Sweet Corn Summary and Links

August 27, 2014



My go-to meal for the last three weeks.  The sweet corn was raised without herbicides or pesticides.  It’s a wonderful experience when a successful experiment results in such good eats.

I planted a rye cover crop last fall, rotovated twice in the spring, rotary hoed twice after planting, and cultivated twice, keeping the corn ahead of the weeds long enough to produce a good ear of corn, even though the weeds are thriving now.

The last time I tried to raise sweet corn without herbicides was a disaster, with the weeds getting ahead of the corn, resulting in production losses.  That time I only chisel plowed, disced, and cultivated once.

My plan for next year is to use the same protocol as this year, except possibly not using the rye cover crop.  That may prove to be a mistake as the rye has alleopathic properties.

I wonder if I should be looking at weeds differently.  Instead of a problem to overcome, maybe I should consider them as a volunteer crop.  Instead of weeding, maybe I should be harvesting.

Tama Matsuoka Wong is a businessperson who has taken her interest in wild edibles to a new level.  She partners with restaurants to put wild edibles on the menu.  Her website is  Meadows and More.  Discovering the way Ms. Wong approaches wild edibles is invigorating my thinking about weeds.

Finally, while I’ve spent the summer thinking about sweet corn, I wonder how much corn I’m getting from other sources.  “Children of the Corn” is an interesting infograph if you’ve ever wondered about the corn industry.

The one problem I have with the infograph is when they talk about water usage.  Sure, corn uses water, but it gets cycled back into the atmosphere.  It’s not like it’s being used up, never to be seen again.

Comment if you have any thoughts about these topics.

Kentucky Blue Pole Beans

August 5, 2014



The jungle above is what happens when you plant pumpkins too close to pole beans.  I planted Kentucky Blue Pole Beans, my first try with pole beans as I never thought I wanted to mess with a fence.  But it turns out they weren’t much work, and grow well here.

I planted them in a row and after they were up and growing, I weeded and mulched with loose hay chaff from the barn.  Then I put a five-foot high fence right beside them.  They took to the fence rapidly and would have grown higher if my fence had been taller.

They were doing very well until the pumpkins, which were planted three and six feet away, made there way over to the fence and started climbing.  All the shade from the pumpkins may have hurt yield, but it doesn’t matter now as the sweet corn is ready.  We ate green beans every day, but now I realize they were just a place-holder on my plate until the sweet corn was ready.

Sweet Corn Planting Mistake

July 28, 2014



I made a rookie-type mistake planting my sweet corn.  After planting my Dad’s field corn, I changed the population from 30,000 plants per acre down to 20,000 plants per acre, and I cleaned out each of the four seed hoppers in my John Deere 7200 planter.

I’ve owned this corn planter for over five years, and I’ve cleaned out the hoppers the same way every time, (dumping them upside down several times), but this time one of the hoppers had quite a bit of corn stuck down inside where I couldn’t see it.  Furthermore, when I started planting, that row was plugged and corn was not coming out.  Luckily, the monitor tells me when a row isn’t planting, so I wouldn’t have planted the whole field with a missing row.

I unplugged the row and finished planting the whole field, stopping once to add another variety of sweet corn.  I planted two varieties this year, both supersweet, but with different maturities.  I noticed there was more corn in the second hopper, but figured that must have been because it didn’t plant that one time across the field.

Fast-forward to a couple of months later.  I noticed that the rows of corn were developing differently, but figured that must have been the difference in variety.  Then we had a summer storm with strong winds.  Most of the corn was bent over from the strong wind, but some of the rows were not affected.  I still figured it was due to varietel difference.

Finally, when the corn started tasseling, with the taller rows not tasseling, a light bulb went on and I realized what had happened.  The tall rows were my Dad’s field corn.  The next thought I had was, “Oh no, my sweet corn is ruined.”  You see, supersweet corn needs to be isolated from other types of corn or the sugar in it turns to starch and it tastes terrible.  This happened once with our sweet corn when I was a kid, and it was inedible.

