Getting The Corn Planted This Year

From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills

With corn prices triple the historical levels, growing corn for your own table use looks more sensible than ever, especially when it is not easy to find organic corn to buy. Riffle through cookbooks and you might be amazed at how many ways corn can be used to make succulent foods. We treasure an old cookbook (1951) Whole Grain Cookery, by Stella Standard (forward by Pearl Buck !!!) which has 63 recipes for cooked or baked corn and cornmeal, from all manner of breads, puddings, soups, dodgers, johnnycakes, hoecakes, mushes, corn pones, pancakes, and various dishes from hominy. And this cookbook doesn’t even get into the many dishes that can be made with sweet corn, fresh, canned or frozen.

Our country, actually our whole hemisphere, grew up on corn, or maize as it is more correct to call it. There are still varieties around that came from ancient Aztec sources. Many early settlers would have literally starved to death without the maize that the native Americans showed them how to grow and cook. It is because of their size that ears of corn is so eminently practical for the gardener and homesteader. You can husk out by hand an acre or two of corn much easier than trying to thresh out smaller grains like wheat. Farmers used to husk as much as ten acres a season, taking all winter to do it if necessary. You can plant a half acre of corn with a low-cost garden planter in a day, and several acres in a planting season.

Because of the cold, wet spring this year, it was nip and tuck getting corn planted in the cornbelt. Corn farmers were almost frantic as the rain pelted down and the the ideal planting season— late April to mid-May— slipped by with less than half the crop in the ground. Some of what did get planted early, including some of mine, rotted in the ground rather than sprouted and had to be replanted.

We grow corn organically, which means that the ground must be prepared by working the soil to a fine seed bed first. (Even the commercial growers who use no-till planters and herbicides, are learning, or rather re-learning, that it is better to work up a find seed bed first.) So we plow under green manure (strips in one of our hay plots), then disk it, then go over it with a garden tiller since we grow only about a half acre’s worth. We would be better off to use just one implement, a heavy, tractor-mounted tiller, to do all three operations. (Plowing leaves a dead furrow on one side of every strip that is difficult to fill and level with the disk.) But that would be one more expense which we have so far been able to avoid.

I like to plant my corn in strips because outside rows in a corn field almost always yield higher than inside rows in a solid plot of corn. With strips there are more outside rows. Also, the sunlight can filter through the strips better too, to encourage clovers and small grains that I might inter-seed in the standing corn later. Also again, on sloping land, strips control erosion much better than a solid field of cultivated soil.

Because of the wet weather, farmers (including me) felt almost forced to work the ground when it was still a little too wet, a big mistake. Even after disking, this meant dealing with hard little clods when the soil did dry out. Locally there was a run on cultipackers, a clod-crushing implement not often used any more. Fortunately I have one which I use every year on the field corn because planting with my light, makeshift two-row garden planter (see photo above), the corn seeds do not get pressed into the soil tight enough for good germination. This year, the cultipacker (see photo at top) also crushed those troublesome little clods into a passably nice seed bed. If you connect two garden planters like I did, be sure to allow for enough room between the rows for your tiller or cultivator when weeding

We grow open-pollinated field corn even though it yields less than hybrids, because, as the neighbors say, I am contrary. That is not really the reason but enters into it I suppose. First of all o-p corn makes bigger ears on average than hybrid. It is faster to husk out one foot-long ear than two six inch ears. Also, we think, and so do other contrary neighbors who have purchased our corn for their own table use, that it tastes better than hybrid corn. We think our Reid’s Yellow Dent is superior to other open-pollinated varieties that we have tested. Ours is not as hard (easier to chew), which makes it better to feed as whole kernels to livestock and chickens too. The raccoons and the deer think ours tastes better too, unfortunately. They often bypass the neighbors’ hybrids for our corn.

There is almost an unlimited number of sweet corn and popcorn varieties from ancient to advanced. The new hybrid, high sucrose varieties are tastier to us, but if you want old, open-pollinated varieties, you can still get them from most of the mail order seed companies. You can grind meal out of sweet corn (a little too gummy we think) and even popcorn. Don’t forget parched corn from white or yellow sweetcorn. No doubt the many old corn varieties, red, white and blue, now used mainly for decoration, could also make meal or parched corn.

We figure that three fourths of an acre, half field corn and half garden corns, with field corn yielding a hundred bushels per acre (twice that is not uncommon, in fact three times that is possible), produces enough grain for all the table uses we enjoy, plus all the grain a cow and calf, 30 chickens, and a pig or two needs in a year, especially with some good pasture for the animals to free range. (We don’t feed our lambs any grain but they eat the corn fodder.) You will have to experiment to find out what your land is capable of.

This year, with corn bouncing around six dollars a bushel, you might consider growing some for a cash crop. If you have a couple of acres not in use otherwise and use organic methods that avoid the current extremely high cost of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, you could get a 150 bushels per acre of hybrid corn easily enough. That could mean $900 for spare time work, mostly profit not counting your labor. Something your high schoolers might ponder as they try to save money for college…. or to pay their gas bills.
See also Gene’s Sweet Corn From The Garden – In December
and Corn Is For Eating… or Drinking
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author of
The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)
and The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Photos Credit: Carol Logsdon |
Geneโ€™s Posts

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Here is a description of Reids Yellow Dent from Southern Exposure seeds:

“Dates back to the 1840s, when it originated as a cross between ‘Gordon Hopkins’, a late, light red variety, and an early yellow flint variety. The cross was accidental: Robert Reid had a poor stand of ‘Gordon Hopkins’ one year and replanted the missing hills with the early yellow flint corn. He grew the hybrid until it stabilized. ‘Reid’s Yellow Dent’ is one of the most productive, hardy corns ever developed, and was a prize winner at the 1893 World’s Fair and progenitor of a number of yellow dent lines. This old-timer is well known in the Mid-Atlantic region, where it is revered for its adaptability and dependability in southern heat and soils. Stalks to 7′ with 9 in. double ears well filled with 16 rows of deep, close-set, moderately flat seed. Average analysis is 9.9% protein and 0.31% lysine.”

