It’s corn Jim, but not as we know it

Don’t laugh. Below is a very bad photo of the best of our sweetcorn harvest this year. After all the effort in the garden it is very frustrating. I blame the weather.

Met Office review of summer 2011:

“The UK mean temperature for summer was 13.6 °C, which is 0.4 °C below average. The mean temperature was average during June, 0.7 °C below average during July and 0.6 °C below in August. It was the coolest June across the UK since 2001, the coolest July since 2000 and the coolest August since 1993. The season was the coolest since summer 1993. There were only around ten days when the temperature exceeded 25 °C widely.”

There, I did say it was a bad photo, but I can’t go back and take another since it has been eaten.  It was a perfectly formed miniature cob – less than a 10cm length of kernels, although they were ripe and sweet. And this was the best one.

I remember an uncle and aunt growing corn in a greenhouse back in the 1970s.  It was considered a very exotic crop to us then.  It is now routinely grown around here for fodder (“forage maize”) although it is often sown under plastic.  Anecdotally there is typically a good harvest in five years out of seven.

I don’t sow in situ as we’re in a frost hollow and I usually plant out at the end of May. Despite using the most sunny sheltered part of the garden beside a south-facing wall I think this gets relegated to greenhouse use again.

The tomatoes have been terrible too, but there I think the problem was mostly the compost. The tomatoes, in the conservatory this year after the outdoor disasters of the last few years, produced a lot of leaf and only a handful of fruit.  I ended up buying commercial growbags as a time-saving measure and I suspect they were too high in nitrogen. My father had the same problem from the same product (and no the leafiness came first – no supplementary fertilisation until fruitset). Temperature and lack of sun may have been a factor as Ailsa Craig and Sungold (indoor/outdoor) performed the best, but San Marzano (indoor here) gave all of three fruit from two plants!

On the other hand we have a super-abundance of peas, and once it got warm enough for the runner beans to do more than flower we’ve had plenty of those too.

The Peach House at Heligan

Global warming has seen farmers experimenting with olives and apricots. Having visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan earlier this summer we were reminded of the care needed to grow non-native species in past times.    I’ve been reading my grandfather’s old gardening book (published in the 1960s) and I think somehow I’ll be paying more attention to its seasonal advice.

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3 Responses to It’s corn Jim, but not as we know it

  1. Pascvaks says:

    Did anything surpise you in it’s success with such weather this summer? Would imagine everything was off the mark. Remember seeing a program some time back about the impact of weather on crops and the French Revolution; how the French stuck with non-native crops and tended to starve while Northern Europe didn’t, and made it through in better fashion, relying on timetested varities.

  2. tonyb says:

    Hi Verity

    Over in the South West we have also had problems with our crops this year with Tomatoes being very poor even though they are in a mini plastic greenhouse. Until two seasons ago we grew them outside with some success. The grapes this year on our south facing vine have also been the worst in our ten year experience of this garden.

    The prolem is easy to see with the precipitate decline in CET, although this disguises variability in months/seasons, nor of course does it show sunshine hours.

    I have a gardening book from the 1930’s and they seemed to grow exactly the same things as we had been able to do up until the last few years.

    The Met office are forecasting a hard winter-it would be very unusual for us to have a third one in a row so we’ll just have to wait and see.

    The SSTs around here are cooler than usual as can be witnessed by my physical observations whereby I use the time honoured (until 1964) method of obtaining samples by throwing a bucket in the water (attached to a line of course) This caused very many strange looks when I walked up the steps from the beach one day clutching our bright green council supplied kitchen recycling container attached to a rope and full of water and had to walk straight through a very elegantly drssed wedding party of 200 who hadn’t been there 20 minutes earlier

    The things we do to try to find out the truth 🙂

    If Arndb is reading this he might be interested (and has probably observed) the astonishing rise in temperature of the bucket of water if left out in the sun for a few minutes (a very common occurence when this was the usual method of obtaining samples) I recorded a 7DegreeC temperature rise in under ten minutes.

    I’m not going to bother with winter crops this year. Incidentally, listening to the BBC’s Farming today can be instructive. They recently featured a grower who had grubbed up the apricots he had planted ten years ago (with Govt funding) because they didn’t crop.


  3. On moving to New Jersey in 1982 my “garden” was 4 acres. Naturally I tried growing scarlet runner beans and tomatoes using the same seed that had served me well in the UK. The beans turned out OK although the harvest was much earlier than I was used to. The tomatoes were a disaster as they grew so fast that the skins split and most of them ended up in the trash.

    The varieties of tomatoes that grew best in New Jersey achieved impressive sizes but had very little flavour so I switched to growing potatoes, eggplants and zucchini which grew in amazing abundance. They call New Jersey the “Garden State” as pretty well anything grows there.

    The potatoes were superb. Using Arran Pilot seed the mild New Jersey climate provided “Earlies” from late April. It reminded me of our farm in Manorbier, Pembrokeshire in the 1950s. Back then we used to get 20 pounds Sterling ($48) for a tonne of “Earlies”. We grew tomatoes in a magnificent greenhouse built by Boulton and Paul who were trying to find something to do when the munitions contracts dried up at the end of WWII. The seed potatoes were stored in trays in the same greenhouse and we used fluorescent lights to control the germination to get a jump on our competitors.

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