But then I realized that the sweet corn was tasseling, but the field corn was not.  So if the sweet corn could pollinate before the sweet corn tasseled, I would be fine.  I could have detasseled all the field corn to be safe, but you know me, my curiosity comes before my success.  So now we wait and see.

Next year I know exactly what I will do differently.  I’m going to upend each hopper, removing all the visible corn.  Then I will put the planter in the ground somewhere out of the way, and plant any remaining seeds until the monitor tells me each row is empty.

On a side note, you can see the pumpkin and squash is growing gangbusters.  In the foreground you can see a new purchase I made: Racoon Net from Premier fence.  The three-strand electric fence I always made in the past helped, but didn’t completely keep the raccoons out of the sweet corn.  I’m hoping this netting works better, and I’ll try to remember to let you know how it does.

Jude Becker’s Philosophy

September 25, 2011

I cut the spring garden peas.  They regrew and flowered.  I don’t recall the flowers being this pretty in the spring.


“Do you ever see piles of junk around a winery?” Jude Becker asked.


“And why not?  Because the wine people decided that a visit to their farm would be a wonderful part of the wine experience.  That’s what I want to do here.”

We stood in the loft of his remodeled barn, surrounded by his Dad’s beautiful wood projects, including a depiction of the twelve apostles, commissioned by a church but never paid for.  We leaned against the bar.

“Why can’t pork be the same as wine?  This is where I want to have tastings.”

I thought about what Jude said, and I realize he’s right.  Pork should have more prestige than wine.  Somehow we’ve commoditized this animal, and took away anything special, anything which could enrich our life rather than just sustain it.  And in so doing, we’ve commoditized the farmer.

Jude strives to differentiate his pork from commodity pork.  Why shouldn’t his pork be different from mine also?  We could celebrate the terroir of pork.  We could celebrate the seasons.  We could celebrate the in-season feeds.

Citygirlfriend grew celery this year.  It was dense, dark-green, and full of flavor.  I raved, “This is nutrient-dense celery.  I never want to eat store-bought celery again.”

I know all of this sounds artisanal, and it is.  I’m going further down the artisanal road, and probably won’t be able to ever return to commodity food  production.  So be it, I’m not a commodity, why should my food be?

Pruning to Improve Fruit Production

April 8, 2010

John 15:1-2  Jesus speaking.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Luke 6: 43-45  Jesus speaking.  “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

I’m 41 years old and I’m pruning, for the first time in my life.  I freely admit that I’m not sure what I’m doing; but I’m glad to be doing it.

I may be pruning too much or incorrectly; but so little fruit was produced, I no longer feel much pressure.

I like that success will be measured by the fruit that is produced.

Michael Pollan Speaks in Madison Wisconsin

October 11, 2009

“What is all the fuss about?  Why are farmers protesting?”  I thought as I sat and listened to Michael Pollan speak at the Dane County Farmer’s Market.   After reviewing my notes I started to understand why he upsets some farmers.

Michael Pollan is an excellent writer and speaker who can convincingly make a case for probably anything he feels strongly about.  I thank him for caring about food and for pointing out a flawed system.  I won’t be signing a petition to appoint him Ag Secretary though.  Because, as even he admitted, policy is not his area of expertise, and I fear the wheels would come off if he were allowed to drive.

I feel strongly about this because I see parallels between the American farm and food system and my own.  My farm is transitioning from commodity-based livestock production to direct-market livestock production with minimal purchased inputs.  We are not relying on an off-farm salary while we make this transition, so changes are made cautiously and evaluated every step of the way.  Whatever the flaws of the American farmer and food system, we do feed a lot of people.  And that is worth something.

I’m intrigued by organic production, but fear I don’t have the time or patience to learn.  I would love to help a young couple start an organic CSA on part of my farm.  Then my curiosity would be filled as I reported on what they did.  And they would have access to land to realize their dream to farm and feed people. 


