Thursday, July 9, 2009

gardener's corn

I'm not a great gardener. Truth be told, I'm still a beginner. This year's garden is only my third, but naivete and mistakes aren't keeping my fingernails clean—I keep planting and learning as I go. I discovered when it comes to some veggies I'm hell at raising them. I can grow a fine mess of peas, beans, salads and broccoli no problem. Other types leave me guessing...For some reason I can not grow a heathy heirloom tomato in Vermont. My peppers seem to be stuck in their adolescent stages. And my watermelons and pumpkins never seen to grow beyond softball sizes....

But even with all the failures,. I find some foods are just plain rewarding in their simplicity. Some veggies you can just dig a hole, drop in a seed, and pass the summer watching it turn into something satisfying and delicious. For example: corn.

Corn has become a nearly dirty word in modern food talk. Since it's force fed in feeding lots, pumped into fructose syrups, and filling up puppy chow bags—people don't seem to appreciate it much. I get that. I understand all it's downsizes and know how annoyed it gets Michael Pollan...but I love growing my own. It's one of those foods I seem to have a knack for. Maybe because it already grows like a weed (since technically - it is a tall grass) but even if it has nothing to do with my own skills—I love seeing those stalks rise up taller than I am. It makes this place feel more like a farm to me. Come October I tie the brown stalks to my porch and everytime I walk by the big bushels I am amazed it started with a pile of seeds in my palm Memorial Day weekend.

Sweet corn is an honest trade. You put in a weekend of hard labor, swing that hoe, plant those kernels, and come late summer you have these delicious white cobs that sizzle on the grill or pop between your teeth dripping with butter. The taste of just-pulled-off-the-stalk sweet corn is hard to beat.


Blogger Greentwinsmummy said...

Our corn here is going like the blazes this year~grin! its 7ft high the moment,I never knew it could grow so tall,the cobs are starting to swell on the stems,mmm makes my mouth water thinking about it.
Its all nothing short of miraculous isnt it :o)
GTM x x

July 9, 2009 at 6:13 AM  
Blogger Rachel B. said...

Hmmm...sweet corn. Unfortunatly for me, my family has a hard time growing sweet corn, but living in the middle of farm country PA it's always easy to get the fresh stuff. You know, the stuff that you can actually talk to the person that picked that cob this morning. Wonderful...
Before I forget, I did a book review of your book
and included a surpise. :)

July 9, 2009 at 7:06 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Most likely it's not you, it's your cool Vermont weather that is to blame for your struggles with tomatoes, peppers, and melons. They all love the heat. A long, hot, growing season with plenty of sun is what they are after. Cool, damp weather is not their friend.
On the other hand, your climate is probably exactly why the salads, broccoli, etc. do so well!

July 9, 2009 at 7:23 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Yeah, don't lose sleep over your tomatoes - we live in Texas, where everyone and their brother grows tomatoes to die for and we can seem to manage it. We also keep hearing about how easy potatoes are, and we've had bum luck with them too.

I'm really anxious to try corn. Having grown up in rural Illinois, it is a staple to me, and I love to see it grow, too. Probably next year - we need to get more garden area prepped.

July 9, 2009 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger FarmerGeek said...

Hey now, be fair, Michael Pollan isn't against all corn, just the massive abuse the modern American industrial farmer and feedlots and "food" companies abuse it. In both "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense Of Food" he supports the growing of, and the use of, corn if done in a traditional, sustainable, moderate methodology. (Ok, so I just finished reading both of them...)

If I remember from your book, you bought a .22LR rifle, no? Be very careful when trying to take a red fox with that ammo. It can be done, but it is not the best ammo to do this and is not necessarily the most reliable ammo to take this animal. It can be done, but be prepared as you might need a second shot to ensure the kill.

Good luck with it all.

July 9, 2009 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Clare said...

Kathleen is right, those are heat loving crops and your locale isn't ideal for those; however, if you haven't read any of Eliot Coleman's works, you really should. They will inspire you, and educate you on how to grow those veges well in Vermont, as he does in Maine. Row covers, for starters, mini-hoop houses, too. You can do it! I really enjoy reading your blog... you go girl!

July 9, 2009 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

the only way to learn is to do it...good for you girl!

