Here, just south of the 45th Parallel (halfway to the North Pole) in the upper Great Lakes area of Ontario, Canada, the appearance of rows of little green sprouts of sweet corn in the first week of June is enough to make me break out into song and dance. I kid you not.
Corn has been described as a ‘tough crop,’ and so it is. But it’s also fussy: a warm-weather crop that won’t germinate if the soil temperature isn’t warm enough – a minimum of 21 degrees Celsius – and it won’t tolerate frost.
In southern Ontario, May 24 has traditionally been the date for planting such crops, on the assumption there’s no longer a risk of frost. But that’s not always dependable, as the 2021 growing season reminded us, when a hard frost a week after that date did a lot of damage; for example, annual strawberry crops then in pre-fruit flower, were wiped out in many locations, including mine.
Vast quantities of fungicides and other pesticides are used in modern, industrialized agriculture in the production of corn. Some fungicides are used to prevent seed corn from rotting after planting if the soil temperatures are not high enough to bring on germination for too long.
However, some growers, large and small, myself included, choose to use untreated seed. I think it’s fair to say that increases the risk of crop failure if after planting there’s a period of unusually cool weather. In my admittedly anecdotal experience, the weather in recent years has become less predictable, or reliable.
So, on May 17, with the weather and the soil warm, I knew I was to some extent taking a risk planting a few rows of sweet corn. But as a neighbor said, and I agreed, “sometimes you have to take a risk.”
About a week later, after a nice rain, I was relieved to see those rows had emerged, and what’s more, showed 90 percent-plus germination. So, I took a deep breath and planted the rest of about 1.3 kilograms (just under three pounds) of seed – one seed, one row at a time, taking about eight hours in total. (Those single-row, push planters don’t work well with corn.)
And then, of course, the weather turned dry, and cool, though sunny. Fortunately, the soil embraced the heat of the sun sufficiently to keep the seed warm enough for germination; and then, a couple of days of much-needed rain was well-timed.
Watering by hand daily from a dug well will keep the garden alive. But there’s nothing like rain to turn it on. This morning is cool, but the whole garden is happy, virtually singing a chorus of relief and new growth as it, and I, look forward to a few days of sunny weather.
I’ll give the soil a chance to absorb the moisture for a day or two before weeding, and then laying down a thick bed of organic straw mulch for the strawberries, potatoes, and tomatoes.
The mulch keeps the clay-loam soil moist and helps avoid the hard-pan problem. It also keeps the potato plants free of potato beetles and helps the tomato plants stay healthy.
Herbs, including lots of basil, as well as the classic, “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” are going to be transplanted into a new raised bed, as soon as the weather warms up a few more degrees.
I am reminded just now of something my grandson Daniel said a few years ago when he was here helping me plant corn. He stopped for a moment, looked over and said in a wonderful way, “you don’t think of anything else when you’re doing this, do you.”
“You’re absolutely right, Daniel,” I said. “There’s lots of great things about gardening; and that’s one of them.
I think of that now because of the terrible things happening in the world, that we surely need to be aware of, try to understand, and do whatever we can to help.
Being alive, trying to appreciate that as much as possible; planting and caring for a hopeful garden; loving and caring for family and friends, and especially for children; being there for a stranger in need; keeping spirits up; taking a moment whenever possible to love yourself, to give yourself a break. Yes, that too … all that and more. We cannot, we must not, lose hope about being alive.