by Sam Jones, Carver Peace Gardens Coordinator

This all-organic community gardening project, located on the grounds of Carver Community Center near downtown Johnson City, is in its’ 8th growing season. There are 22 plots that directly feed over 100 people and provide food to two local restaurants as well.

Because of limited space and the requirement that corn be grown in blocks in order to cross pollinate and produce well, we individual gardeners had given up on growing corn in our 15×20 foot rented spaces. But this year we decided to dedicate one plot to growing corn. There were 10 of us that wanted to take part in the work and the harvest, so we spread two truckloads of Alpaca manure on the ground before planting and then met on a sunny May morning to plant a variety of sweet corn named “Kandy Korn”. The seed was donated to us by the Jonesborough Farmer’s Coop store and even though it was last year’s corn, it germinated almost 100%! When it was about 6” tall we top-dressed the six rows with organic blood meal and fed it twice during the 60 day growing season with diluted fish emulsion. We injected mineral oil into the tips of the ears once the tassles began to turn brown (to prevent corn ear worms) and sprayed it with Bt from a simple pump sprayer as extra insurance.

Our patience paid off last Saturday when we met for our harvest. We got 154 ears and are going to do a second picking tomorrow evening! We were all satisfied with the 15 ears each we were able to take home and it was a great learning experience for us too. But best of all was the communal spirit we gained from this project. We’ll be planning our next communal project during our Harvest Potluck tonight!

One further note: We were told we wouldn’t be able to grow good corn without ammonium nitrate to fertilize and pesticides to kill worms and other pests. There’s no doubt that the nitrate was far cheaper than the blood meal and emulsion, but careful shopping allowed us to keep those costs extremely low. Putting the same stuff on our food that is used to make bombs just didn’t make sense to us, effective as it may be. Sustainability is important to our members and we believe we’re slowly moving closer to that ideal as the years roll on and the soils in our plots are improved without the use of store bought inputs. Seed saving, composting, cover cropping and mulching with the city’s fall delivery of chopped leaves is providing us with most of what we need to raise beautiful, healthy food for our families. We’ll clear the corn plot next week and will add more alpaca manure after it’s cleared. Then we’ll cover the whole plot with a winter green manure crop that will be tilled under next spring. This will ensure that the plot will be ready for whatever is planted there next year!