July 9, 2009 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger Rois said...

It's cool here in Oregon too,so melons and pumpkins don't always do well.I have given up on melons.We are huge fans of Halloween so we still grow the pumpkins and here is a trick I read about some where a long time ago. Pick off the blooms of Melons and pumpkins.It causes the plant to focus their energy on those fewer blooms,giving you bigger fruits.
And to whoever it was that mentioned potatoes.I think it is a farm myth that they are easy to grow.We have tried every crazy way to grow them with very little luck.

July 9, 2009 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Michele said...

At least you can get your peppers to grow SOME! I had mine up about two inches, then the grasshoppers came and ate off all the shoots. Now there is nothing on that row. :-(
They liked the onion shoots, too, and ate half of that row to the dirt. I was gone only four days and the hoppers really went to town. Now everything is covered with nylon netting.

July 9, 2009 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger Turtle said...

one of the last pictures i have of my grandad was taken in the ferrisburg area where he pulled over and snagged a few ears of "cow corn" to nibble. The property at one time had been a farm in our family. Apparently we grew corn well, here in the northwest the corn has always molded before it got decent sized...but worked well for fall decor. This year though our corn is rocking! so just maybe.....

July 9, 2009 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger SWEETHEARTS MOM said...

I have to admit that sweet corn is yummy but from a homesteaders point of least small farming...corn rapes the land. It strips years of the hard work you put into the land adding compost and working the nutrient level up in your soil to nothing in a single season. Think twice about planting corn...and if you do be ready to spend a lot of time on that plot over the winter replenishing what the corn took out.

July 9, 2009 at 7:54 PM  
Anonymous René said...

My relatives in Wisconsin are corn farmers. During the summer when I was 10, I went up with my grandparents for the family reunion. It was the first time I'd had sweet corn grilled in the husk and it was fabulous. Little bit of butter and mmm...

July 9, 2009 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger Chance said...

Ahhh...give me fresh grilled corn with a little butter, lime and red pepper on it mexicana style, sublime. 28 days straight of rain (at least over here in Chittenden) has almost done my heirloom tomatoes in. I favor Black Cherokees, I could never get a Brandywine to fruit in Vermont, but all tomatoes need a dry-ish spring to get going. Next thing ya know, all the damp will bring in the Blight which will break my heart. THe good news is, if your tomatoes are still alive, we have a longish stretch of over 80 degrees coming up, starting tomorrow. There is still hope. Pray to the tomato goddess, add some nitrogen (peeing in the garden is always a good source), and hope for some hot summer days. Great post...

July 9, 2009 at 10:17 PM  
Anonymous Carrie said...

My favorite time off year is sweet corn season. When every day involves eating fresh sweet corn. It is by far my favorite veggie out of the garden. Wisconsin has a pretty great climate for growing corn, although this year nice warm/hot weather seems hard to come by. I think we've been below normal quite a few days.

July 10, 2009 at 12:51 AM  
Blogger The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Hi Jenna,
It sounds like all your preparation earlier this year has been well worth it! Congratulations!
FYI - This morning a NY radio station advised watching for blight on tomato plants. You can check with your local ag dept about what to look for.
After this cool, rainy weather in the Northeast, it's been found on a major farm and they have destroyed their affected plants. But the spores can travel hundreds of miles on the wind.
They said the best thing would be 2 weeks of hot, dry weather.
We could all use that up here! :)
Best wishes!

July 10, 2009 at 6:59 AM  
Anonymous MadHenMama said...

Michael Pollan is only annoyed by the high fructose, antibiotic laced, monoculturally grown, genetically modified "corn". Not the honest-to-goodness-butter-dripping-down-your-chin corn. No one could find a problem with that!

July 10, 2009 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Connie said...

Fresh sweet corn:mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!
My father-in-law planted his watermelons in the septic field. They grew huge. His problems were with peaches: despite his best efforts, squirrels got nearly all.

July 10, 2009 at 12:25 PM  
OpenID localnourishment said...

In the mountains of Oregon where light was scarce, I used a red plastic mulch around my tomato plants. Not on the dirt, but like a burrito wrapper around the plant. It kept the warmth in and focused the spectrum the tomatoes liked on the leaves. It was the only way I could get them to ever ripen on the vine.

