Thursday, July 26, 2012


A miracle has occurred on the Kansas prairie.  I have, at long last, grown sweet corn in the Flint Hills.  Praise God and pass the butter and salt!

This may not be an earth-shattering accomplishment to many of you from other climes, and perhaps not to many farmers in this area, but I have been completely stymied for years trying to grow edible sweet corn in my own garden.  I have experienced years where I had poor germination (soil too cold?), years where the wind blew the knee-high corn flat before it could tossel, years where the ears didn't fill out (too hot for pollination?), and years where I had decent ear growth, but opened up the shucks to find that I'd raised only a superb crop of earworms.  I've had decent corn stolen at the last minute by raccoons, I've had seedlings mowed down by deer and rabbits, and I've even caught quail scratching and eating the seed as soon as I planted it.  Those are all minor pests compared to earworms in this area.

To borrow and modify for gardening a term currently popular among teenagers and young adults,  have, in summary, I been "corn-blocked" for a decade by wind, drought, earworms, raccoons, rabbits, deer, and birds.  The worst of all are the earworms;  not only do they leave me believing I've had a good crop until I try to harvest it, but earworms as a species are completely disgusting.  I refuse to just cut off the end of an ear full of worms and worm feces and then cook and eat the remainder.

My inability to grow edible corn is all extremely embarassing for me, a descendent of several generations of Indiana farmers.  My long-lost Indiana, where the soil drains better, where the wind is gentler, the rains more frequent, and the mid-summer heat less searing, is tailor-made for corn. You can toss corn down in Southern Indiana on the surface and it will grow and produce.  Heck, it grows as a volunteer annual from year to year if you leave too many kernels in the field.

This year, inexplicably, the Maize God decided to take pity on my efforts and allowed me a decent crop.  Not without some effort on my part, however, effort honed by years of hard-won lessons.  I selected my corn variety carefully, choosing Burpee's 'Honey and Cream' because the package noted that it had "tight silks".  I laid down some soaker hose along the rows and I have religiously watered deep twice a week after germination. I provided plenty of nitrogen fertilizer as the corn stalks rose.  As soon as the silks appeared, I sprayed weekly with cyfluthrin, stopping when the silks were brown, for a total of three applications over late June and early July.  I made sure the electric fence stayed in working order as the ears grew and the signs of deer in the yard became more frequent.

These six ears of merely slightly poisonous corn are just the first of what I hope will be a few nice meals for myself, Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her diminutive clone.   I don't have any innate desire to upset all the diehard organic gardeners out there, but I firmly believe that any residual insecticide that penetrated the husks and survived the printed withdrawal period must surely be less harmful to my health than the earworm poop.  Probably tastes better too.  Anyway, I'm not worried about the insecticide;  I'll just feed the first couple of ears to Mrs. ProfessorRoush and if she doesn't develop tremors, than I can safely dig in.

Remember that scene in "Cast Away" where Tom Hanks starts his first fire on the island and dances around shouting to the sky, "I have made fire"? Well, that's me today. I HAVE GROWN CORN!


  1. Ah, it's obvious that you know how to treat a woman like a queen!

    Seriously, though, congrats on your corn harvest. I haven't tried to grow it for years, because it seems like a lot of effort and space for a relatively small reward - especially when I can buy some great stuff at the local farmers' market. I've read that oil in the tip of the ears during tassel formation (? - I think that was the timing) is a good organic control for ear worms, but have never tried it to test it out. (And it's not the ear worms that were the grossest to me, it was the smut.)

    1. Yes, I've read about the mineral oil on the ears; also read that you need to wash it out at harvest and just rinsing under water doesn't get rid of the oil. And it always seemed like such work, dripping oil into every ear as the silks appeared.

      All in all, those half-dozen ears have cost me about $180 if you include the price of the new electric fence charger.

  2. We are trying corn for the first time in raised beds and it looks great, but, I too am curious as to what I am going to find when we shuck the corn. Time will tell! We did have some pretty bad storms here in Northern VA and we actually staked the corn. I have never seen such a thing before but it was all bent over and I was not giving up!

  3. Congratulations on your corn! I did not know you were from Indiana, the epicenter of the world. Here in Indiana, where corn should just grow, I have had years when I have failed miserably at growing corn, and years when I have succeeded. And yes, I have removed the ear worm and eaten the corn and lived to tell about it. One thing you didn't mention though was corn smut. Now that is gross. Trust me. Totally gross. With our drought, this may be a corn failure year for me, as it is for actual corn farmers. We'll see. There are a couple of ears I'm watching...

  4. When I was young I used to wait
    On master and hand him his plate
    Pass him the bottle when he got dry (bottle referring to whiskey)
    And brush away the blue-tail fly

    Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
    Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
    Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care
    My master's gone away

    When he would ride in the afternoon
    I'd follow him with my hickory broom
    The pony being rather shy
    When bitten by the blue-tail fly


    One day he rode around the farm
    Flies so numerous that they did swarm
    One chanced to bite him on the thigh
    The devil take the blue-tail fly


    Well the pony jumped, he start, he pitch
    He threw my master in the ditch
    He died and the jury wondered why
    The verdict was the blue-tail fly


    Now he lies beneath the 'simmon tree
    His epitaph is there to see
    "Beneath this stone I'm forced to lie
    The victim of the blue-tail fly"

  5. Congratulations! We have had several years of corn failure, but this year our corn made, too, so I know exactly how you feel! Yippee!!! I hope Mrs. P. doesn't get any tremors ;) and that your corn tastes oh-so-sweet!


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