It’s not hard to figure out that Keene, New Hampshire once was the territory of Native Americans. Clues are the Native American names: “Ashuelot” for our river, “Connecticut” for that river that borders our state, and “Monadnock” for the 3,000 foot shape that overlooks our valley. Yet who exactly were these people? What I know now is that the people were the Abenaki (sometimes called Wobenaki). They fought against the English who began spilling out from Boston around 1700. The wars were bloody, far bloodier than I had imagined. The particular people near Keene were the Sokoki. At least, those were the people around the Connecticut River. The Sokoki lived on both sides, Brattleboro and Chesterfield. Whether the Sokoki were the people who lived in Keene, I don’t quite know. I understand there was an Abenaki family living in Keene for many years, the Sadoques. I’d like to know more about them.
A staple of native life was corn. This was not sweet corn, but dent corn, and it was used to make corn flour. I decided to do as the Abenaki would have done, and plant a corn field in my front yard. Every Abenaki home had one, I think. I ordered Roy’s Callais Dent Corn, which was given by a native of New England to a man in Maine (whether the person was Abenaki or not, I do not konw. This was the best I could do.).
This is my second year with my Abenaki corn field. So, certain things have gone wrong. All the books say is make mounds about 2 to 4 feet in radius, and plant four to six corn seeds surrounded by about 4 pole bean seeds and then about six squash on each hill. You stagger the plantings, about a week apart, when the corn come up, the beans follow and climb up the stalks, then come the squash. The squash should keep out the shade. The legumes should add fertilize the soil. Them mother nature should add water and sun. The corn must be grown multiple plants in a small space, so I have about sixteen mounds in a square pattern. The reason is that corn is wind polinated. Each plants has a flower at the top that sends dust down to pollinate the corn cobs below. If the silk on the corn cobs does not receive the pollin dust, then no kernel forms from that silk. Each kernal on a corn cob has one silk. So, planting the corn in close proximity to other corn plants means dust from many plants can fertilize others. The Abenaki method of hills means that one can walk between them. The squash also cover the ground and discourage weeds.
But as I have stated, things have gone wrong. Year 1: Every time a serious rain storm passed, the entire corn field fell down. And we have a lot of serious rain storms, like 2 inches in five hours. My response: a friend told me to plant the corn deeper so the roots would settle further in ground, so I planted them three inches deep (maybe they were like 1 or 2 inches deep the first year). I read somewhere when the corn sprouts up, I should add some dirt/compost around the corn in order to help it stand up, so I mound four cups of dirt around each of my 40 or so stalks. For my part, I thought my real error had been to plant bush beans (do not climb up corn stalks) when I should have planted pole beans (climb up the stalks and help hold them). So this year, I made very sure that I planted pole beans.
Year 2: The corn does not tip over so much in the terrible rains. Some does tip, but like five our of 40, and I can put them back. But then, the corn starts tipping over EVEN WHEN THERE IS NO RAIN. Now, it’s not just falling from the roots (though it is doing that), but there are also stalks where the top half just collapses, bending over and touching the ground. I search the internet: “Corn tipping over” does not seem to be a useful search term, but finally I stumble across the term “lodging.” “My corn is lodging” = “My corn is tipping over.” Armed with the correct search term, what is the answer?
Theory 1: We had a cool, wet year. Corn likes rain, but “Warm, dry conditions during corn’s vegetative period result in deep root penetration while cool, wet conditions result in shallow root systems,” more prone to lodging when there is wind. (Nichols Ag out in Iowa).
Theory 2: Corn root worms may have planted larvae in the soil last year, which are now hatched. These weaken the roots from their homes in the soil, and as they grow, they eat the ears at the base and also in the silks. This comes from the NH agricultural extension, which knows its business. They say to use genetically modified corn or insecticide. Well, I know the Abenaki didn’t do that! But apprarently they did not have these beetles to contend with either, first appearing in 1967. I think this is my likely culprit, and the worst thing is that the only other thing to do is to rotate my corn field to a new spot every year! My garden is not so big. I could do this, but I will kill my lawn. On the other hand, the beetles I am picking up do not look like the ones in their picture. https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource005342_Rep7497.pdf
What to do for this year? Well, one friend suggests I go out with tweezers and pick the beetles off, and kill them. Somehow, this makes me feel better, a chance to protect my field. I took off 20 yesterday, 12 more today.
Recommendation: rotate your crops. I don’t think the Abenaki rotated their corn fields every year, but maybe I do need to. The Northern corn rootworm did not appear in New Hampshire until 1967. But I bet the Abenaki faced pests, too.
You know what I am trying to do? Resuscitate knowledge that the people who lived here for 3000 years had. And I don’t have. It does not exist in the heads of my fellow Americans. It existed inside the oral histories of the Abenaki, they passed that knowledge down for many years, and I bet they were very good corn farmers. When you lose a people, you lose so much knowledge, history, stories. And you can’t get it back. But I’m not giving up.