Saved corn seed is getting sown inside this week. (Mary Lowther photo)

Saved corn seed is getting sown inside this week. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Growing corn and creating your own varieties

“Is there is a better delivery vector for butter than corn on the cob?”

By Mary Lowther

“Is there is a better delivery vector for butter than corn on the cob?” David asked. “The taste and texture are sure to evoke memories of picnics long past, a delicious reminder of childhood.” David often speaks in full paragraphs like that. The trick is holding him down to one paragraph, or two at the outside. I have gardening to do; if he wants to wax poetic he can do it with a hoe in his hands.

He does have a point, though. When I close my eyes and bite into a buttered ear of fresh picked corn it feels as though a time machine has carried me back to summer of 1960. We love our corn.

If you love corn, too, you can plant some, even in a small garden if you help them self-pollinate. The top tassel contains the pollen, so shake the plant once pollen starts to fall, or cut off the tassel and sprinkle it over the silk threads on future ears. Repeat this once a day for a week.

In a small yard one should grow only one variety because corn cross pollinates so readily. The exception to this rule is if one actually wants to produce a corn with a combination of desired properties. I did that three years ago, growing the Sunnyvee variety near our favourite Golden Bantam which, though delicious, only grows up to six inches long. Sunnyvee, with its longer cobs, cross-pollinated with Golden Bantam, so I saved seed from some of these ears because they still had that rich, corny flavour and texture that David and I love. David is lucky we both enjoy the same vegetables; if he liked eggplant he’d have to grow it himself.

Sometimes the corn doesn’t cross pollinate. One year my granddaughter persuaded me to buy some shiny multicoloured corn seeds called “Gem” we found at a market. How can one deny those inquisitive young eyes when one wants to foster interest in gardening?

I grew “Gem” alongside my regular corn without a successful merger, as it were. Perhaps a reader out there can explain why.

Corn seeds will rot if the soil is too cold, so I usually start them off in flats in early May. Then I prepare the bed, digging under the overwintering cover crop, spreading a thin layer of compost over top and sprinkling fertilizer at the rate of four litres per hundred square feet. I hoe this in a bit and let soil life render the nutrients accessible to plants.

Three weeks later the soil will have warmed up enough to plant the corn seedlings outside, but watch out for marauding crows! In my neophyte gardening days I came out the day after planting to see a third of the crop pulled out, completely exposed and worthless and some guilty looking crows nearby. Now, after laying out soaker hoses along the rows of corn, I immediately cover the bed with Remay and leave it on for at least a week. By then it’s time to side dress with organic fertilizer.

I sprinkle fertilizer along both sides of each row in two inch swaths about an eighth of an inch deep, then hoe this in a bit. Soil life will pull it down to the roots. When the corn reaches 10 inches, I fertilize again. At this point I weed the bed and plant winter squash at both ends, planning to lift their vines and lay them along the perimeter of the bed as they grow to protect the corn from raccoons.

A mulch of straw and the squash vines help keep weeds down and keep the bed shaded from the sun. By the time the ears fill out, the squash vines have covered the perimeter and wound around the inside.

I also learned the hard way to protect the crop from falling over in the wind by hammering in judiciously placed long sticks around the bed and winding a few lengths of string around them. Plastic mesh fencing might work better.

At this point of the column I try to wind it all up with a timely witticism, but when I showed it to David he said the joke was too corny. We are very, very sorry.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.