Organic Gardening with Sue Robishaw
Corn ~ Sweet or Dry
Four decades of Growing
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Corn. In some ways it is one of my easiest crops to grow, and in others the most frustrating -- thanks to its popularity. Raccoons - they are such interesting creatures. I have to respect their ingenuity even when moaning and swearing at their incredible skills. We do love corn, and we keep going after the goal of a good harvest. It's worth it.
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It's amazing to me to read back through these pages and realize how many years I've been gardening, growing our food. How some things change, and others don't. I still plant my own corn seed, enjoying laying out my plot, 4 rows, seeds 12" apart. It grows well. I sometimes do 3 plantings, most often two. A few years ago I skipped planting corn, and a few other crops, since we would be redoing our house roofing - a major project - and I knew I wouldn't have much time when harvest came around. It was fine as I had extra dried corn from the previous year, though we did miss the fresh.
Many years ago I got tired of the temporary electric fence around the corn routine; it was probably when our first cherries started producing (which raccoons love as much if not more than corn!). So we put electric fence on our regular fence all around the garden. In 2017, with an expanding orchard, we extended the fence including the electric so now have about an acre inside. That has worked very well -- as long as one remembers to turn the fencer on! (LINK to Fence page in Orchard section).
But the wildlife situation is interesting. In our early years we had no raccoons. We had a fence to keep the deer out, but it was only about 5 ft tall. It worked. Then the forests around us were clear-cut, sad for both wild and tame. That was when the raccoon "problem" began, and we struggled with that for decades. But woods change, the "forest" is now a fairly mature Red Pine plantation. We still have deer, but it's been quite a few years since we've seen a raccoon, and haven't turned the electric on for the last couple years. I know it's a gamble, and I keep a close watch for any sign. And I know there are many variables that cause the rise and fall of populations of anything. One of many things that keeps the gardening life fresh and interesting!
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Beautiful Drying Day -- September 2, 2017 -- We've had a real nice sweet corn crop this year and I've dried several good batches. Today the last large harvest went in the dryer. There are still some ears out there, mostly smalls and seconds, so we'll have a few more good meals and one more dried batch. We love sweet corn fresh but the season is rather short so most of my corn is preserved for later eating. And my favorite way to store it is dried.
I harvest it as one does for fresh eating: husk and steam the ears (about 10 minutes), cut the kernels off the cob, then spread on the dryer screen and out in the solar dryer it goes. This requires several good sunny days to get it properly dried so it's sometimes a challenge to get it all coordinated between ripeness, weather, and our schedule (will I be home at the right time). If it gets a good drying day then it can wait inside on the holding racks for a day or two before going back out. But there have been years when the weather just didn't cooperate and I had to dry the harvest inside on the cookstove. It works but takes a lot more attention to keep from burning it. But this year I've managed to hit the right days at the right time and the jars of beautiful dried kernels are multiplying, dried in our much appreciated solar food dryer.
The dried corn smells wonderful when you open the jar, and is easy to cook. Just cover with water, soak a bit then simmer for a short time. It comes out very near to fresh tasting! I also toss some in winter soups. But probably the way I like it the most is to include a handful when cooking rice. It adds both flavor and visual appeal.
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I realized I hadn't added anything to this page in quite awhile. But in reading through what has gone before there simply isn't much to add! I'm still growing the same sweet corn mix, the same way, saving seed now and then when my supply gets low. The seed lasts so well and so long that it isn't very often; the last save (2014) was seven years after the previous and still germinating well. It gets better every time though as I select once again for the plants and ears that grow best in my garden.
It's been a long time now since I've had stem borer problems and the crops have been good, some better some less depending on the weather but always we have corn. This year was a record warm, long season for us and the best ever harvest. My corn may put up with the colder, shorter years but it obviously much prefers a little more heat! And it got it this year. We ate well in season and had plenty to dry for winter. It gets added to the luncheon salad rice as it cooks, and into the many winter soups, adding both color, flavor, and nutrition. It is a fairly easy and much appreciated crop.
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2005 - 2008
I've pretty much
settled on a good corn routine for my garden that's working well. Rake the mulch
off the corn plots early so the soil can warm and the birds can harvest any corn
eating insects they can find. Plant two seeds per spot the end of May, four rows
per 4' wide plot, 12" apart; then a second planting mid June. When the
plants are about 6" tall, thin to one plant every 12" (approx),
pulling plants that show signs of stem borers (indicated by an even row of
usually 4 squarish holes in leaves) and generally the weaker or less robust
looking of the two.
If I'm going to save seed, I mark with clothespins the earliest and best looking ears, at least 50, to leave to mature for seed. This way, I don't have to stop and think about each ear before picking green. I just have to resolve not to pick those beautiful ears marked for seed. It's worth it in future crops.
Note to myself: Remember to put the electric fence up around the corn BEFORE the first ears ripen, don't wait for the raccoons to let me know when the first corn is at its peak (though they are better at knowing that than I am). Eat as much fresh green corn as we can when its ready, dry the rest, and enjoy, with great appreciation, it all. Chop the stalks down in pieces with long handled loppers when the fruit has been harvested, thereby making it easier to see what stalks still have ears. Plus the stalks rot better and are easier to manage the following year (than when the stalks are left whole).
What a great crop corn is. And I love the diversity in my crop, both the sweet and the flour. It seems to enjoy itself, and we certainly enjoy it.
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I again had a good amount of stem borer activity and damage in my
and handled it the same as last year (Dipel and wood ashes). In addition, I
planted two seeds per spot and let them grow later than I usually do without
thinning. Quite often one had damage but not the other, so I pulled up the
damaged plants and composted them. This worked quite well and I ended up with
somewhat fewer plants but a decent crop. Next year I’m going to pull the mulch
off the plot when I plant then leave it bare for a time to give the birds a
better chance at the worms, putting the mulch back when the plants are up and
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This should have been a good year for the corn with all
that hot weather. I've been growing my own
cross of a mixture of short season, open pollinated, sweet corns so I have a lot of
diversity. And I continue to plant early, especially when I want the corn to
mature so I can save seed, as was my want this year.
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Normally I grow my own mixed variety of (mostly) flour corn, eating and
drying it green at the proper time, letting the rest mature and dry down for
grinding. But we’d had a number of good dry corn years, and I had plenty of
grinding corn. So I dug out all my old, leftover sweet corn seed and planted
that, harvesting all in the green stage for eating and drying. And it was a
great year. For the first time, we have plenty of dried green corn—and is that
nice! Just rehydrate, and you have the freshest tasting corn in the middle of
winter. No frozen or canned corn can compete.
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I suppose Nature gets pretty tired of us whining about it
being too cold or too hot, too wet or too dry, so she simply
hands us all of that in one season, and one cant help but
wonder what shell do next year. The growing season of 1997
wasnt the best, it wasnt the worst, here in our low U.P. garden.
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Copyright © Susan Robishaw
appreciate links to our site www.ManyTracks.com from appropriate sites, and we thank you for
Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun" A journey you can use in your own garden.