[Market-farming] undersowing sweet corn

Pam Twin Oaks pam at twinoaks.org
Sun Jun 19 15:25:58 EDT 2011

I've been bogged down in the jungles of Virginia, as Ann Mooney called it!

Days and days ago, Lova Andriamanjay said:
"this year we are growing quit a bit more sweet corn and would really
like to grow some cover crops between the rows. It has been cultivaded
with a flex tine weeder two or three times depending of the sowing
date and I plan to inject some dairy manure between the rows soon and
then cultivate once and finally hill it. All this should be done by
the beginning of July when the rows should be closing up. I would like
to sow something when I will be hilling them. The cover crop would
grow in the shade until august when the sweet corn is harvested and
then chopped. It would then have 2-3 months of growth before winter
shut things up.

I am pretty sure some of you have tried this so I would like to hear
what you have done. I would really like a legume/legume based mix for
the nitrogen. I was thinking of trying: hairy vetch and rye, annual
ryegrass, crimson clover and sweet clover. Are these choices sound?
Would the sweet clover be able to grow back come spring?"

Our approach is: We undersow sweet corn with soy beans at about 30 days
after sowing the corn. That's our second and last cultivation. We don't
hill. We have a good source of cheap soybeans as we also make and sell tofu.
Soy is somewhat tolerant of both shade (from the corn) and foot traffic (the
harvesting crew), so that works well.

We tried crimson clover in the past but it didn't grow. In summer we can't
provide the continuous overhead irrigation needed to get the clover
germinated. Here, winter rye sown in August would head up before the fall
and be a nuisance, so we don't do that. Ryegrass becomes a weed here, so we
don't do that either.

For our last sweet corn planting, which is ready to be undersown in August,
we use oats and soy, then just bush hog the sweet corn (high) when it's
finished, and let the cover crops grow and be winter-killed. This is zone 7a
approx. I forgot to note where you are located.

I don't know if hairy vetch would be a good idea. If it seeds it can become
a problem, as some of the seed is "hard" (doesn't germinate in the first
year, but surprises you in later years!) Sweet clover I've never tried. I
believe the white and the yellow are quite different from each other.

Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community, Louisa, Jungles of VA
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