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Letter Re: Corn: Our Best Ally Against Starvation

We have begun our corn harvest. We just finished canning the corn from 2 rows of hybrid sweet corn. We planted two rows 100 feet long. We made approximately 400 ears of corn. From this we ate all we wanted and canned 39 quarts and 12 pints whole kernel. We don’t can any cream style, because it doesn’t do well. Many times the corn has a musty taste. We put it in jars rather than the freezer to protect it from a grid down scenario. We gave 20 ears to a local widow, and 48 ears to a local gentleman in his mid 80’s.

I plant my corn seed in pairs about 6 to 12 inches apart and ½” deep.   They can be a little deeper, but not much closer to the surface of the soil.  I drop my seed by hand. It doesn’t take long once you develop a method. I can drop a 200 foot row in about 10 minutes. I usually plant a couple weeks before the last frost date, because it takes awhile for the seed to sprout. The frost may “bite” the young corn plant, but not kill it. A hard freeze is another matter. The soil temperature should be 55 deg. F. and rising. Corn requires a lot of fertilizer. I place 13-13-13 in the row and mix with soil and then drop my seed and cover them with soil. When the corn approaches 2 feet in height, I apply another band of 13-13-13 by the plants and cover with dirt along with any grass or weeds that escaped any previous plowing.        

We are growing 3 more types of corn, most of which is drying on the stalk in the field. We purchased some Golden Bantam heirloom variety corn from an Internet seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange [1]. I purchased this seed because there was no local source for non-hybrid heirloom sweet corn seed. After planting and eating a little, I highly recommend it. It has a very large starchy kernel. It is unique because the kernels are extremely easy to bite off the cob when cooked due to the shape of the kernel and the spacing of the attachment points to the cob. This corn would be easy to bite with dentures. It also has two other things that I like. The stalks are very short when mature (5 feet), which makes it wind resistant and it requires a lot less moisture to grow a 5 foot stalk compared to an eight foot stalk. I’m saving all this seed for future planting. The only negative is the ears are rather small.

I’ve planted 20 rows 200 feet long of heirloom Yellow Dent corn. I purchased this at a local feed store. I was also given some by a neighbor. These corn stalks have reached a height of 8 feet and have huge ears, usually two per stalk, due to all the rain we’ve had this year. I plan to use this as feed for my geese and ducks, for grinding into corn meal, and extra feed for my herd of donkeys. I will also save at least five 5-gallon buckets for seed for the future and for barter.

I’ve planted 10 rows 200 feet long of pencil cob corn. This is an heirloom variety that is grown locally. I purchased the seed from a local feed store. I’m growing this corn as the primary feed for my donkeys in a “worst case” scenario. The cobs of this variety are only ½” in diameter. You can easily break the ears into 3 pieces by hand. My donkeys will eat the whole piece and they love it. When commercial feed is no longer available, this will be their primary feed along with grass or winter fodder. This corn also makes excellent corn meal.

Since I’m nearly 60 years old and can remember things well, I can remember the first hay baler in this area. The hay was cut with a horse-drawn mower. After it cured or dried it was pulled with a horse drawn rake to the stationary baler where it was pitch forked into the baler and hand tied. Why am I including this in a corn essay? The reason is that I want to share some information that few people remember or know. What did poor farmers do before these hay making methods came along? What did farmers do that didn’t have the land to raise hay? The answer is in the corn field. Once you have picked the ripe corn for canning, you go back and cut down the stalk, place them in small bunches until they air dry. They are then placed in a dry storage area until fed in the winter. If the corn is to be dry harvested, you cut the stalk off above the highest ear after the silk has turned completely brown. Then do the same as the above. If you want more feed, then you go back and pull the leaves from the standing stalk, twist them together in a small sheave and hang them between the ear and stalk. Once these have air dried, place them in dry storage. You then return and pull the dried ears of corn a few weeks later. The ear will be turned down and the shuck will be completely dry. All that will be left in the corn field is a short corn stalk to be removed before the next planting. The corn field will now be filled with grass and weeds by this time. This is when I turn in the cows and let them clean the field. This method requires many hours of hard labor. Right now, I’m continuing to use my diesel tractor and round baler, but I know what to do if these items are no longer available. Doing this will provide you with many tons of feed for your donkeys and milk cow thru the winter. My father used this dried corn fodder to feed his family’s plow horse and milk cows. This is how my father as a young boy and his family survived the Great Depression. My father said they never had any money during this time, but they were never hungry. He always smiled when he spoke of these times. – M.E.R.