plots of corn is generally frowned upon by many in the Permaculture community.


Sorry, I missed this post before I posted.

The thing to do would be to make some lists of plants/trees that grow naturally in his area. Emphasis on producing trees. I raised pumpkins and blue hubbard squash for my pigs. Also, he may want to check out the way Mexicans have been raising maize. Also, there's that chinampa deal (2 crops of maize per year).
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
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The way I have seen Mexicans grow corn is not good. There are no cover crops, many people burn the field first, they disk, furrow, cultivate and then furrow again. It costs about $50 per hectare each time, thats $200 for tractors and bulls + planting labor $50 + fertilizer $100 + weeding $50 + cutting the stalks down $90 + harvest $150 for corn and up to $200 for beans. Then once we have the corn we have to take it off the cobs or grind it for a cost of $40 or more. Oh don't forget the rent on the land $90 / hectare. So after you pay all that then you have to cook the corn with calcium take it to the mill just down the road bring it home and make tortillas, tlacloyos, or tamales or if you realy want to make less than nothing for your time you can feed it to pigs.
 
Cj Sloane
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Jeffrey Hodgins wrote:The way I have seen Mexicans grow corn is not good.


I meant real old school.
 
Ivan Weiss
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I finish hogs from winter to spring. I'm working toward a system in which I would put in a spring seeding of turnips, stock beets, daikon, chicory, comfrey, Jerusalem artichokes, and other crops that the hogs could graze on and root up live, all through the winter. If I was going to plant an annual for winter hog feed storage, it would be squash rather than corn.

 
John Polk
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Since you stated that he is gonna grow corn, I would suggest talking him into the "3 Sisters" (corn/squash/beans). The native Americans relied on it for winter food. It would provide the hogs with more variety (they love squash), and a more balanced quota of nutrients (plus more tons of feed per acre). The beans would help with fixing nitrogen in his soil. Planting just corn depletes the soil.

If he can get a cover crop in after harvest, he will protect his soil, and hopefully, have some good spring pasture before it is time to plow it under before next year's planting...or better yet, rotate the corn/squash/bean field next year.
 
Cee Ray
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Can he grow sorghum where he is?
 
Chris Holcombe
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I would probably suggest he grow chestnut tree's instead of corn. They are the corn equivalent tree according to the tree crops a permanent agriculture by russell smith. Might be worth a shot? They can def yield an enormous amount of usable food and they live for a very long time.
 
Brenda Groth
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i have found a few types of OP and or heirloom sweet corns in the new garden catalogs for 2012..and am ordering one..as there is very little corn grown in our area and I shouldn't have any problem with cross pollination (maybe coon but not corn)
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
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I think you'll all be very proud of me. I've decided NOT to grow any corn this year.
 
jimmy gallop
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If I was to grow corn for cows I would feed the whole plant to them they eat all of it just like it was a blade of grass
don't know why they separate them
 
jimmy gallop
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And you could do it the Ruth Stout method its just labor intensive .
Think of(ants)that's the kind labor needed to grow corn for a bunch of cows
I am a firm on the fact that every thing that you can come up with to have on a farm can be self sustainable you just have to find that niche and be willing or able to provide knowledge and labor to support it.
There is a way to do it,its just finding that way that is doable .
 
Cj Sloane
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jimmy gallop wrote:If I was to grow corn for cows I would feed the whole plant to them they eat all of it just like it was a blade of grass
don't know why they separate them


I think people grow corn for cows more for storage issues than for forage i.e. drying the corn or making silage. It's a better overall yield, esp in term of protein to make silage. After it's cut, my neighbor lets the cows in where the corn grew.

Cows can digest the whole plant better than the dried corn though, which isn't great for them or us.
 
Bill Bradbury
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Around here, silage corn is grown for dairy cows in order to maintain milk production through the winter. It is part of a 3 crop rotation;alfalfa(3-5years), corn and then grain. This is still large scale monoculture, but with manure applications, fertility is maintained, just not optimized.
I am the lucky recipient of corn brought to the US between the toes of a Mayan shaman. I have been raising and breeding this corn as a northern landrace for about a decade. If anyone would like a small amount to start their own program, just PM me with your address and I will send you a dozen seeds gratis.
 
alex Keenan
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As far as I know I have not seen anyone try using a crimper/roller of covercrop than using a jab planter to put in the corn seed.
In the old day a farmer could put in four acres a day in a plowed field using a hand corn planter. There are a number of new jab planters that can be used to plant through mulch.
One just has to run a marked line to keep the rows straight. However, this allows for checker board pattern so you can weed both ways. It also allows for co-planting with beans and squash also using the same jab planter.

One of the things about a good cripped cover crip is that a seed drill will have a hard time cutting through but a jab planter can punch a small hole.

If you are doing large scale cover crops you really want to look at crimper/rollers to lay down a solid layer of mulch.

Also, I would love a sample of that Mayan toe corn
 
Bill Bradbury
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Alex,
Send me a PM with your address. I would love to share this amazing corn.
As an aside, there is an unusual way of eating this corn for breakfast that he taught me.
Toast the dried corn kernels in a cast iron skillet on low heat until the smell becomes intoxicating. Cool, grind and cook into a porridge with fruit and pine nuts.
 
hunter holman
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Up here in Canada the best thing to plant is clover and vetch with corn
 
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