Another Smack Down by Mother Nature

It’s always good to be known for something. “She’s an awesome guitar player” or “He’s a real Civil War buff.” Over the years Michelle and I have come to develop a reputation for growing great corn. Organic corn. This is not something we pursued, we just fell into it.

For years we grew a cultivar called “Precious Gem.” I saved seed and eventually ran out a few years ago. Last year we grew 3 different cultivars and one was a real hit with our CSA members. With how sweet corn is becoming it can be tough to find a variety that the majority of people like, but we’ve been lucky.

And we grow it organically. This is a big deal to a lot of people. I remember when I lived in the city and needed to buy my corn at a farmer’s market. I would always ask if it was organically grown and the vendors always assured me that it was “impossible” to grow corn organically.

Corn is a heavy feeder so I have to really build up the soil, and we keep our eyes peeled for pests. I assumed a lot of smaller farmers would grow it organically but as we’ve talked to other growers at various markets over the years, it seems many people spray for weeds with an herbicide. With the way weeds are taking over this year I understand the instinct to do this, but we persist in taking on the weeds by hand.

This year I put a lot of effort into our corn. Since it’s saved seed, germination can be spotty so I overseed, then I have to thin once it gets going. I probably put a disproportionate amount of time into my corn, but I feel that if I’m weak in things early in the season I can make up for it with corn. Organic corn! It’s our “signature” crop you know.

Recently we suffered through, as did much of Canada and the U.S., a brutal heat wave. I think it broke some records. The weather people kept saying it was an anomaly because the front moved from the east to west. And the jet stream just parked itself and kept the heat around, just like the climate models forecast. So by the Thursday of that week I was exhausted from gardening in the heat, weeding, picking beans and peas, and not really sleeping well because it didn’t even cool off at night. I was looking forward to a weekend to just focus on weeding and catching up on some sleep.

Then on the Friday the heat wave ended when a cold front moved through, hitting a warm front and we all know what happens when warm air hits cold air. Bad stuff. The sky went from brilliant blue to black in about 5 minutes, and the outdoor temperature dropped from 32°C to 21°C (about 89°F to 69°F) in about 15 minutes. As the front moved through the wind really picked up. I’m sure the gusts were at least 100 km/hr (62 Mph.) Everything that wasn’t fastened down began sailing across our yard, and some of it ended up in the pond.

And then there was my corn. Oh my precious beloved corn. Corn is a kind of crazy plant. It’s too tall. Too vulnerable. Not enough roots to support its super structure. Anyway, in about 2 minutes my corn, my baby, my signature crop went from vertical to horizontal. Thanks Mother Nature. Thanks for that. Thanks for the old “Corn Smack down.” I don’t know what she was trying to tell me but she must be angry with me. And I was kind of distraught. It’s not even in the same league as people losing their homes due to floods or tornadoes, but I did have an inkling of the impact it must have on you mentally.

corn-blown-down

I couldn’t face it on Friday night. But on Saturday morning I got up bright and early and began to salvage it. The least mature stuff was the easiest to fix. I’d put my arm under a few plants, pull them vertical, then use a hand cultivator to pull the soil back around the base, which I’d then pack down vigorously to try and get them to stay up. In fact I overcompensated. I convinced the corn to “lean in” so it leaned slightly into the wind for the next round of climate chaos Mother Nature tosses our way. I did this all day Saturday and most of Sunday. I lost a fair amount but managed to save most of it.

As I spent my weekend propping up my corn I kept thinking “What are you doing Cam?” Is this your destiny? To spend way too much time planting and nurturing corn, then trying to salvage it for your CSA members? And I remembered living in the city, and all the ways I tried to occupy any spare time I had, usually trying to stay in shape. I cycled a lot, but really, at the end of the day of cycling what have you got to show for it? After spending the weekend salvaging my corn I was exhausted, but at least I had some straight corn to show for my efforts.

The concept of a CSA is that members share the risk of farming with the farmer. I don’t have crop insurance at the level I grow. But I have my pride. And people like our corn. It would be like going to a restaurant, known for it’s “pizza,” and being told, “Sorry, we don’t have any pizza today.” I do not want to have to say “Sorry, I lost the corn.” And I think I salvaged enough for everyone to get some.

I am very hopeful I will able to put corn in our CSA member’s boxes this summer. Take that Mother Nature! You can punch me in the stomach with your little wind event, and knock my corn down, but if I have to spend all weekend, all week, all month straightening every single plant, I will! But please, hold off on any more wind like that until late September. Thank you.

2 Responses to “Another Smack Down by Mother Nature”

  • Jennifer:

    Be careful what you say about Mother Nature! She’s like Santa Claus, you know; she knows if you’ve been swearing at her or not. Maybe she thought you needed a challenge. Your efforts to produce organic corn are commendable! Good for you for persevering where others don’t even try. I’m sure your members will understand if this ends up being a bad corn year. Or a bad corn ear, ha ha.

  • Susan:

    I hate it when that happens. I don’t grow as much corn as you do. Just enough of a special kind that freezes well (retains the flavor)and it is a hit at Thanksgiving dinner. Every year the wind blows mine over and I am not talking about 60 mph wind. More like 30 with a few higher gust. So as silly as it sounds this is what I do. I pound in a metal fence post at each end of my corn rows (They are only 8 to 12 feet long). When the stalks are tall enough, usually just as they start making the tassel at the top, I start at one end and tie twine to one post. Working my way down the rows I make a loop around each stalk and go on to the next one until I get to the second fence post and fasten the twine to it. Each loop is tied as oppose to wrapped around the stalk. It gives the corn just enough support to keep it upright. It’s a little time consuming but better than trying to salvage later. I prefer to put the time in on the front end of planting. Like when planting carrots I prefer to take the time to space the seeds so there is not so much thinning. Works great and the thinned carrots are usually big enough to eat leaving the rest in the ground to grow bigger. I just hate thinning and tossing away all those small perfectly good looking carrot plants. Good luck with the corn. I know mother nature has not been real friendly lately.

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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