Thanks for the suggestion. I came here thinking you might have written about the O-P corn you like best. ๐Ÿ™‚

To Alan and Greg, I have seriously contemplated “harvesting” all our meat for a year from the wild just on our little farm. There would be plenty and the only problem would be that I am not as good at playing Daniel Boone as I once was. If I include young groundhog and raccoon, which my father always said were quite delicious, we could eat royally. Gene

Corn fed wild hog is better than corn fed deer! I like deer fed on dairy quality alfalfa with a little wild sage and some apple saplings. They are so tender. If we could find a way to make the wild life an enterprise I’m sure they would go away.

Gene, I tried the electric fence route, it worked for a while. They finally got through. I was able to establish some pines along the main road without them doing too much damage a few years ago using electric fencing. Fencing can be expensive but we may have not choice; we may do a smaller area. I thought about using round bales to build a deer fence, not sure it would work, they would probably eat it. ๐Ÿ™‚

We try to have as many hunters come as possible but they only get a couple during hunting season. Being within commuting (long) distance to DC, houses have been sprouting up around us and they do not allow or have too small of a lot for hunting so the population has grown. You do see a lot of dead, hit by cars, deer along the roads here. By accident, I ran over 2 fawns with the mower cutting hay last week. I did not see them, I try to keep an eye out for wild critters while mowing. Did not find out until the vultures were in the field. They have increased the number of deer one can hunt here in Maryland a few years ago, but not enough hunters to make a dent in the population. I did see some plastic deer fence on the internet that is cheaper than metal and panels, not sure it would work. You use 10ft “T’ posts to support it…

I wonder if wild hogs taste better than deer? ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks, Greg

To Tory. What do I do to avoid cross pollination from neighboring fields? Pray. ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s only one field close enough to cross pollinate my corn (“they” say that not much cross pollination occurs beyond about 100 yards or less, but that’s debatable. Most years, the neighbors have wheat or soybeans close to me. When I am trying to be humorous, I say that a little cross pollination might be okay— might breed out the bad traits of o-p corn like lodging. I have been growing my corn in this kind of environment for over 30 years now, and I can’t honestly see where the traits of the hybrids have gotten into my corn. Of course the big worry is that the neighbors might start growing genetically modified varieties but so far they have not. Gene

Alan, Yes, I just connected the planters with three one by two inch pieces of board. Real easy. Yes, the contraption is tippy and too light for good planting but works if the soil is firmed up into a nice seedbed. My corn was up this morning, (only two weeks late). Gene Logsdon

Greg, deer are rapidly become the number one problem in small scale farming, along with raccoons, wild turkeys, Canada geese and other wildlife. I think agribusiness is raising them and turning them loose to stop us from raising our own food. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes I have lots of trouble with deer eating everything. They have even developed a taste for corn silks, sometimes eating them off before the ear can be pollinated. They will finally start grazing your pastures too. I’ve written a blog or two here and I don’t know how many magazine articles about the growing problem. A single strand of electric fence about for feet high will stop deer, so my neighbors say, but if the deer are running over a larger field, they will run right through the fence. We don’t yet have the deer pressure that you obviously do, but it is coming. Until enough people die in deer/car accidents, until enough deer crash through picture windows (or church windows as happened here) until enough people understand the dynamics of population and carrying capacity, I just don’t think there is an answer. If you can afford to put a panel gate fence around your property, eight feet tall, that will stop them. Of course then they feast on your neighbor’s crops. If everyone surrounded the whole agricultural world with this kind of fence, then the deer would starve to death…as they are going in some places already. PS Count your blessings. Wild hogs are so much worse. Gene Logsdon

assuming you save your own seed from the OP corn, what do you do to ensure that it doesn’t get cross-pollinated with other varieties being grown in the area? I’d like to grow some of this too, but miles of regular corn surrounding me I’m a little leary.

Did you rig the two row planter yourself? I’ve used 6 ganged together for lettuce, carrots, and the like. Found them a bit prone to tipping if you put too much pressure on the upper handle. Love to see the innovation.

Do you have much trouble with deer eating the corn seedlings?

We have a lot deer at our place and have not had much luck growing crops other than hay/pasture. We have a fenced area that we have for our garden. We have a lot of woods surrounding us. Even tried some cover crops like field peas and cow peas a couple of times, nothing survived. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

To Johnny: Every yellow dent field corn I have tried made good meal. My preference is our open pollinated yellow dent but it has no varietal name other than it came genetically from Reid’s Yellow Dent many generations ago. From what I know, any white or yellow field corn makes good cornmeal. Some blue corns of rather ancient origin are preferred by some people. Others like sweet corn or even popcorn. The variety is not nearly as important as freshness. Corn, like all foods, gets a little stale with age. The current year’s corn properly dried preferably air dried naturally and slowly rather than quickly with artifical heat gives better taste. And it is better if the corn is stored on the cob and shelled off only as needed. Also remember that at least half the secret of good taste of anything is the cook. Gene Logsdon

Can you recommend some varities of corn that have worked well for you to grind into meal.

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