The seed catalog says, "Sweet Corn, Country Gentleman (Shoe-peg) - 95 days." I grew this 1890 Heirloom variety successfully in 2007, and decided to grow it again in 2008, using some new techniques. I have been a gardener for more than 50 years, but what followed surprised me.
I teach a gardening course, Biological/Organic Gardening and More, so I am always trying new crops and new ideas that may help gardeners become more sustainable. In addition, I strive to develop practices that make for effective but easy gardening. I have double-dug, raised beds and actually work the soil as little as possible. I never use a tiller. I have a silty-clay-loam soil, with 5 percent organic matter content, and have been fertilizing with organic materials for seven years. Here in Northwest Arkansas, we have a long growing season, so sweet corn can be planted over an extended time to get several successive pickings, even with 95-day corn.
Oats and/or Austrian winter peas make excellent fall/winter cover crops in our climate. The oats is my cover crop choice for beds that can be planted from mid-August through September. The oats will grow to 30 inches in height by the end of November, and then winter-kill when the temperature gets below 20 degrees. The oats generally fall over, mat down, and provide a thick bed of straw mulch for soil protection and weed control until I am ready to plant in the spring and summer. The Austrian Winter Peas are my choice for a late season cover crop, i.e. anything planted after October 1. The peas stop growing in December and resume again in February, and in the process, fix a lot of nitrogen in the soil.
For the bed where the 95-day corn was to be planted, I used Austrian winter peas for the fall/winter cover crop. In mid-May I cut off the 3-foot pea vines at the ground line, and laid them back on the beds for mulch, I did not till or work the soil in any way. Two weeks later, (June 2), I planted the Country Gentleman corn.
This year I added soil and foliar fertilizer mixes, as recommended on the basis of soil tests, by International Agriculture Labs, basically following the Reams system. All the soil fertilizers were simply added to the surface. In addition, I have become a strong believer in the use of paramagnetic rock for building soil energy. In the fall of 2007, before I planted the peas, I added one pound of paramagnetic rock per square foot, to all of my garden beds. My original garden soil had paramagnetic values of 80 -100 CGS, but by mixing the paramagnetic rock in the soil, to an 8-inch depth, I raised the CGS values to over 500. I felt that would be a good paramagnetic value starting point.
I have been gardening for 50 years and have been following the organic approach for more than 35. Yet what happened with this year's sweet corn is an unusual story. Remember now, this is 95-day corn, and I planted it late, so we could be eating it in late August and early September.
Here are the results. In three days after planting, the corn was up and it began to grow. In 30 days the corn was 6 feet tall, in 40 days it was 9 feet, in 50 days it was 12 feet, and on the 59th day from planting, we ate sweet corn with a Brix reading of 20. A few days later, the harvested corn had Brix values from 24-30. Any gardener would be happy to have these results. So what is the explanation for my corn reaching maturity in 59 days?
I strongly suspect that the paramagnetic rock was a big contributor for the rapid growth and early maturity. Many studies by Dr. Phil Callahan, Malcom Beck, and others attest to an increase in growth and other desirable traits for plants in soils where paramagnetic values are high. Dan Skow, D.V.M. and Charles Walters Jr. in their book, Mainline Farming for Century 21, point out that the growing season for 110-day corn can be shortened by creating a powerful magnetic field. In the mid-west corn belt, 110-day corn matures in about 110 days, whereas in central Mexico, where the magnetic field is less, it takes 9 months. See also The Non-Toxic Farming Hand book by Phillip A Wheeler, Ph.D. and Ronald B Ward, Biological Farm Management System Handbook by Bruce Tainio, and Graeme Sait in Nutrition Rules! for explanations and the value of paramagnetic rock. It's critical to understand that paramagnetic rock does not substitute for lack of minerals. The mineral content and mineral ratios need to be correct. Besides increasing growth and shortening the time to maturity, paramagnetic rock can increase frost hardiness, winter hardiness, insect and disease resistance, soil water holding capacity, microbial activity, flowering, and drought hardiness, as well as improve nutrient utilization.
