I husked out my little patch of open-pollinated corn last week. It was something of a disappointment because the deer ate about half of it. But perhaps I should be grateful. I planted it so late (June 6) it is a wonder I got any. Frost did not come until Oct. 24 and many of the trees in the woods were still beautifully gold and green going into November.
But I noticed something mysterious while husking that made it all worthwhile. In the little field next to the corn plot, barnyard millet, or barnyard grass, or Japanese millet or whatever the dratted stuff is called (livestock won’t graze it except when it is very young) is growing in strips in the grass and clover pasture. It is easy to see the strips because the millet is brown and the other grass and clover still very green. I surely never planted it. It finally dawned on me that the strips of millet were growing where I had planted corn in strips in that field seven years ago.
How could cultivation that long ago still be influencing what is growing there now? Beats me. That field has almost always been pasture or hay, except for those strips of corn so long ago. Earlier I had grown corn and oats there once or twice— about 20 years ago. In other adjacent fields, the barnyard grass grows all over. So what is going on here?
One deduction seems obvious. The effects of disturbing the soil are more profound and long-lasting than I had imagined. Perhaps Andre Voisin, the eminent pasture scientist, was right when he wrote that once land is plowed, it takes a hundred years for it to gain back its original natural equilibrium of soil life.
Another possibility, which I have a hard time believing, is that the field has had these strips of barnyard grass growing where the corn was planted every year since then and I just didn’t notice. This year, because we made hay twice from the plot, the barnyard grass shows up better. But even if that is true, why hasn’t the grass advanced more out into the ground between the strips?
Accuse me of being overly superstitious, but since barnyard grass is so undesirable in pasture, I can’t help but wonder if the soil in those strips is punishing me for planting corn there. Maybe all our weed problems are punishment for disturbing the soil too much.
Then, as I husked my corn, I had to wrestle with another mystery. Why do the deer seem to like my corn so much more than the thousands of acres of GMO stuff growing around me? For years old farmers have insisted that wildlife prefer o-p corn to hybrids, and I have repeated that in my books, but frankly I have never really believed it completely. Now that we are talking about hybrid corn that has unnatural genes stacked in it, I am changing my mind.
And then of course there is another mystery. Even corn planted on June 6 dented and matured enough to make a crop because it didn’t frost until late October. Makes me wonder about the science that claims early planted corn, even in April, does better than later planted. The deer surely don’t see any difference. And another mystery: the devils picked only nice big ears to eat, leaving the nubbins for me.
Easy enough to blame it or praise it on global warming, but the climatologists say that pronounced warm and cold spells are weather events, not necessarily indicative of climate change. Sure enough. Friends near Bellefontaine, Ohio, about 40 miles south of us, sent us an email photo of their market garden under three inches of snow on October 24. Climate change is a redundancy.