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Combining Practices for Corn

Posts: 22
Location: Redwood Empire, California
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I think this is my first post. I'm sure many of you are familiar with Fukuoka's work on the rice plant, getting to his ideal structure to create the highest yield under the natural conditions which he used. Well I saw this video of a Hopi farmer down in HopiLand and his corn field and his corn plants look gorgeous. Each hill has many seeds planted to it, and the corn stalks come up looking like a desert bunchgrass, it is amazing. I don't think there should be such a debate about whether or not corn can be grown using permaculture. This is like debating whether tomatoes or cucumbers may be grown sustainably. These are all nutrient-demanding crops. On the other hand, I think feeding corn to animals is NOT good of course. I think corn is good grown in a small scale with a legume living mulch, heirloom varieties grown for making masa. Check out this video and tell me what you think of this guy's stuff, or you may have seen the video already. What I don't like about his system is that he cultivates to kill weeds and he has so much exposed soil.

Has anyone here ever grown corn with a legume living mulch? such as clover and vetch or something like that.

Also, using wood chips as mulch for the corn hill as Paul Gautschi of Back to Eden did, to suppress the clover and weed cover for the corn.


Here is the video:
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Caleb Peretz wrote:Has anyone here ever grown corn with a legume living mulch? such as clover and vetch or something like that.

Black medic, red clover, yellow clover, and alfalfa grow abundantly and vigorously in my fields. I don't call them a living mulch or a cover crop. I call them weeds.
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Great video. Thank you for sharing it. The way he spaced his corn is really interesting. I like it.

It's neat to see blue corn, as that's what I've ordered for this year. Indian Blue Sweet Corn. It is suppose to be good for sweet corn and dry corn for grinding. I don't know if it's exactly the same, but looks similar.

Having the corn in clumps makes me think about how Fukuoka has his orchards. He says in one of his books somewhere, that he scatters most of his seeds, but certain ones he plants in the ground in specific places. I think it would be a great adventure to use Fukuoka's philosophy to grow corn. Please do it and let us know how it goes.

You've got the right idea starting with a traditional corn variety. It will probably be more hardy and willing to adapt than the monoculture agricultural varieties. It will take a few years of growing and saving your own seeds to develop a crop that is adapted to your conditions, but well worth the effort. If you aren't already familiar with saving seeds, and the specific needs for saving seeds from the corn plant, grab your library card and borrow the book Seed to Seed by Ashworth. For a more detailed in depth commercial grower kind of seed saving manual, The Organic Seed Grower by Navazio is your book. For a easy to use and understand introduction and reference go with Saving Seeds as if Our Lives Depend Upon it, by Jason (my favourite for first time seed savers).

The ground in the video seems very dry, even with the rain the fella talks about. You're right, a ground cover might be a good idea to help capture dew and conserve the soil. You probably heard of it already, but for those who haven't, The Three Sisters method of corn growing is a great place to start researching cover crops that go well with corn. Corn, beans and squash are grown together, each plant somehow benefits the other two, so that by growing them together, you have a much healthier crop than if each were grown on it's own.

At least that's the theory. The first time I did this, I must have done something wrong. Wrong varieties, wrong timing, wrong spacing, something. First the beans grew too fast and drowned out the rest so that what survived was stunted. The squash grew next and killed the beans, and maybe 20 percent of my corn seed made it. BUT I think I was combining English Garden method too much with The Three Sisters method.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how bias I am towards certain crops. Sure, nitrogen fixing ground cover is totally awesome, but for me, it's not enough. If I can't eat it, then it needs to be well beyond amazing to grab my attention. Maybe a short bean or lentil as a ground cover?

If I were to give the Three Sisters a go again, I might plant some Tom Thumb Peas early in the season, they only grow 12 inches tall, then plant the corn in among the peas which should be just finishing up - don't dig up the peas, leave the roots in the ground. Possibly cut the pea plants off just above the ground, strip the peas, and then reapply the pea stocks as mulch. After the corn is established, plant a climbing bean or semi-climber like Rams Head Cow Peas or Hutterite Beans, and a small squash (I remember Fukuoka talks about the benefits of squash in his orchards).

I do hope you go for it. It will take a few years of experimenting and observing to get the balance right for your conditions, but when you do... wow! Please keep us up to date as to what you try, if it works, and if it does not, and your thoughts on how to improve the elements of your system that didn't flourish.
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