But enough about me, let me tell you what Michael Pollan had to say.

There is a movement rising to change the American food system.  Nearly 8,000 people turned out for his speech on the UW campus.  And there was evidence of pushback as protesters also were in attendance.

Mr. Pollan said the goal of the American food system should be: “To provide fresh, high-quality food to everyone in USA and a decent return to American farmers and contribute to the solution of environmental problems.”

Hard to argue with that.  But then he connects the dots between the environmental crisis on one side and the health crisis on the other.  Guess what he place in the middle as causative:  Agriculture.

Mr. Pollan said modern industrial agriculture drinks oil and spews greenhouse gas.  He said agriculture used to use one calorie of fossil fuel to produce two calories of food.  Modern agriculture uses ten calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food.  He said it takes 28 ounces of oil to produce one double quarter pounder at McDonald’s.  I don’t know if that was with cheese.

I have seen figures like this before and I question them.  I will be writing a post this winter detailing how much oil my farm uses and how much food we produce because I’ve been curious about this.

Mr. Pollan then says that energy comes from the sun and Photosynthesis is the only free lunch.  He would like to wean the food system off of fossil fuels and put it back on sunshine.  Food can be resolarized.

The health care crisis is code for ‘cost of industrial food production.’  Since 1960, spending on health care has risen from 5% of GDP to 18% of GDP as the amount spent on food has decreased from 18% to 9.5% of discretionary income.  I don’t buy into this simplified argument.

Mr. Pollan says we still need to support farmers.  We just need to change the subsidies to reward quality and diversity and environmental solutions instead of rewarding for quantity. 

I agree that government programs become ‘monsters’ that seek to sustain themselves rather than accomplish whatever it was designed to accomplish in the first place.  I think we need results-based government programs.

Mr. Pollan spoke about our food culture.  “We need to reregionalize food.  People need to learn to eat from a shorter food chain.  He says the USDA is starting to get this and used the example of the new, ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program.

“We need to teach our children how to eat lunch.  This is a controversial statement until you consider that we are teaching them how to eat lunch by giving them chicken nuggets and tater tots and ten minutes.”

Michelle Obama was applauded for her organic garden and for speaking out about the importance of growing and cooking real food.  Claire Strader introduced Mr. Pollan, which was fitting because she is a Wisconsin grower that has become the White House gardener.

Mr. Pollan doesn’t feel there is a lack of farmland.  But there is a lack of farmers.  We have been demeaning farmers for the last 100 years and that has resulted in a brain drain on the farm.  That is something we both agree on.  It is going to take major brainpower to continue to feed people in a sustainable way.

Companion Planting

May 27, 2009


In the children’s book, “Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes,” by Bruce Koscielniak, Bear and Bunny take two different approaches to gardening.  Bear is anal and raises monocultures devoid of other plants, (weeds).  Bunny is a more relaxed individual and gardens with the weeds.  Bear has bumper crops.  Bunny has crop failures.  Bear shares his harvest with Bunny so Bunny doesn’t starve in the winter.

My ex-girlfriend tells me I am exactly like Bunny.  I, however, usually don’t experience crop failure.  And I have a method to my madness.  It’s called “Companion Planting.”  Some plants grow better together. 

In the excellent book on this subject, “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” Louis Riotte explains this principle in detail.  This  is his introduction.

“The magic and mystery of companion planting have intrigued and fascinated humans for centuries, yet it is a part of the gardening world that has never been fully explored.  Even today we are just on the threshold.  In years to come I hope that scientists, gardeners, and farmers everywhere will work together in making more discoveries that will prove of great value in augmenting the world’s food supply.

Plants that assist each other to grow well, plants that repel insects, even plants that repel other plants – all are of great practical use.  They always have been, but we are just beginning to find out why.”

In my last post, I wrote that I am striving to be “Umami.”  I’ll bet my choice of companions will have a huge effect on this.