Thinking About Sweet Corn

We’ve been slammed with the Arctic blast that has hit much of the country.  It’s 3 degrees outside right now.  For us, that is crazy cold.

So it seems a odd time, perhaps, for me to be thinking about planting corn.

But it’s the time of year for garden planning, and this morning I have sweet corn on my mind.

Cherie and I spent all day Sunday doing a thorough year-end review of our farm and household. We’ve decided on some very significant changes, which I’ll have more to say about later.

One of the less dramatic things on the agenda was a garden-by-garden consideration of what we ought to plant this year, and in what quantities. Among the many decisions we made, one was to scale back significantly on the amount of sweet corn we grow.

Each year we devote one large garden to okra and sweet corn. My practice has always been to plant a little okra and a lot of sweet corn. This year were going to reverse that, and plant a little sweet corn and a lot of okra.

Last year wildlife destroyed our entire sweet corn crop. It was a frustrating experience that I hope to never have to repeat. This year’s okra/sweet corn garden is in a more open field, closer to our house, so I expect it would be safer from the raccoons. But even without the fact that it’s possible to grow a lot of sweet corn only to have it eaten by raccoons, we would be making this switch anyway.

I love fresh ears of sweet corn. They’re one of the great tastes of summer. But trying to grow it on a commercial scale probably makes no sense for us. There are lots of farmers who grow big patches of sweet corn to sell at farmers markets. The first corn to hit the market fetches a high price, so farmers often push the envelope to try to get corn planted as soon as possible. I’ve always been more conservative in choosing my planting date so we’ve never had the first sweet corn of the year, and never will. By the time our sweet corn is available the stuff is usually abundant.

Corn is a heavy feeder and it takes a lot out of the soil. That’s another strike against it.

But our decision to emphasize okra rather than corn isn’t based on the negatives of growing corn so much as it is the positives of okra. Okra thrives in our hot dry summers requiring no irrigation. It produces abundantly, and although deer and groundhogs do eat it, they’re not as attracted to it as they are to corn (and crows don’t dig out and eat the okra seed, the way they do corn).

Our okra has been a big hit with our customers, and I think it will give us a much better return on our investment of time.

Last year we tried growing some burgundy okra, along with our usual Clemson Spineless. The burgundy okra was pretty, and stays tender even when the pods are longer than we would normally let the green pods grow. But that stuff was like candy to the deer. While they barely bothered the Clemson Spineless, they devastated the burgundy. I’m not interested in repeating that process so this year I plan to grow nothing but Clemson Spineless.

Will still grow some sweet corn for ourselves, and I may add some corn for cornmeal. But 2014 will have no large sweet corn garden on White Flint Farm.

Now it’s time to shake the images of summer gardens out of my mind, and venture out into the frigid cold to break the ice in the chickens waters and make sure our goats are warm enough and have plenty to eat.