PLANT IN RICH SOIL
Corn is a heavy feeder, meaning it needs plenty of organic matter and nutrients to feed upon as it grows. Amend your soil with compost and plant seeds 12 to 15 inches apart and one inch deep. Soak them overnight first.
OK, a little plant sex: Corn has male parts (tassels) and female parts (silks). Corn pollen travels from the tassels—via the wind—to the silks, so if you plant at least three rows wide by three rows deep, it will ensure proper pollination. Many people make the mistake of planting one long row of corn. Say goodbye to all that pollen— it just blew over the fence, leaving your corn sterile for the season.
Use drip irrigation to water corn at the roots, and give the plants about one inch of water per week. Be diligent about this, especially when plants start to send up tassels.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
On the day that silks appear on the ears of corn, mark your calendar to start testing for ripeness in three weeks. Pull back the husk and puncture a kernel with your thumbnail. If white liquid comes out, it’s ready. If clear liquid comes out, it’s not. If no liquid comes out, the corn has “gone to starch” and won’t be worth eating. That said, you can continue to grow the corn, reduce watering, let it dry on the stalk and grind the kernels for flour or cornmeal.
When corn is ready to harvest, the silks will appear brown and very dry. The top ear on the stalk will ripen first. This helps soothe any grower’s anxiety about harvesting the entire crop all at once.
If you plan to grow different types of corn, separate the varieties by at least 400 yards. Since most people don’t have quite that much space, choose a variety that serves your needs, be it for fresh eating, freezing or ornamental use.
Given that corn pollinates the way is does, you can see how easy it would be for cross-pollination to occur with other varieties, including that of GMO or genetically engineered corn. This past year, seed catalog companies reported a loss of between 25% and 50% of their corn varieties due to GMO contamination. Since Monsanto sues farmers for growing anything that contains even trace amounts of their patented GMO DNA, heirloom and open-pollinated seed growers have had to destroy any contaminated varieties. This makes home growing all that much more appealing.
Growing heirloom corn connects us with our land’s history and native cultures. There are many wonderful varieties to try at home, and we can save those seeds by doing so. Try Stowell’s Evergreen or Golden Bantam for a reliable yellow sweet corn, or Country Gentleman for a trusted white corn. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try Black Aztec—it’s a beautiful white sweet corn that turns black as it matures, and can be dried for blue cornmeal. There’s an old adage that says you should have the pot of water boiling before you go out to pick your corn. While it’s true that sugars turn to starch quickly in corn, you have a little more time than that. Fresh corn hardly needs cooking (some farmers eat it raw); boiling for no more than seven minutes will brighten flavors to perfection.
To grill corn, peel back the husks but leave them attached. Remove the silks, then replace the husks. Some chefs recommend tying the husks closed, but it’s not necessary. Soak the ears in salted cold water for 10 minutes. Grill over medium heat for 15–20 minutes, until tender. You may not even need butter or salt to eat your homegrown harvest.
To freeze corn, blanch whole ears in boiling water for four minutes, then plunge into an ice water bath for an additional four minutes. Cut kernels from the cob and pat dry. Freeze in plastic bags or storage containers.
You can even dehydrate corn for off-the grid storage by following the steps above for blanching, then spread the kernels out in a single layer and put them in a dehydrator for 12 to 15 hours until dry and brittle. Store in glass jars with tight-fitting lids.
Pick (or pick up) a few ears and enjoy nature’s sweetness at your next summer party. And whether you sprinkle these celebrated cobs with chili powder or garlic salt, or drizzle with herb butter, Parmesan or molasses, just remember to pack dental floss.
SUGGESTED HEIRLOOM CORN VARIETIES
- Stowell’s Evergreen
- Golden Bantam
- Country Gentleman
- Black Aztec