Interplanting Corn and Pigeon Peas On a Slope


A few weeks ago I learned how the natives go about interplanting corn and pigeon peas…

…then the rainy season kicked into full effect and the weeds went nuts!

Dude, where’s my corn?

interplanting corn and pigeon peas

I’m sure I planted some in there somewhere.

I spent part of last week learning to weed like a native, crouching with a machete and trying to find where in the world all the corn and pigeon peas we planted went.

But… let me back up and tell you how we planted our intercropped corn and pigeon peas.

Interplanting Corn and Pigeon Peas

Since I’m new at gardening on a slope and new to growing in a truly tropical climate, I hired our farmhand – a local farmer who’s chock-full of agricultural knowledge – to show me how they plant corn here.

I told him I wanted to grow corn and later put in some pigeon peas somewhere on the hill as well.

He told me that the best way to grow them was to intercrop corn and pigeon peas.

Then he started clearing the weeds with his machete, rapidly mowing everything down to ground level.

After knocking the weeds flat, he started digging planting stations with a spading fork, twisting and loosening the soil and making a little ridge down slope from each pit.

I assisted with my trusty grub hoe, following the pattern he was creating.

After digging the pits, he recommended I toss 4 corn seeds and a couple of pigeon peas into each one. He then kicked the soil back over them, burying the corn and peas at a depth of 3-4″.

“Are those going to come up?” I asked.

He nodded.

Sure enough, they did.

Since I have a lot of my own ideas and knowledge, it was an interesting experience to simply assist a local farmer and do exactly what he recommended.

Back in Florida I would grow corn at 36″ width between rows, without intercropping, and space the corn at around 6-8″ between plants.

That’s not how they do it here. And they don’t bother tilling in between planting stations.

I created a diagram so you can get an idea how this works:

intercropping corn and pigeon peas

Less than a week after planting, the corn and peas were already up. Thank God for warm, rich soil and a warm and moderate climate.

We probably planted about 1/10 acre of corn and pigeon peas.

The thinking behind planting both at the same time, so far as I understand it through the language barrier, is that the corn will bear first, followed by the pigeon peas later on. You can start chopping down the corn and then the entire plot becomes a patch of pigeon peas, bearing on and on for the next year or more. By planting both at the same time you’re only clearing and planting once.

He also told me that the corn, as they mature, will push outwards a bit and away from each other, finding the space they need to create good ears. They do indeed have plenty of space in all directions.

Weeding a Corn and Pigeon Pea Plot

As you saw in the first picture, the ideal little pockets of corn and peas were rapidly consumed by the bush. That’s when it becomes necessary to chop the weeds down again and lay them in the rows, like so:

Cleared_Corn_Rows interplanting corn and pigeon peas corn and pigeon peas intercrop

I was told by my new farming sensei that after this first weeding the corn and peas will reach rapidly for the sky and start to overshadow the competition, requiring only one more good weeding before the corn is ready to harvest.

Fertilizing Without Chemical Fertilizer

My farming friend also recommended that I buy some chemical fertilizer and put a handful in each planting station; however, at this point I decided to rely instead on my liquid fertilizer barrel system, as described in Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.


That stuff works like magic and has done very well on the corn I planted previously in the beds near the house. Why buy fertilizer when you can make it for free? This particular batch started with Leucana leaves, fish guts, urine and cow manure.

The mosquitoes got into that batch and started breeding, however, so I bought a little cheap vegetable oil to put a “skin” on top they couldn’t breathe through. Now their little larval corpses are feeding my corn.

I’m making another batch right now that’s heavy on moringa leaves, which ought to be very good for the garden and field crops.

Once you let it ferment for a couple of weeks, then you just dip out what you need with a watering can and water away. That’s what I did with the corn and peas right after we finished weeding them. They’re already looking nice.

Intercropped_Corn_And_Pigeon_PeasOn Friday I went down there and filmed some of the machete work, plus give you all a look at the beds, including the additional cucumber bed we planted after the corn and pigeon pea plot.

If you remember from my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, grain corn is the only grain that makes my go-to list as a survival crop.

Grow_Or_Die_Cover_WebThere are multiple reasons for that, but in short: grain corn is easy to grow, stores for a long time, is much easier to clean and process than other grains, plus you can make grits and corn bread from it.

Adding in pigeon peas makes a lot of sense if you’re in a climate where they grow well.

