In 2013, I grew Hopi Blue Dent corn. I ordered one package from a small company in Maine, Pinetree Seeds. I planted the corn in the garden area at the top of sunny southern slope, in the piece of land where my sons had grown potatoes last year. At the end of the season, we had covered the ground in cardboard and a thick layer of goat hay bedding mulch. Given the thick covering we had created, I thought that starting them indoors and transplanting them outside would be a good idea. The only thing is that the corn seeds had other ideas. My germination was relatively low (only about 50%) and I ended up with about thirty sturdy plants. I think when I am growing heirloom Indian selected corn, perhaps direct seeding into the garden is a better option. As I often hear myself saying, “Next year…..”
The transplants thrived and grew. By July 4th, they were as tall as me and by the end of the summer, the plants were ten feet tall. I didn’t irrigate or fertilize, other than the initial thick mulch coating we used the prior fall to cover and protect the soil. Scarlet Runner Beans were planted near the growing corn to twine up and around the stalks. Cucumber plants were tucked in between the corn to shade the ground. Borage plants framed the ends of the bed to attract pollinators. Tomatoes were tucked around the edges because I am always looking for space to put extra tomato plants.
At the end of the season, we harvested about 40 healthy ears and tucked them away in the attic of our barn to dry. We gave underdeveloped or malformed ears to the chickens as a treat. Once in the barn, we basically just forgot about the corn for several months while life kept us busy. It has been a bitterly cold winter so we have been doing mostly indoor activities and this week I remembered the stored corn. We took it down from the barn, removed the kernels and weighed them. From a planting of only 60 or 70 seeds, we harvested eleven pounds of corn!
I can preserve this corn for several years (if we don’t eat it first) by drying it a bit more in a food dehydrator. It is important to keep the temperature low, 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so that the seeds are not damaged in the process. To tell if the corn is dry enough to store, hit a kernel with a hammer. If it mushes, it isn’t dry enough. If it shatters, you are ready to store it in an air-tight environment. I learned how to test when the corn is done in a book by Carol Deppe: The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seriously growing more of their own food.
Naturally we had to try out how it tastes and ground up several ears worth of corn in my grain mill. The result was a light blue/gray cornmeal. I made cornmeal blueberry muffins using the blueberries we picked and froze this summer, eggs from our chickens and local maple syrup that we get from a neighbor who makes his own syrup. What a delicious treat for a cold winter day!
i tried to show the steps: a beautiful blue-black ear of corn, the soft gray cornmeal and the finished muffin.
So what about 2014 and the lessons I learned?
- Although the Hopi Blue corn was very successful, I am going to try another type of Indian corn that is more suited to my climate and geography. I ordered Abenaki Calais Flint Corn from Fedco Seeds in Maine and I am planting it in the garden area where I grew potatoes last year (2013)….
- Scarlet Runner Beans do well on the edges of the corn patch but not in the interior because they didn’t get enough sun. This year, I will plant the runner beans only along the exterior because I enjoy the way the red flowers appear against the green corn leaves.
- I learned that corn suffers from “inbreeding depression” which means that when the population of fellow breeders during pollination is too small, the vitality of future generation suffers. Future generations of plants may demonstrate slower growth, less vigor, reduced disease resistance and less successful fruit production. We had been growing popcorn for several years and had noticed that both the ears and kernels were becoming progressively smaller and less desirable. Now I understand why. In her book, Carol Deppe recommends a minimum of 100 corn plants to avoid inbreeding depression. If I cannot grow at least close to 100 plants, I won’t bother saving seed.
- Given the amount of space required for 100 corn plants, I probably won’t grow corn every year. Perhaps I can grow a large crop every other year and store it successfully instead.
Thanks for reading. Anyone have any corn growing stories to share?
-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout