Thursday, March 11, 2010

could get a little corny...

One has to wonder how many different flavors of ass, perfume and microwaved obscenities one can be reasonably expected to endure in a given day. I've been under the weather this week, with my sinuses adjusting to the changing temps and pressures of Spring, and in spite of my stuffy head and running nose everything around me smells like crazy these past few days. Stinks, might be more like it.

So I was taking a little break at the old workplace this afternoon and for some reason it struck me that I never got around to posting about last year's corn harvest. Partly that was due to my being distracted by other things, but mainly it was because the harvest sucked. It was a terrible year for corn--cold and wet when we needed warmth, dry when we needed rain, etc. The result was that our zea mays got off to a slow start, showed promising and rapid growth during the warm weeks mid-summer, and then struggled to come to maturity during a long cool spell which led into an icy-wet fall.

We planted seven varieties of corn last year, in blocks set far enough apart so as to avoid cross-pollination. In the back garden was the sweet corn (Golden Bantam, Stowells Evergreen, and--filling in where those two failed to come up--Bodacious, leftover from previous years) and Hopi Blue,
a sweet/flour corn. In the front garden, Oaxacan Green occupied the NW corner while Hickory King dent stood in the SE. In southernmost strip, we tried a very small plot of Smoke Signals popcorn.

For a couple weeks in late summer there was a meager supply of sweet corn, but the ears were quite small and somewhat irregular, and didn't hold well. The three varieties we grew for grain didn't do a lot better. The Hopi Blue, much of which we grew from seed saved from the prior year's crop (in the three sisters experiment), produced a robust spiral of short and stout plants, many with deep blue-streaked leaves, and lived up to its reputation of being tender and sweet in the milk stage (although I only sampled it fresh) as well as being arrestingly beautiful, in a dazzling array of sapphire shades (with a few turquoise gems thrown in, compliments of the wind). The Oaxacan Green germinated well and grew quickly even in a part of the garden where the soil tilth was less than ideal, and although it turned out only a few mature ears, they were mesmerizing in color, lime to emerald to deep sea, trimmed in fiery orange. The Hickory King exceeded everyone's expectations by skyrocketing in just a few short weeks from knee-high to over eight feet and taller, with the lowest ears forming above some of our heads.
Unfortunately, all these grain corns suffered in the cold, rainy fall (as did just about everyone's crop, in these parts) and we ended up with a bunch of soggy ears that not only didn't fully dry on the stalk, but had to be picked wet--and most were moldy, to boot. So we didn't really get a chance to taste any of them, as meal or flour, although we should have enough viable seed to give it another go this year. Likewise with the Smoke Signals; much of it didn't ripen or cure, but the ears that did were spectacular, tiny beads of jasper in rainbow colors...We did get enough to pop a panful and all found it quite tasty, rich and nutty, if a little heavy on the old maids.

Most of these varieties are open-pollinated (all but the Bodacious), which means that the plants will grow true from seed from one year to the next, as long as care is taken to prevent cross-pollination. I opted primarily for OP varieties, of corn and everything else, to allow for the possibility of saving seed and also (knowing that we're not likely to save seed for many of our other vegetables, just yet) to support the development and improvement of the OP gene pool. I prefer OP, on principle, but I do recognize the value of hybridization, and this year I've got a couple hybrids on order, of the sugary enhanced sort. When it comes to sweet corn, hybrids tend to have the advantage: most have better cool soil germination, better quality ears, better flavor and better holding power both in the field and the fridge (or so I'm led to believe). The other two varieties I'm trying this season--if we can find room for two more--are both OP: Painted Mountain, a short-season super-productive brightly-colored ornamental/flour/parching/fresh eating corn (too good to be true?) and Pennsylvania Dutch Butter-Flavored Popcorn, an heirloom maintained by the folks at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (who, incidentally, just happen to have an insightful piece on their site about OP vs. hybrid seeds).

In searching for rants, raves or reviews about this popcorn variety--which is apparently not very widely known or grown--I turned up this rather bizarre hit about the dangers of butter-flavored...well, anything... Which brings me back to work. Thankfully, microwave popcorn is no longer allowed on my floor, so that's one less thing to contend with. Now if only someone would put up a sign that says please check your stinking loud ass lip smacking crap food munching self and try to have a little respect for, well, anything. Thank you.

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