Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Obsession with Growing Corn

    I appear to have developed a serious obsession with corn. I even grew two different varieties of corn this year and devoted a pretty high percentage of my vegetable garden to corn. Growing corn for me is a way getting in touch with my roots. Most of my ancestors within the last 200 years were farmers and most of them grew corn.  My grandfather, Guy Dudley Tunnell, was an Iowa farmer who grew lots of corn.  His father and grandfather (both named John Wesley Tunnell) were farmers in Missouri and they also grew corn.  My mother's grandfather, Enos Sinor, was a subsistence farmer in northern Arkansas. He also grew corn. My mother lived with her grandparents for a few years following the death of her mother. She helped her grandpa weed his corn field.  Some of Grandpa Sinor's corn was used to feed livestock, but they had some of it ground into meal which they used to make corn bread. They made corn bread and biscuits every day. They often had biscuits for breakfast and cornbread at dinner and supper.  I imagine the Tunnells probably all ate corn bread on a daily basis as well.

      The first variety of corn I planted this year was Painted Mountain flour corn. I grew it with the intention of grinding it for corn bread.  It is a great choice for our maritime climate as it doesn't require as much heat as many corn varieties. We have been blessed with a much warmer summer this year than we usually get in western Washington.  Consequently the Painted Mountain corn tasseled fairly early and made ears in plenty of time to dry down before the rains start.  The kernels are already getting relatively crunchy.  I'm not going to have to pull the stalks to let the corn finish drying in the garage. I've had to do that with some varieties of corn I have grown in the past. I planted this variety in the garden in the front yard. The stalks don't get particularly tall. The tallest among them are only about six or seven feet tall. I planted several varieties of winter squash on the far side of the corn and they spread throughout the four rows of corn and then some.

    The second variety of corn I planted is called Reid's Yellow Dent. It is an heirloom variety of field corn. I didn't plan to try that variety, but a good friend gave me the seeds and it seemed like a waste not to plant them.  I originally had a much larger patch of Reid's Yellow Dent, but the ducks trampled about half of it. That rampage resulted in one roast duck which I reported in an earlier post and a corn patch reduced by about 50%.  The amazing thing about the Reid's Yellow Dent corn is that the stalks can grow as tall as fourteen feet. The ducks would be hard pressed to do any damage to the corn now. Since we don't have wonderfully hot and humid summers like they have in the midwest, my corn only grew to a mere twelve feet tall.  However, that variety doesn't seem well suited to our climate.  It tasseled much later than the Painted Mountain corn and will be hard pressed to make ears and dry down before the rains come. That means I will probably have to pull the stalks up by the roots and let them finish drying in the garage. However, if my primary intention was to grow Halloween decorations or provide organic bean poles for my pole beans, I think Reid's Yellow Dent would be tough to beat.  Assuming I can get the kernels to dry down completely I would be happy to send some seed to any readers who live in a more corn friendly climate.

Reid's Yellow Dent - My grand daughter Abby and I provide perspective.

      Last year I grew a variety of corn called Ruby Gold. It produces ears of corn that are either all red or all gold. If I plant some of both colors of seeds I will continue to get both colors, but always full ears of one color or the other..  Corn is apparently genetically very complex. It is wind pollinated, so if I want to save seed I need some distance between corn patches. It is also helpful if the two varieties don't tassel at the same time. My plan is to alternate years between Painted Mountain and Ruby Gold so that I only plant one variety in a given year.

    I have a nice grinder that works very well at grinding the corn into meal. However, the task of shelling the corn was rather tedious and hard on my fingers.  Since I seem to be getting larger corn patches each year I was not looking forward to shelling out the harvest.  However, thanks to my recent purchase at the Evergreen State Fair, the task should be much easier this year. I bought an antique Fulton corn sheller, cleaned off the rust, painted it black, and mounted it onto a wooden box. I had noticed that my grand children seemed to really enjoy using the hand crank corn shellers at the Western Heritage Museum located at the East side of the fair grounds.  I inquired at the museum and was pleased to learn that he had an extra corn sheller he was willing to sell. Now instead of sore fingers, I can look forward to a small contingent of cheerful, willing, and enthusiastic helpers. I just hope I have grown enough corn to satisfy their desire to turn the crank.

My newly painted Fulton Corn Sheller

The view from inside the box. 
    One of my church responsibilities is to count tithing every other Sunday after church with Ethan, the Ward Financial Clerk. We discuss a wide variety of topics as we count the tithing. Recently we had a very in depth discussion about corn. Ethan grew up in California and has Mexican ancestry. Although not raised speaking Spanish, he learned it while serving a mission for the church in Mexico.  Ethan was very impressed with the traditional methods of growing, storing, and using corn that he saw in Mexico. There was a particular room in every house used to store the dried ears of corn and they still add lime to make the masa harina, just as their ancestors had done for centuries.  Ethan's ancestors limed the corn to make it more nutritious and ate it with beans. My southern ancestors often soaked corn in lye to make hominy so that the corn was more nutritious and they also ate cornbread with beans. My Missouri and Iowa ancestors also ate a lot of corn bread and beans.

    In 1833 Joseph Smith received a revelation known to Mormons as the "Word of Wisdom" which includes the proscription of the use of alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco.  In addition to the "Thou shalt nots" the revelation also includes a number of "Thou shalts" which includes the following:

   "All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground. Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain."

   So why is "corn for the ox? It is because cattle have four stomachs and are able to digest corn more fully than our one stomach. However, when corn is treated with lime or or lye it makes more of the nutrients within the corn available to our less complicated digestive tracts.  Also eating corn together with beans results in more complete nutrition as the beans have a lot of what our digestive tracts are unable to extract from the corn.


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