Survival Crop: Corn

SweetCorn01Would you believe me if I told you this is the first year I’ve ever grown corn in my garden? It’s true. In spite of it’s time tested homesteader friendliness, I’ve never grown it before.

Corn is so ubiquitous up here in Iowa, that there’s really no reason to grow my own corn. The trucks full of sweet corn in the hardware store’s parking lot are there all season, and it’s hard to beat the 4$ a dozen price tag.  I am growing some this year, but it’s proving right all the reasons I gave myself for not growing my own.

For those of you not living in corn fields, I’ll go into some detail here.  Each 6′ high corn stalk generally only makes one head of corn, be it sweet corn or field corn.  Sweet corn refers to varieties of corn that have been bred for sweetness qualities over say bread making or storage qualities. In fact, the sweetness of them makes them unsuitable for anything other than roasting and eating, or pressure canning. So in my garden this year I have 3 dozen stalks of sweet corn because of a request by the land-owner’s son. (I’m a softie for kids in the garden.) That’s not a lot of corn for the space I had to devote to it.  It’s a large chunk of one of my plots, taking up a section roughly 15′x5′. At most it will yield 3 dozen ears, and that’s assuming a perfect yield with no losses to raccoons or poor pollination.

Putting up or storing corn requires a LOT of corn. If I’m going to can 2 canner loads of pint jars, I need 4 dozen ears.  Putting a couple ziplock bags full of corn in the freezer means at least a dozen ears. I’ve never even branched into things like drying corn for grinding into corn meal or corn flour. That kind of preservation probably needs to be measured in bushels (5.5 dzn) and that’s way more time than I currently have available for processing corn. So the 3 dozen ears I could potentially get from the planting will be divided among our two families and most likely just be eaten fresh in a 2 week glut of sweet corn. If we had just bought the 3 dozen ears, it would have cost us only 12$. I easily could have grown more than 12$ worth of veggies in that 75ft^2 chunk of garden. But, the little boy wanted corn, and by golly I’m gonna give him corn.

Pluses of course are the usual, organic corn raised in my neighborhood is super convenient.  Raising this sweet corn gives me some hands on practice if I ever decide to try my hand at growing my own grains. Pollination is really interesting, the silks that sprout out the top of the ears,  each one connects to one of the developing kernels. If that individual silk strand doesn’t get a speck of pollen from the tassel above (or a neighboring plant’s tassel) that kernel of corn won’t develop.  Silk and kernel set are important times to keep the corn evenly watered if possible.

Corn has been around so long that there are probably thousands of different varieties. Some good for popping, some good for storage, some great for bread making and some chocked full of sugars.  There’s probably a variety that will do really well no matter where you are on this continent. So do some research if you aren’t having luck with the ones you’ve tried.

 This picture is just a cool shot at the above ground root structure that corn stalks will send out to help balance the tall stalk.

It’s also seriously versatile in the preservation side of things. Some varieties are better than others, but in general you can freeze it, can it, dry it or turn it into alcohol.




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