corn and squash and compost, oh my

Why all the poop* talk this week?  [*Really, livestock manure and compost.]

We need compost every year to replenish the vegetable garden and garlic patch outside* the garden/orchard “compound.”  [*Deer don’t bother stinky garlic and onions planted there for obvious reasons.]

We need even more compost now that we established another bed for corn and squash in the third “pod” of the compound. We planted corn there somewhat haphazardly two summers ago. We hadn’t planted corn in the main garden because it’s such a space hog. And with the chickens, we could feed* them, in addition to us.  [*Really, supplement their expensive organic chicken feed with fresh corn during the summer, and give them some fresh food in winter since butternut squash stores really well.]

Two summers ago, Ron rototilled a patch of grass just south of the orchard and put up some t-posts and mesh netting that we still have from our community garden experience* now many years ago. The corn flourished that first year. We got corn, the chickens got corn, and we were amused by the chickens eating fresh corn.  [*Also known as Daycare for Vegetables, given the massive exchange of blight, pathogens, and other vegetable diseases.]

Consequently, we decided to add a third pod to the compound. We had been thinking about establishing a berry patch anyway, but realized it could be a two-for-one space: berries in the lower half and another garden bed in the upper half. With the orchard fence already there, Ron only* needed to build three more fence sides. [*As anyone who builds or makes anything knows, “only,” like the word “just,” is a complete misnomer.]

Fast forward one summer. Basic fence removed, permanent fence completed, some berry bushes planted, corn patch re-rototilled, this time even bigger to plant more corn plus squash.

Fast forward to early July. Small corn plants and lame squash plants. The former are usually tall and robust. The latter are usually bright green with enormous leaves and sprawling all over the place. This year, not so much. At all.

We realized that it was all likely due to nutrient deficiency. The first year of corn did fine, but it probably consumed a lot of the existing nutrients in the soil. We added some compost in year two, but we didn’t have that much. And this year’s corn and squash suffered for it–really suffered. The corn plants were short and made few (and small) ears of corn. And the squash plants were equally wimpy with small pumpkins and butternut squash the size of grapefruit at best. Lame*. [*In contrast, last year we produced over two dozen lovely, amazing, big butternut squash, which lasted in the basement through mid-summer. Not lame.]

Hence, this summer, fall, and winter’s mission to produce more compost and replenish that bed (plus everything else). For the moment, there is a 3-4″ layer of leaves, chicken straw, and/or sheep hay on the corn and squash patch. We plan to put down more poopy straw and compost in early spring. Ron will rototill as soon as the weather cooperates (ideally*, early April). Then we’ll let the chickens in. They’ll run around, scratch and dig, eat bugs and worms, and poop all over the place. We’ll probably need to rototill again in late May or early June just before planting corn and squash seed. [*As all gardeners know, weather in spring can be really difficult to work around.]

Hopefully, between the leaves, poopy straw and hay, compost, and chicken wanderings, the patch will be replenished and we’ll get decent corn and squash next summer.

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