We grew sweet corn for the first time ever on the Rural Studio Farm!
Throughout the year Chef Cat prepares meals for our students, staff, and faculty several times per week using our fresh produce from the Rural Studio Farm. One of our goals this summer was to provide the freshest and sweetest corn for the meals. Approximately 12 hours after sweet corn is picked, the sugars in the corn kernels begin to convert to starch. To achieve this goal of having fresh and sweet corn, we grew three different varieties that mature at slightly different times, which allowed for staggered harvests over the summer. Cat was also able to process any leftover corn for future meals.
Proper pollination is essential to a good yield. We planted the corn in blocks of at least four rows to encourage more thorough pollination by honey bees.
The male part of the corn is called the tassel, and it grows at the top of the plant producing pollen. The pollen must then be transferred to the familiar female silk; each strand of which acts as a tube to transfer a pollen grain to an ovule. Each mature corn kernel represents a successful pollination from tassel to silk to ovule.
Typically, one stalk only produces about one or two (possibly up to four) ears of corn. Corn doesn’t produce as much per square foot as some other food crops, but having fresh organic corn to eat at lunch was a rare summertime treat for our students, staff, and faculty! We will definitely grow corn again next summer. It was absolutely delicious!
The growing season has officially begun! Eric and the students started seeds in the seed house in the last two weeks of January, and now, about four weeks later, we are ready to transplant out the new seedlings into the field.
Once the seedlings have between two and four “true” or adult leaves, they are ready to be either transplanted or moved to larger containers so that they don’t get root-bound. Even though the last frost has not happened yet, students are able to start planting out cold-hardy seedlings: turnips, beets, lettuce, collard greens, lettuce, mustard greens, kale, and broccoli. Other crops, like carrots, that are not suited to transplanting will be direct-sowed into the field.
Some of the beds still had residue from winter cover crops, and students worked to add soil amendments and fertilizer before using the tilther to gently work the amendments and residues into the soil. The tilther also fluffed up and prepared the surface for transplanting. Cover crops add a huge amount of organic matter to the soil, especially the root mass, as well as opening up the soil and promoting a healthy soil biome.
We began cultivating additional land for crop production last fall, which will add about 33% more growing area. Using the walking tractor, Eric and the students first shaped the new in-ground raised beds before adding soil amendments and compost. Since we are promoting soil health, it is best to have something growing in the beds at all times, so it is important to start growing as soon as possible.
Students planted seed potatoes, which we covered in a layer of hay, and transplanted out collard greens. In some beds they also sowed a cover crop mix for early spring—hairy vetch, field peas, and oats—all to improve soil health and to keep the ground growing before crops are added later in the spring.
We are no-till, but we just tested out a new tool, the tilther. Run by a cordless drill, the tilther is like a baby rototiller, only working the soil to a depth of about two inches. This improves the tilth of the soil by fluffing and smoothing out the soil surface, making it ready to be transplanted into. It also mixes in any amendments, fertilizers, and minor crop residues.
In the greenhouse meanwhile, more seedlings are being started, and the early crop of tomatoes are being moved to larger quarters to allow their roots to expand and grow before they are transplanted to the greenhouse once March arrives.