Corn Patch Memories

 

Summer is a memory now. The corn which grew so luxuriously in July is harvested and the stalks chopped and fed to the sheep. The corn patches are idle until next year. Now it is time to enjoy the harvest through the colder months ahead with corn bread (on the menu again tonight and made from Dakota Ivory), hominy, and corn and bean soups.

 

 

This year’s harvest of dry corn was good. I planted about 2,200 square feet of corn in three different patches. The kernels were placed one or two at a time in the furrows and then covered with soil. Later, after the corn had sprouted, I added rotted manure and hay between the rows keep the soil mulched and hold back the weeds. But the weeds did sprout in the corn rows. Every day I would walk down a row and pull the white campion and pigweed plants (seemed like less of a chore that way) and toss them to the sides of the rows where they rotted back into the soil. Nothing goes to waste.

The growth of the corn this year was a beautiful and satisfying sight. I’m already planning next year’s corn patches and dreaming of starting new ones.

Best laid plans and planks

Mulching the corn patch
Manure, planks, and soil

 

I’m trying to get a head start on spring planting by mulching my corn patches now and with the rows already lined up. I first measure out the rows spacing them three feet apart with a stake marking the beginning and end. Next, I lay down two rows of long planks between the stakes. The planks mark the locations of the corn rows. After that it is haul and spread four very full cartloads of bedding and manure between each pair of planks being careful not to cover the planks. When the planks are removed there is a clear six-inch wide strip of soil where corn will be planted next year. Sounds like a good plan so far. I actually did it this way last spring when planting my corn.

But as with so many plans there are those unexpected events that delay or even foil them and this one is no exception. Weather forecasts were for a few hours of light rain early on Friday followed by partly sunny skies on Saturday and Sunday. Instead, it rained all day Friday into the evening (9/10’s of an inch total) which made work outdoors with heavy loads impractical and the the ground very muddy. Then the forecasters changed their minds and predicted more rain on Saturday and Sunday. But I did get a lot done on Thursday before the rain and maybe, just maybe, by Sunday the rain will have moved on. At least that’s in the latest weather forecast.

A lot of corn

Ripe Dakota Ivory Corn
Ripe Dakota Ivory Corn

 

Every year for the last 15 I’ve planted sweet corn and one type or another of corn for corn meal. I finally settled on Painted Mountain Corn as a corn meal variety because it does very well here. But I wanted another corn for white hominy so I began looking around for white flint and flour corns that were short season and of northern latitude origins. Dakota Ivory is the one I chose this year and it has done very well. Harvesting of mature nearly dry cobs began yesterday.

Dakota Ivory is a true Northern Plains flour corn with short, thin stalks between five and six feet tall and ears borne on the third to sixth nodes. Generally there is one ear per stalk but many had two full-sized ears. Fully mature seeds from the plants with two ears are being saved to plant next year. The ears show some variability something expected with open pollinated corn varieties. The kernels are ivory-white, although a few have a little yellow or red tint, in eight to ten rows on six to eight inch slender cobs.

 

Dakota Ivory Corn drying down in the sun.
Dakota Ivory Corn drying down in the sun.

 

The Painted Mountain Corn and sweet corn are also ready for harvest. I have been selecting for stronger stalks and longer cobs on the Painted Mountain Corn for several years. Even though there were some very windy days with gusts to 30 mph only a few plants blew over. Cob size has increased from six inches to eight inches with some almost 10 inches and filled with large kernels to the tip. Many plants also had two ears and if they are on strong plants with large normal cobs seeds will be saved from them. I noticed a tendency to form two cobs a few years ago and have been planting seeds from those plants in the same parallel rows as well as planting some in the rows of single-cob seed.

 

 

The first harvest of sweet corn for winter storage began today. The cobs will be steamed and the kernels cut off and frozen. This is a colorful variety and has many lines of sweet corn and flour corn in its ancestry. I have been selecting this one intensively for short height, wind resistance, color, increased rows of kernels per cob, and multiple cobs with full rows of kernels. There has been much progress in all areas. The stalks are between five and six feet, thick, bushy (tillers), and loaded with prop roots. Colors of the kernels are like a rainbow. Cobs are about eight inches long with eight to twelve rows of kernels. Most plants make three ears although the third is not always well-formed but several were found this year with four normal ears and a few smaller ears. The flavor is sweet but not overpowering like super sweet hybrids. This corn, if left to mature on the stalk, makes good parched corn and pinole, too.

 

Freshly picked multi-colored sweet corn
Freshly picked multi-colored sweet corn

Dakota Ivory Corn

The first ripe ears of Dakota Ivory Corn
The first ripe ears of Dakota Ivory Corn

These are the first ripe ears of the open pollinated heirloom flour corn variety Dakota Ivory I planted this year. This is an old variety planted by Native Americans in the Northern Great Plains for centuries where growing conditions are difficult. The corn’s productivity and its adaptability to the short season and dry soils of my region reflect many generations of selection.

The corn patch is about 20 feet wide by 50 feet long with about 500 plants in five rows. The growth of this variety was fast. Tassels and silks appeared early with the first signs around July 15. Many plants produced two full-sized ears. The ears are low on the stalks and about two feet above the ground. Average height of the stalks is 5 feet.

The plants are starting to die back now, leaves and husks browning and yellowing, the green fading. Very soon it will be time to harvest the whole crop. The corn lets you know when that time has come when the ears point down.