Planting Sweetcorn and Squash in the Potager

Before the heat rose and necks baked, there was a window between the torrents of rain and the cracking of flags that was just right. Goldillock's weather. This simply means that there was enough warmth to settle the plants in and plenty of moisture in the air to stop leaves from frazzling. You never want to water when the sun is high because any water on the leaves will magnify the sun's rays and you will end up with brown spots all over your sweetcorn. That's what we are planting today in a grid of three by three in Geoff's Garden. That means nine plants overall planted in a square. I'll show you how we plant our's and why we do it this way, and how there is an old way of growing corn that you may not know.

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You can see the corn in a square below but you may be scratching your heads and wondering why I've planted them in a block like this. Sweetcorn is wind pollinated and the thing with wind is that you never know which direction it will come from. I know this, I live on a hill. Yesterday it blew from the north and froze my fingers, today it's coming from the west dragging moisture in from the Irish sea and the Atlantic, and as I write this it is firmly fixed from the south blowing up a Sirocco wind that bakes the soil faster than a small potato in an over eager microwave that you put on for fifteen minutes, only to return to a desiccated brown thing. This is why we don't have a microwave. This is why we plant our sweetcorn in a block, we want corn and to get it you do not plant it in a row. I plant it in a three foot square.

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Planting corn in a block overcomes this pollination problem as you are covering all possible wind direction and it means if one stalk falls over (it does happen) it doesn't take an entire row with them. Corn will take time to get to full height, it will up to sixty days before we see any crop (sometimes one hundred days for bigger varieties, this is Golden Bantam which is fast growing). Therefore I have taken a leaf out of the Native American gardening book and opted for the two sisters way of planting corn (you will see this sometimes referred to as three sisters, we'll come back to that). The two sisters system sees corn under planted with squash, Anna Swartz Hubbard Winter Squash (Real Seeds, £2.36). The squash fills the space beneath the corn and has a warm but shaded spot for the squash to have a cool root system as the plant trails out and fruits in full sun. Then there is the three sisters system which I have tried before now and this includes climbing beans added to the mix, beans wend their way up the corn but the timing of this is difficult, some beans do well even in cool summers but corn doesn't. Some beans grow like a rocket. Some corn doesn't. This means that corn can be quickly swamped by beans. I have found by taking the beans out of the mix and planting them elsewhere that this modified system is easier to handle and as you can see in the photo I even managed to plant a row of lettuce, Cutting Lettuce Verde Ricciolina da taglio (Seeds of Italy, £1.99). We'll get a few cuttings off these lettuces before I'll pull them up as the squash swamps them.


The potager is now filling up. I have garlic ready to harvest in the bottom beds, with runner beans for shelling climbing over the arch. The garlic will be replaced by Durham Early Spring Cabbage (£1.69) and Greyhound Pointy Summer/Autumn Cabbage (Real Seeds,£1.64) and Bleu De Solaise Hardy Leeks (Real Seeds, £2.42) in July. In the middle beds I have Rainbow Chard, Tender & True Parsnip (Real Seeds, £2.29), Courgette Verde D'Italia (£2.45) and Carrot Touchon (Seeds of Italy, £2.45). Though the carrots need to be sowed again in parts thanks to the wet weather and slugs (we have since learnt to make a garlic spray which is keeping them at bay). We have assorted dill and other salads as quick crops in these beds also. In the top two beds with the homemade obelisks we have Champion Of England Tall Climbing Pea (Real Seeds, £2.99) which my Dad grew on his allotment when I was a child. I also have the sweetcorn two sisters here. Up the remaining obelisk I have Cosse Violette Purple Climbing Bean (Real Seeds, £2.82) nestled beside my favourite brassica, Cavolo Nero Of Tuscany (Seeds of Italy, £2.45). Among all this we have dwarf dahlias, nasturtiums, cup and saucer climbers and cosmos. It's a lovely place to sit in the evening, the sun on your neck, butterflies on your nose (this happened). For a vegetable garden named after my Dad, it is a calm and reflective space, it reminds me of him. When it is all flowering, singing and dancing I'll return to this part of the garden to bring you up to speed with what has been finished, and what we are planting next.

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