In our old location we’d usually get a frost just as the pigeon peas started to produce, destroying all the pods. I gave up on them after a few years of failure. Down here – and in zone 9/10 USA – they make a lot more sense. Pigeon peas are actually a small perennial tree and fix nitrogen while making food and good fuel for a biomass cook stove.

I’m looking forward to harvesting corn and then peas… and I’m really enjoying learning new ways to farm. Interplanting corn and pigeon peas isn’t something I considered doing before. Sure, I’ve interplanted corn with beans and squash, but putting a big plant like a pigeon pea in the same hole with a big plant like corn? No, never tried it!

No matter how good you get at something, there’s always something new to learn.

…and finally!


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7 Survival Crops You Can Grow Without Irrigation


Did you realize that many vegetables will grow without irrigation?

Like us, most plants thrive when they get plenty of water – but some crops are also very good at mining for the moisture they need and hanging on to whatever falls from heaven.
When it comes to survival gardening, ensuring a good supply of water should be a top priority, yet there are times when it isn’t easy to drag water around or get irrigation to a field. If that’s the case, you might need to think differently about both how you grow and what you grow.
Steve Solomon wrote an excellent book on gardening without irrigation that really nails down some techniques, plus shares the great potential of dryland farming. You can read it for free here. Just a heads-up: typical intensive raised bed production is NOT the way to grow crops without water. Go read Solomon’s book if you’re interested. Seriously.
For now, though – let’s take a look at seven survival crops that are pretty easy to grow without irrigation. Let’s attack them in alphabetical order. Just because.


Amaranth - a crop you can grow without irrigationAmaranth is an ancient “grain.” (It’s not a true grain… it’s actually a “psuedo-cereal,” in case you were wondering). If you’ve read many of my gardening articles, you know I have a love-hate relationship with grains. Grains are generally not the best option for long-term survival for a number of reasons, but a couple of them stand out: amaranth and corn. (We’ll cover corn next, since it comes after amaranth in the alphabet.)
The reason amaranth stands apart as a grain is that it’s also a good leaf vegetable. It also requires minimal processing to be edible. Sure, the yields are low, but it’s easy to grow and it will usually yield abundantly even without being watered by man. I planted some a few years ago and it’s reseeded and come back again and again without any help from me… I just pop out and harvest it when I think about it.


Corn will grow without irrigationThis last year I conducted my first experiment growing corn without irrigation and was quite happy with the results. It wasn’t quite a fair test since we had a wetter spring than usual, but there were a couple of weeks in a row that went by without rain. Though folks often think of corn as a “needy” crop, some of the old heirlooms are true survivors. They were bred in an era before high-pressure sprinklers blasted water fifty feet into the air. Corn was a big part of Southwestern agriculture before the Spanish arrived… and you can bet the Aztecs weren’t that interested in hauling big clay pots of water around.

Jerusalem Artichokes

I’ve never had to water Jerusalem artichokes, either here in Florida sand or up north in Tennessee clay. They go through long stretches of low rainfall without complaint and always produce more tubers than you can eat. As a bonus, they’re perennial…
(CLICK HERE to keep reading over at The Prepper Project)


Gardening without irrigation


Gardening without irrigation? Are you mad?

No.. I don’t think so. Though you may not be able to garden completely without irrigation, I do believe you can lower your garden water usage considerably by changing your methods.

The key to getting more out of your garden while watering less seems to be adding extra space for each plant’s root system. We live in the Age Of The Raised Bed, so this sound nuts… but there are solid reasons to grow in rows with wide spacings.

Check out what Steve Solomon, author of Gardening When It Counts, has to say:

As recently as the 1930s, most American country folk still did not have running water. With water being hand-pumped and carried in buckets, and precious, their vegetable gardens had to be grown with a minimum
of irrigation. In the otherwise well-watered East, one could routinely expect several consecutive weeks every summer without rain. In some drought years a hot, rainless month or longer could go by. So vegetable varieties were bred to grow through dry spells without loss, and traditional American vegetable gardens were designed to help them do so.

I began gardening in the early 1970s, just as the raised-bed method was being popularized. The latest books and magazine articles all agreed that raising vegetables in widely separated single rows was a
foolish imitation of commercial farming, that commercial vegetables were arranged that way for ease of mechanical cultivation. Closely planted raised beds requiring hand cultivation were alleged to be far more productive and far more efficient users of irrigation because water wasn’t evaporating from bare soil.


