Biochar update . . . perfect sweet corn without insecticides
To bring new readers up to date . . . beginning five years ago, I slashed, burned, earth-sculpted and nurtured a large terrace garden where there were was once impassible thorns, vines, saplings and trees. All brush and limbs are burned each winter on top of the garden soil. All wood ashes are dumped on the the garden, as are all organic wastes from the kitchen. At certain times of the year I spread diluted human urine on less fertile terraces.
All construction of the terraces was with a mattock, axe, shovel and wheel barrow. The soil is cultivated with a shovel and various types of hoes. Per request of the property owner, specimen trees such as Native magnolia, sugar maple and white oak were not cut down. Because I was required to preserve certain trees, the terraces meander a bit through the woods. I intentionally allow a native grass to grow in the walking trails next to the cultivation beds. This eliminates most erosion and noxious weeds. Filmmakers love the garden because it looks like it belongs to another place and time.
This type of woodland “slash and burn” garden is called a yama by the Highland Maya and Gulf Coast peoples of Mexico, who were ancestral to most branches of the Creek People, and a milpa by Nahuatl and Yucatec Maya peoples. The term yama was definitely used by our ancestors in Georgia and South Carolina because it is the source of the ethnic name, Yamasi.
An old photograph I had, taken in the region of Tabasco State where the ancestors of the Miccosukee lived, inspired my agricultural experiments this year. To be honest with you, until 2017 I never looked at the photo closely. When it was taken, I was a young architect and merely wanted a photo to show architecture or anthropology students what a milpa or yama looked like. Of course, back then, there was no such thing as personal computers or graphics software.
When I magnified the image of the yama on the computer, I saw corn, butternut squash and pumpkins thriving in recently burned soils. This inspired my agricultural experiments for 2017. These are all crops, frequently grown by our Muskogean ancestors.
Experiments in 2016 Magic Biochar Garden
(1) How well will corn, butternut squash and pumpkins grow on “slash and burn” soil” . . . immediately adjacent to dense woods?
(2) Is it possible to grow corn without applying harsh insecticides to prevent Corn Ear Worms (the larva of a specialized type of moth) ?
(3) Will growing Butternut Squash in soils, heavily mixed with ashes and charcoal prevent fungi from destroying the leaves and nematodes from eating the roots?
(4) Can young corn plants be transplanted in summer weather conditions?
Special environmental conditions of garden
The cabin and garden are surrounded by a dense forest composed of massive hard wood trees over a hundred feet tall, but choked with vines and dense undergrowth. This time of year, it is essentially an impassible temperate rain forest. The soil is identical to that at the Track Rock Terrace Complex. Both there and here, old gold mines are located a few hundred yards away, plus there are the remnants of ancient volcanoes nearby. The soil is highly acidic, plus lacks calcium. It does contain high levels of magnesium that leaches from steatite (soapstone) stones scatterred about. Most soils in the Southern Highlands and Piedmont also lack magnesium. I have to add large quantities of agricultural lime to the garden soil to get high productivity. In earlier times, our ancestors would have added crushed freshwater mussel shells to sweeten the soil.
Many of the residents of the county immediately to the west of me (Dawson County) incessantly shoot off firearms and bombs in preparation for “the coming Civil War against Libruls, Marxists, Blacks, Jews, Democrats, Intelligent Women, Non-Baptists, etc.” This scares off the critters and causes my dogs to be constantly at my feet. LOL
I feel no need to practice my marksmanship and never liked guns anyway.* Instead I frequently play my Native American percussion and wind instruments to CD’s of indigenous and Latin American music late in the afternoon. The critters love the music. So, in response to the incessant gunfire elsewhere, many squirrels and a vast array of brightly plumed birds have established nests in the tree limbs immediately around the garden. Megan the Fox has become so trusting that she will often sit out in the grass at sunset with one of my male dogs and listen to the music. At night, she hunts rabbits, Woodland Mice and Voles in the garden.
*Our instructor for use of small arms in close proximity engagements in the jungle or forest was a Marine Colonel, who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor at Pork Chop Hill. He intentionally dropped a Colt 45 semi-automatic, loaded with blanks, on the ground behind me, when we Midshipmen were lined up at attention. Even though the safety was on, the gun went off. That scared the willies out of me and so I have never liked guns since then. A loaded firearm is ALWAYS dangerous. Never forget that.
These birds seem to be by far the most important factor in eliminating insect pests. Especially in the early morning, they constantly fly back and forth across the garden looking for breakfast . . . aka insects. The smaller song birds can sometime be seen standing on the corn stalks. The large stump below is about 32″ tall. Because of the steep slope of the garden, perspective is distorted. Note also that the soil below contains many decomposing leaves. plus chunks of wood and vine fragments.
The results of the experiment
(1) As discussed in the previous article, it is late July and there is still no sign of Leaf Blight (fungi) on my squash and pumpkin plants.
(2) To my surprise, young corn plants don’t seem to be affected at all by transplanting as long as all the roots are contained in the soil. This means that I can start my plants next year much earlier in planting trays then set them out as soon as the soil is warm enough. That will enable me to have fresh sweet corn for dinner from early July to mid-October.
(3) Corn, yellow squash, butternut squash and pumpkins thrive in soil that contains large amounts of decomposed wood, ashes and charcoal. That seems to be their natural habitat. Think about it. Indigenous Americans developed these species from wild plants to cultivated plants in exactly the same type environments that I am growing them in this year.
(4) I harvested the oldest row of sweet corn yesterday. NOT ONE EAR has a worm in it. At least in the Southeast and Midwest, it is theoretically impossible to grow corn without insecticides.
We need more birds and Native American music . . . and less chemicals!
The video below is a traditional Green Corn Festival dance done by the Tamulte People of Tabasco and in the past, my ancestors, the Itsate Creeks. I don’t think that it was a Muskogee-Creek dance, but may have been.
The Tamulte are ethnic Creeks, now considered by Mexican academicians to be a distant branch of the Mayas, who speak the same language, once spoken by the Tamale/Tamate/Tamatli Creeks of the Altamaha River Basin in Southeast Georgia and North Carolina Mountains. They are also today the only Mexican tribe that eats corn on the cob, grits, brunswick stew and hush puppies. They dance the Stomp Dance and celebrate the Green Corn Festival. They invented the tamale, which is named after them. You probably didn’t know this, but Southeastern Creeks and Seminoles also frequently ate tamales.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Business opportunity for Southeastern Native American farmers - December 13, 2018
- Introduction to Part Three of the Peopling of the Southeast - December 12, 2018
- Using words to explore the peopling of the Southeast – Part Two - December 11, 2018
- Where do you think that this Moche Hilltop Fort is located? - December 10, 2018
- Next on POOF: Did Priests from eastern Peru guide the creation of the Hopewell Culture and several astronomical sites in the Southeast? - December 10, 2018