I LOVE CORN. A lot of my family is allergic to it, which makes almost all processed food a no-no for us. But oddly enough, our organic farmer grows an heirloom variety that we can all eat. Imagine that.

July 10, 2009 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

I'm pleased, because even though I can't get corn to grow really well for me (well, the stalks grow, but the ears are often a disappointment),I just realized at least I will have my own stalks for the front porch steps and the lamppost this year, and won't have to buy or beg them from someone else. That's something at least! I haven't grown it in awhile, because it just doesn't seem to do well in a smallish plot, but I am trying some heirloom corn this year to see. And broccoli? How do you do it? Mine barely grew heads bigger than my fist this year, and then overnight went to seed. Such a disappointment.Someone told me to tie up my cauliflower heads as they grow. Do you do this? Would that have helped with the broccoli?
Let us know the fate of the fox...
I feel your loss for the hens and roosters. A neighborhood dog made a mess of mine, but thankfully, I only ended up with one dead. Sad, though.

July 10, 2009 at 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ack - I just went out to refill the chicken waterer and one of my big hens is sneezing up a storm. I googled chicken sneezing, and there seems to be a gamut of answers to "what do I do when my chicken is sneezing" - everything from bird flu, to call the vet, to leave it alone and it will be fine. My worries are for the other 7 birds in the coop - all but one other one are new hens this year. Do you, Jenna, or does anyone else, have any suggestions for a first time chicken raiser? I don't honestly think I HAVE a vet around here who deals with chickens - seriously. IS it dying? Will it kill my other hens? What to do??? Sorry - I know this isn't a vet blog, and I know it IS Jenna's blog - but I know from longtime reading, lots of you have chickens, and Jenna has had them for quite awhile, so I'm hoping SOMEONE can help me? I love my chickens.

July 10, 2009 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger djp said...

corn is delish, and i can't wait for it to be in season over here. i don't grow it myself, because it's one of the few pollens that i am allergic to.... i don't think there is much you can do about your peppers though: Vermont's weather is similar to Quebec's and I can't grow them for the life of me either, unless i manage to overwinter the plants, and replant them the following summer. But tomatoes love me! i even manage to get some nice ones on my shady balcony. what varieties are you growing? my absolute favorite is Striped German from Johnny's, but i find that black tomatoes crop most reliably in our climate, even in my friends'neglected garden. and cherries are also reliable. maybe you need to try different varieties?

July 10, 2009 at 7:18 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

I love homegrown sweet corn, too! I can't grow it where I live -- upper elevations of the Black Hills in SD -- but my parents who live on the plains do & I eagerly anticipate it. Nor can I grow a Brandywine tomato....but I can grow several varieties with success.

July 10, 2009 at 10:57 PM  
Blogger kate said...


One suggestion on peppers -- a neighbor told me. (Remember, I have property in upstate NY and SW Vermont, so it might be relevant.)

Put a tomato cage over each pepper plant. I thought he was nuts, my neighbor, but he explained that squirrels eat the tops off, mostly the buds. Well, wouldn't you know. My first year with success with peppers (last year).

Learn about "late blight" -- this year's big problem with tomatoes -- but do not confuse it with "early blight", which is a common problem in the Northeast. The best indicator I heard is if the blight starts at the bottom of your plant, it is more likely early blight, and survivable.

I saved five tomato plants to see and learn. All seemed to have some affliction, but it came from the bottom.

Congrats on your broccoli. I was/am a rookie with broccoli and didn't know when to pick it. I left for a week and came back and all my broccoli had turned yellow.

Learning can be heartbreaking.


July 11, 2009 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger Vermonster said...

It's not true that the locality of Vermont is not conducive to growing tomatoes, peppers and melons. It is just that it has been extremely wet for the past couple of years. If you have a dry season where you have to water via can or hose every day you will start seeing those crops take off and you'll be giving away tomatoes to beat the band.

I am a native Vermonter stuck in Florida and can not grow squat here no matter what I do, but when I lived at home, had over a 1 acre garden and loved it. Vermont has a saying of if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes, but it's been a couple of bad summers weather wise.

July 13, 2009 at 10:01 AM  

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