An early, warm year has led us to an early field corn harvest! The 10’ plants we seeded in April went from light green to pale golden-over the past few days, signaling the plants’ end. The weather has been almost perfect for the corn: plenty of rain during early growth and seed formation, then a dry spell for final maturation.
Yesterday I pulled the ears of the stalk and unwrapped the husk on each ear, revealing the glossy array of rainbow-colored kernels (we have pictures of last year’s crop on Facebook and our website). Now we have them laid out in the sun for the final curing, and for the next few days we will perform the ritual of laying them out in the morning and putting them into rodent-proof bins overnight.
We’re very close to finding an old-time corn sheller from craigslist, which is basically a closed box with dull teeth that spin with a hand crank and bust the kernels loose from the cob. At that point, we will store the seeds in garbage cans until we have them milled into corn flour, cornmeal, grits, or cracked corn for the Forest Corn loaf.
This crop is a rare variety called “KY Rainbow,” developed over the past decade by a small farmer in Berea, KY. Her original seed stock was from an Appalachian grower whose family bred the seed generations. The rugged, resilient plants seem to mirror the self-reliant people who have tended and guided the plant’s evolution, and we love to grow it because it’s non-GMO and well-adapted to the heat and humidity of this region.
Corn is an unusual crop choice for a farm of our scale because it takes up lots of space and time, and because of the low prices normally fetched for field corn. Because of this I’ve been keeping close records of what we’ve put in to our crop this season. As it turns out, we can grow it economically on this scale! We are able to charge a fair price by value-adding (bread, grits, etc.). The return for our labor and inputs is comparable to many other crops we have in the garden, although it wouldn’t make sense to grow if we were very limited on space.
When it comes down to it, I know I am using this calculus to justify my love for and need to grow this plant. It is the native American staple grain and has been grown here for centuries. It’s a versatile subsistence food that has sustained many cultures, whether they cultivated it in small plots with a hoe, or with large tractors and combines. And ultimately, I think we will need this crop to take us through the turbulent years that are to come.