Learning about Soil Fertility: Putting The First Plot of Corn to Bed

We just finished harvesting our first plot of corn.  I’d call it a fairly successful attempt.  Although there were only  a handful of ears that were fully covered with kernels, due to poor pollination, and I picked them a little too late, we were able to enjoy some in a fresh corn salad, and I froze another gallon and a half for using later on in soups, casseroles, creamed corn, and any other recipes that aren’t too fussy about the “chewy” texture of this particular harvest.  We’ve got a few more plots that are still maturing in the fields.  I don’t know if I can do anything about their pollination this late in the game, but you’d better believe I”ll be keeping a better eye on them so they don’t get to the dough stage before we pick them, like their siblings did in this last harvest!

After the harvest, I wanted to make sure that I was being wise about maintaining soil fertility, so Matt and I took some time and labor to employ a few sustainability techniques I’d learned about for replenishing the soil…

First, we (okay, mostly Matt) spent some time digging out the corn plants and removing the straw hay mulch from the plot.

After the corn was removed, we lay the entire plants back down on top of the dirt.  Corn is a heavy feeder and removes a lot of manganese from the soil.  Leaving the crop residue behind after harvesting the plants allows the minerals within the stalks to decompose and return the manganese and other nutrients it feeds on to the soil.

Another technique that we’re employing to replenish the soil is immediately planting in a crop of peas, which are useful for their nitrogen-fixing ability.  Since we garden organically, we don’t spend money on expensive fertilizers, and find that peas, beans, and clovers do a better job since they require the soil to take an active part in fixing its own nutrients.  I looked for open areas between the corn stalks,  drilled a small hole, and dropped a pea in.

After planing in all of the peas,  the entire plot was covered back up with  straw hay and watered.

In a few weeks, we should see some pea shoots emerging out of the hay, like this one that’s coming up from another plot where I used the same technique after harvesting a plot of potatoes and green beans.

I know that by returning the corn plants back to the soil in the form of compost and following up with legumes to further-fix the nitrogen that most of the soil fertility will be restored in this garden plot.  Utilizing these alternative fertilizer methods will not completely restore all of the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements to the soil that are necessary for optimum fertility.  However, it is a good start towards soil sustainability and creating the permaculture environment I’m striving for.  As always, I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying the process every step of the way!

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