I think this is more likely to be the truth: Old-fashioned gardens used low plant densities to survive inevitable spells of rainlessness. Looked at this way, widely separated vegetables in widely separated rows may be considered the more efficient users of water because they consume soil
moisture that nature freely puts there. Only after, and if, these reserves are significantly depleted does the gardener have to irrigate. The end result is surprisingly more abundant than a modern gardener educated on intensive, raised-bed propaganda would think
(read the rest)


Until I did more research, I had always assumed the wide row spacing of traditional gardens had more to do with the need for using tractors and mechanized equipment than anything else. Apparently, I was wrong.

gardening without irrigation

Check out the wide row spacing. Original image here.

This spring, to test the idea that plants need much less water when spaced further apart, I planted a big patch of corn at 6″ spacing in 3′ rows. I haven’t watered it (except for the liquid fertilizer mix I poured along the roots every week or two) and it’s doing excellently thus far on nothing but rain. I also planted bush beans spaced 6″ apart in rows spaced 18″ wide. Though they’re not as happy as the corn, only some have kicked off.

I’ll keep you all posted on my results. I’m going to do further tests on gardening without irrigation, since one of the biggest drawbacks of modern gardening is the time it takes to water, not to mention the water itself.

My green dent corn patch update


My patch of green dent corn

I took this picture a couple of weeks ago… and they’re almost twice that size now. This is the little patch of green dent corn I first wrote about here. The variety is doing quite well thus far, though the leaves have been chewed up by grasshoppers. It seems to be quite tolerant of low water levels. I’m it’ll make plenty of seed corn for next year… I need to get my stock up.

Thanks to the USDA seed bank for these guys – I’m researching varieties for Florida and they were kind enough to help me out by sending 100 kernels of this Indian variety I selected from their massive database.

GMO Corn vs. Organic Corn


GMO corn vs organic corn?

No comparison!

Why grow this:

gmo corn vs organic

When you could grow this?

organic heirloom corn





GMO Corn vs Organic Corn

So – what reasons could I give for growing your own organic corn or heirloom corn and skipping the GMO corn from the store?

How about the dangerous levels of glysophate and fluoride in factory farmed gen-mod corn?

Not convinced yet? How about the fact that GMO corn may affect fertility?

Nice, eh? Fluoride-induced brain damage and broken baby-making bits.

Science! Science! Science!

I just finished reading Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener and she’s a total expert on traditional corn varieties. We’d better start saving and growing them in home plots before they’re completely destroyed by GMO monstrosities.

It’s sad to avoid grits, corn flakes, tortilla chips, etc… but that’s really our only option unless we grow our own – or can prove the corn in our favorite products isn’t GMO.


UPDATE 2015:

Thus far, I’ve grown Hickory King, Tex Cuban, Floriani and Heirloom blue corn in my test plots. The Hickory King and the Tex Cuban both do quite well in Florida. If you’re not addicted to RoundUp, I recommend growing these classic heirloom dent corn varieties organically and then making your own grits, corn meal, etc. and staying away from Frankencorn.

The dent corns take quite a long season to produce, but they also produce a lot of biomass for your compost pile or silage for your animals.

Avoiding cross contamination isn’t easy, however; corn is wind-pollinated. If you have a neighbor growing another variety – likely a GMO corn variety – the pollen can get into your garden as well. Keep your eyes open.

When you grow your own corn, you grow something beautiful and save the genetics of past Americans working long ago on maize and bringing it forward into the staple crop it is today. Somewhere we lost the plot and jumped into the lab and left the past behind – and that’s a big loss for everyone.

A Homemade Seed Spacer


I made a homemade seed spacer for my corn.

The reason?

I got a really nifty variety of green dent corn from the USDA to try out.

Green kernels – how cool is that?

100 seeds just hit the ground last week. Should be popping up soon.

The next question is, of course, “David the Good… how is it you made such nifty rows?”

American ingenuity, my friend. American ingenuity. Here’s my DIY seed spacer:

homemade seed spacer

A DIY seed spacer saves serious time

I made this seed planter/spacer a couple years ago. The little rounded dowel pegs on the bottom are exactly 6″ apart. The pegs on the very ends are 3″ from the edge of the planter. Line it up, kick it with your foot, and boom! Nice neat holes for your corn, beans or whatever.

Making it took about a half-hour – and this seed spacer has already paid for itself.

Time well spent.

I’ll let you know how this corn does. I’m trying multiple varieties of grain corn this year to see what does well here in Florida.