Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Great Wet Coast Corn Patch Experiement

When starting a new garden or gardening experience, I have decided to either 'go big or go home'. I decided to grow corn on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

This is like reinventing the wheel - at least I found that out after I planned & prep'ed the ground & ordered my seeds. A few people would look at me & chuckle & others, possibly a naive as myself or just gloriously hopeful, would cheer me along. The problem? We do not experience hot enough weather in the critical growing period for corn - namely August. Actually, in our town we call that month Fogust, as we are usually under a dense blanket of fog but for a break into sunshine for a few hours around mid-day.

Guess what - this year was the perfect year to grow corn in my front yard! We had very little fog - maybe a few days here & there towards the end of July - beginning of August, we had heat - lots of heat, and we had sunshine.

In April I managed to dig up a small patch in the front yard - the covered spot on the left (the one on the right is for the rhubarb plants yet to arrive). I emptied my composter & dug in the blend & then had to wait for the ground to warm up.

May 21st was planting day & since I had never grown corn before, I broke all the rules with regards to spacing the seeds. I think I planted about 75 seeds in my rather small bed (3 x 5 ?).

June 7th I saw my first seedlings poking their heads above the ground. This was truly exciting for me as I had watched the robins jumping around in the newly planted garden just hours after the corn seeds had gone in. In order to thwart my feathered friends, I had also thrown in a handful of poppy seeds & put in wanderin Egyptian onions all along the edge & zuchinni seeds at the 'head & foot' of the garden. If I had to sacrifice something to the birds, let it be those & not the corn!

June 18th - The corn is actually doing very well! The weather is perfect & I can see the other seeds starting to grow as well. When I had planted the garden, I edged it with grass mulch in the hopes of keeping the grass & weeds from invading, but it doesn't last very long when exposed like this.

June 26th - Amazing how quickly things will grow given the right conditions.

July 10th & it's time to dig out the sprinkler & start watering the gardens. It has been a very dry year for us on the coast. We had a dry spring (I believe February we saw only 25% of our usual rain fall & it's now continuing through the summer).

What I thought to be a yellow zuchinni plant on one side of the garden is now a mystery plant. It might be of the mustard family & I've yet to identify it. Will need to research - but mystery plants are fun to figure out (it took me 3 years to figure out my hollyhocks because they just wouldn't flower & no one else grows them here...)

July also saw the trespassing & theivery of a returning creature to our community: deer! It's been many years since anyone has seen a deer in the yard out here - strange, you may think, as did I when I moved here, but a relief for the gardening season. Til this year...

She ate all my unripe blueberries & was looking at my black currants & raspberries in this photo. She returned the next week to investigate another flower bed right by the corn patch & had me jumping up & down on my deck, clapping my hands in the hopes of frightening it off. I think the people across the harbour heard me...

July 20th - hmmm, the corn doesn't appear to be much taller so this is when I started to think of fertilizers. There are so many different types of fertilizers out there but a fellow corn-growing neighbour recommended the liquid fish fertilizer. Smelly stuff, low concentration of nutrients, but it seems safe & if I'm lucky, the fishy smell won't attract the bear - the other creature with possible temptations of trespassing & thievery...

August 6th saw more progress as the fertilizer & regular water seem to be helping, as well as the lack of fog!

August 8th - the tassels are now starting to emerge. I am enthralled with the changes & developments of these corn stalks. Funny - I grew up in Ontario surrounded by crop fields, many of which were corn, but I'd never watched how they grew or noticed the different stages of development. This experiment was definately worth all the effort & care, just to see the corn grow taller than my knees (which was the predicted height a few people told me...)

Hidden amongst the corn stalks were the poppies & they were now starting to come to life!

I never know what my poppies will look like. When I first got the seeds from my mother's place in Ontario, I was expecting frilly, light pink little flowers. Within a year, they had mutated to this brilliant fuschia, single blossom colour. I've had some that were deep purple, almost black & others that were the original frilly pink with deep fuschia centers & most of them will grow to be 3 or 4 feet tall given rich soil. And they have their own mind as to when they want to bloom. Some bloom in June & some wait til September...

Beginning of August also saw my yellow zuchinni start to produce some edible veggies. I had read that zuchinni can be grown in a tomato cage (so vertical) to reduce the amount of space the plant requires & to also keep the fruit off the ground & hence, away from the bugs. I put the tomato cage on & carefully made sure the leaves were growing up through the cage - but my zuchinni remained more of a bush & not a creeping vine. At least I could get the lawn mower up close to the plant without fear of running over the leaves or the fruit.

Middle of August - just a week after the tassels started to emerge, saw them turning colour & producing pollen. I've read that when growing corn, do not grow a long single row. Grow them in a square or rectangle with staggered rows & then when the tassels look like this - gently shake them. Really, is that necessary? When I was growing up, the big summer job was de-tasseling the corn - what was up with that? Well, other than 'accidentally' pollenating other corn fields... So, I gently shook a few stalks just to see the pollen fly out & then let nature take care of the rest. That's what wind is for & fortunately, my yard usually has some sort of breeze.

 Along with the tassels starting to pop up, the cobs were starting the develop.

It was much too soon mid-August to become too excited about a possible harvest, but I was very hopeful & amazed at the height of the stalks. My neighbour's corn was about half the height & I believe they were harvesting their cobs in mid-August. Will have to find out when they planted their seeds & what variety they had!

August 18th - first signs of silk on a few of the cobs.

September 2nd - the cobs are starting to plump up. I did an offical count & found out that I had between 45 - 50 cobs on the stalks. Through August, I had begun thinning out the stalks - the ones that were very short & were being shaded out by the more mature & taller ones.

It's now getting close to the harvest season & I'm getting excited. Who wouldn't with corn this tall?!

September 19th - we got hit with a few heavy rain days & some of the corn stalks were knocked over. I thought this was the perfect excuse to harvest some of the cobs & see how the kernels are developing.

Well, the cobs aren't as far along as I was hoping. They are still quite small & the kernels are just barely maturing. I had the feeling that this might be the case as the silk hadn't turned brown yet.

Well, I still am pleased with these. I roasted them in a bit of butter & tarragon oil & even though the core was too hard to eat, we enjoyed the baby kernels.
This experiement is not yet complete so I will make sure to take more photos & update you with what happens over the next few weeks.