Although what I have done, shortening the growing season, is not new, it's the magnitude of the change that is amazing. I point all this out because I think that we as gardeners can all decrease the time from planting to harvest, and simultaneously increase production and quality simply by following good soil nutrition rules and by raising the soil paramagnetic values. Shortening the growing season is not an academic endeavor. It's important from an economic standpoint for market gardeners, and it's critical in the northern climates, where early frosts can often curtail production. I will be experimenting further to shorten the growing season for a marginal crop in this area – figs.
If there is a negative in this, it's that the season for harvesting the sweet corn was also shortened. I had a similar situation with my Golden Bantam sweet corn this year, in that the time to maturity and harvesting period were both reduced. I believe that the shortened harvesting period can be remedied for growers simply by planting smaller, successive crops. In fact, once you understand the dynamics for your crops, it may make marketing easier to manage. After seeing what was occurring with the corn, I planted some cherry bell radishes, just to observe growth rates. When planted on August 9th, we were eating fully developed radishes in 18 days. Again, that was a substantial reduction from what I normally expect in our area.
I encourage gardeners and farmers to give paramagnetic rock a fair trial. For measuring the paramagnetic values, you will want a Phil Callahan Soil Meter, which is available from Pike Agri-Labs Supplies, Inc. located in Jay, Maine. The bottle-neck for many will be finding a source of the paramagnetic rock. Fortunately here in Northwest Arkansas, we have an organic farm and garden supply store (Nitron Industries in Johnson, AR) that purchased a big load of paramagnetic rock. The paramagnetic value of the rock is very high, testing over 10,000 CGS. The rock was purchased from Doug Murray, in Paw Paw, Michigan. Call Doug Murray at 269-930-9309 for details. He gets the rock from Canada, and can deliver it to any site.
I have been excited about this energy-building rock, since I first read about it. My vision was that my entire garden and eventually my entire 2 acres would be fully charged with magnetic energy, assisted by the paramagnetic rock. I visualize the entire site as an energy bubble, extending from below ground to above the plant surfaces. This was the first full year that the rock was applied to the garden, and the Brix levels of the produce have increased considerably. Better nutrition surely helped too. I have grown Moon and Stars watermelons for several years and their size has been in the range described in the catalogues, i.e. 10 - 25 pounds. Not this year! All the melons were considerably larger, several exceeding 40 pounds.
Another observation this year has been the increase in the number of birds and their activity. Since early spring, we consistently had more bird species in our garden area, in pairs, mating and nesting, than any previous year. It was like they found our energy bubble island, they liked it, and they decided to stay. We didn't mind, even the feeding of 30 or more hummers all summer.
The idea that energy is a key component to the biological gardening and farming approach is not always easy to explain or sell, especially to the conventional gardeners and farmers. When folks see my 12 foot corn in 50 days, eating it at day 59, and with a Brix of 20 plus, they want to know more. For some, it leads to a stop at the garden store to get a bag or two of paramagnetic rock. I never criticize the gardeners for their past gardening practices. I do coach them to move in the Go-Natural approach. For some it is the first small step to healthier eating, a friendlier approach on the environment, and hopefully someday realizing the social injustice that is currently being imposed on many farmers and indigenous people of developing countries, who are losing the use of their heirloom seeds with the infusion of GMOs.
I will be following up with observations on other crops in the future. For those who have observations and/or questions, I welcome your information and inquiry. In the currently existing "world food crisis" era, and the rapidly growing interest in raising our own food, we as gardeners have valuable skills to share. I hope we can all be working together to provide the best information possible.
Calvin F. Bey, Ph.D., is a retired agriculture scientist, living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a passion for teaching others about eco-gardening. He and his wife Doris use their demonstration garden and energy-efficient home to help others understand the concept of sustainability. He can be reached at CFBey1936@cox.net or see http://harmonygardens.blogspot.com