Before you scoff at my teeny corn, let me explain. This corn almost didn’t make it. At each turn, my crop was beset by terrible weather and thieves. The remaining six baby cobs almost didn’t get harvested, and thus, almost didn’t make it onto our dinner plates last week. Which would have been a gross travesty, because they were terrific.
I planted a block of ‘Sugar Buns’ corn in my community garden plot in early June after pre-sprouting the seeds (to ensure germination in our unseasonably cold, wet soil). Because my plot is small, the block of corn was, by necessity, small. I think I planted 4’x3′ for a total of 12 plants. After the corn finally reached 4 in. (10cm) high (which took FOREVER; this June was surely the coolest on record), I planted ‘Fortex’ beans next to each emerging corn stalk and ‘Black Beauty’ zucchini at the edges of the plot. My plan? To grow the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash.
The Three Sisters companion planting technique was first practiced by North American indigenous groups. The corn stalks provide vertical support to climbing beans, while in turn, the beans supply nitrogen to the corn and squash. The squash shades the soil, retaining moisture, while its prickly vines discourage squirrels and raccoons from accessing tender corn cobs—at least in theory.
I wouldn’t say it was completely successful for me, largely because of the slow start to summer we experienced. Corn needs really warm soil to truly thrive, and mine didn’t get that until at least mid-July. The beans quickly outpaced the corn, and I ended up adding a few poles to support the more vigorous vines. And while the zucchini might have kept squirrels and raccoons from my corn, it didn’t stop human pests, which took the earliest and biggest cobs. At that point (mid-August) I considered ripping out the corn (because surely it wasn’t going to produce a second crop by the time the weather cooled) but left it in simply because many of the stalks were supporting beans.
I’m glad I did. Last weekend, when I finally decided to replace the corn, beans, and zucchini with spinach and mache, I decided to open up the tiny cobs that had formed in spite of my predictions. And wouldn’t you know it? I had corn! I thought I’d find shriveled, unpollenated kernels, too small and hard to be edible, but instead I found plump, yellow pillows just waiting to be cooked and slathered with butter. Of course, I obliged.
One last thing: yes, I chose ‘Sugar Buns’ largely because of the name!
What are you harvesting now?
I would NEVER laugh at your tiny Sugar Buns! (wink!)
I had tiny corn, too – but when you think that every single KERNEL needs to be separately pollinated to form, then a big ear of corn is almost a miracle! So whatever I get, I honor and gobble with gusto.
I’ve got to get some ‘Sugar Buns’ of my own! (I can run with this all day long, but I’ll stop now…)
That’s a lovely little ear! We have not had much luck with the three sisters in the past either – usually squash overtakes everything else, but it might be nice to try a really small, tidy variety of squash with corn and beans sometime. I’m sorry about the thefts. That has sent me into fits before :( We are harvesting our second sowing of greens, kohlrabi and carrots now, plus the last of the hot-weather veggies and herbs to dry/freeze before we get a heavy frost.
We want to try the 3 sisters next year. After I read that you had human thieves, and not furry ones, I felt mad. People are so cruel! Why would people do that? Even though you only harvested little corn, it still looks great!
Andrea Bellamy says
Oh Germi- You’re hysterical. Now if only my own sugar buns were that tiny ;) But you’re right – corn is a miracle! A tasty, tasty miracle.
Zoe – I almost wished the zucchini had gotten bigger! Maybe then it would have kept the thieves out. Attack of the killer zucchini! Your harvest sounds delicious!
meemsnyc – Thanks! This was one of six, actually (although it was the biggest!). I’d definitely try the 3 sisters again – but next time, I’ll pray for a longer summer!
Yes, our June in Vancouver was very frustrating. I am still harvesting delicious Mokum carrots, and fighting the squirrels (or some pest!) for my beet greens.
We’ve planted black beans alongside our corn for the last few years, and it’s generally worked well. The squash is usually a ways away. This year our corn and beans just didn’t grow. Complete failure. Who knows why? We’re still harvesting tomatoes, green beans, and zucchini, an occasional cuke, and tons of tomatillos.
Congratulations on your successes! I have never grown corn, probably never will. My harvest is over but I will be planting garlic for next year.
Christine B. says
The only thing I’m harvesting right now is regret. As in “why didn’t I do potatoes or carrots this year…”
Anyway, the hard freezes we’ve been having turned everything brown so I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself at the moment.
Christine in Alaska
Connie at Farm with a View says
Such gorgeous kernels on that wee ear! Here in southern California we’re harvesting the last of our summer zucchini and basil, and that’s about it. We’re letting the rest of our plot relax a bit under a thick layer of compost and manure. Have started kale, spinach and Swiss chard seeds indoors; will be transplanting those in a few weeks. Kind of nice not to have to do much outdoors lately, now that the weather is cooling down considerably.
hey Andrea, Nice looking corn.
Couple of tricks to help 3 sisters along:
* the corn needs mucho nitrogen, so either plant a fishhead in the hole with each kernel–or a fistful of bloodmeal or alfalfa meal, something heavy on nitrogen mixed in the soil close to each kernel that you plant.
* the corn needs to get a head start on the beans. Plant the beans after the corn has been up for 2-4 weeks (depending on conditions)
good luck !