In your box:
–Beans or Broccoli
–Cucumber, summer squash, or eggplant
–Garlic, “Chesnook Red”
Another CSA box, another lament about the rain…. We picked up another 3.25” of rain over the weekend, which was enough to re-flood everything that had finally started to dry out. It didn’t cause any new crop loss, thankfully, and it looks like we’ll have a fairly dry week this week to keep recovering. The carrots are in sorry shape, unfortunately. About 25% of what I dug up for this week’s box were rotten from sitting low in the water table too long. This is sad but also disgusting—rotten carrots are firm on top as you would expect, but change to an orange goo with an unpleasing aroma lower down and finally ooze out like a tube of toothpaste at the bottom. Those nasty ones are destined for the compost pile, while their greens are on the way to Nathan’s guinea pig, Scamper.
Beans are back in the box, now that I can access their field row without sinking in mud up to my ankles. The plants look a little hobbled after all the rain, and at this point in the season they’re starting to get tired anyways. We’ll have at least one more week of beans, but it looks like we’ll be done with them for the year by Labor Day. After such a bounty of beans for the past few weeks, I think they deserve a good rest.
Early in the spring, I remember a forecast for a “warm, dry summer.” I figured we were due for the heat after two consecutive cool-ish summers, and we’d been so long without drought that it seemed like we might be due in that regard too. So I planned accordingly when it came to sweet corn, in particular. Hoping to conserve what moisture we did get, I applied thick straw as a mulch in the corn field and then transplanted the corn through the mulch in late May. As the weeks went by and we never experienced anything at all like a drought, it quickly became obvious that the mulch was not only unnecessary, but even detrimental to the corn. Straw helps to moderate temperatures in the soil below, so the roots of the corn never experienced the heat they needed to grow. The straw also kept in all the moisture in a really wet summer when that rainfall needed a way out of the soil. The end result was stumpy stalks of corn standing in mud for most of the summer, and not much in the way of ears. So when you drive by huge farms of corn and notice that they aren’t planted into straw, now you’ll know why.
We did get some good ears from corn in areas with good drainage, so all is not a total loss. I’ve supplemented with sweet corn from a farm down the road that rotates their crops, doesn’t spray herbicide, and was willing to sell it cheaply if I did the picking. So the corn is a mix of our two farms, with the obvious difference that mine tastes better….
Corn is a bizarre crop. It has little in the way of nutritional value, demands huge resources from the soil, has numerous pests and critters vying for it, and still it’s all but given away at roadside stands and grocery stores. I’ve seen corn sold at 4 ears/$1 and even 6 ears/ $1. So I did a little bit of math over the rainy weekend. Between seed cost, potting soil, fertilizer, and compost, it costs me about $150 to plant two weeks’ worth of corn for our CSA members. If I need fancy electric fencing or scarecrows or anything else, the cost goes up even more. The corn raised in this way is worth only $240 at best or $160 at the cheap side. A profit of $10-$90 on a substantial part of my field? And when I factor in the time spent seeding, weeding, weeding, weeding, irrigating, and harvesting, I spend about 15 hours on that corn per season. So now I’m paying myself less than $6/hour for my labor?
In the end, none of the financial analysis of corn makes sense. It also doesn’t make sense that corn tastes so good, and that August isn’t complete without a big ear of corn covered in butter and pepper. But with each year that I’ve grown it, it’s started to make less and less sense. I’m not sure I’m willing to continue competing in the sweet corn marketplace, where a crop of little value is sold for little to nothing. I don’t know if the answer is to buy sustainably grown corn from good neighbors for two weeks to supply you in the future, to skip out on corn altogether, or to keep growing it because that’s just what we do.
Here’s what you do: boil the corn for 4-6 minutes, depending on your desired tenderness, Serve with generous butter, salt pepper, and top with tears over the financial plight of small farmers in the post-industrial age.
Expected next week: Potatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, beans, basil, pepper, sweet corn, garlic, and tomatoes.