Amanda has over a decade's worth of homesteading experience: gardening, canning, butchering chickens, milking cows, and making maple syrup.
What was that? It sounded like someone whispering. I stood up and looked around. No one was there, so I went back to work pulling weeds in the garden. The sun was hot, but a refreshing breeze provided the relief I needed to keep working.
There it was again—the whispering! I looked up and saw the leaves of the corn stalks rustling in the wind. As the leaves brushed past one another, it sounded as though the corn plants were whispering. I chuckled. Corn really is a neat plant.
The Anatomy of a Corn Plant
I was getting a good close-up view as I pulled weeds from around the base of the stalks. Colorful, strong roots sank into the soil and held the corn stalks in place. I thought about how the wind had knocked my corn stalks down a few weeks before. Those amazing roots stayed in the ground, and within a few days, they raised the stalks back up again.
Once the stalks grow tall enough, tassels emerge from the top of the plant. These tassels eventually open and release little rice-like pieces called anthers that hold the corn’s pollen. When the wind blows, these anthers fall off and are caught by the sticky silk of other corn stalks' ears.
Since corn is pollinated this way, we have to plant different varieties far apart and at different times so that they don't cross-pollinate. We don’t want the anthers from one type of corn sticking to the silk of another type. If that happens, there is no telling what type of corn we might get!
We want to save corn seed to plant in the future, so we have to be sure the corn is true and not a mixture of different types. Corn does not need bees to pollinate it, but they still enjoy collecting the pollen to make honey.
The Three Sisters Garden Method
We grow some of our corn using an Indigenous American technique known as a “three sisters” garden. The first sister is corn. We plant her and wait for her to grow a bit before planting beans, the second sister. The beans grow up the corn stalk like a pole. We plant the third sister last, squash, last. Squash leaves are prickly and help protect the corn from raccoons and other animals that might steal the ears. The three sisters work together to support one another.
Colorful Corn Varieties
Here is a question for you—what color is corn? Most would likely answer “yellow” or perhaps “white.” These are the most popular colors, but corn naturally comes in a rainbow of beautiful colors. There are different types of corn as well.
Sweet corn is usually eaten fresh off the cob during the summer. This is the type of corn you would find canned or frozen on the shelves at your local grocery store. You may have eaten sweet golden cornbread at some point as well. Sweet corn is usually yellow, white, or a mix of the two.
But there is a similar corn variety that might surprise you. It is called Hopi blue. If it is picked at the right time, it can be eaten on the cob like sweet corn. If it gets too dry, it can be ground into cornmeal to make blue corn chips, tortillas, bread, or muffins.
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Painted Mountain corn is also very colorful. It can be eaten fresh like Hopi blue or ground into flour to make breads and muffins. These colored corns are not as sweet as sweet corn, and they tend to be more mealy. This means that if you make corn bread with them, you will want to add sweetener, and the resulting bread will be more heavy. These corns also make great fall decorations. Both Painted Mountain and Hopi blue were grown by Native Americans. We have them to thank for these beautiful and unique plants.
Glass Gem Popcorn
Popcorn is another type of corn you are probably familiar with. You cannot pop sweet corn. Popcorn is its own type of corn that is grown specifically to pop. Have you ever seen popcorn kernels before they popped? Were they yellow? Most are. But I’d like to show you the popcorn that I grew in my garden. It is called glass gem popcorn. The kernels are beautiful! This corn is totally natural; no fancy tricks or modified genetics are needed to produce it. When the kernels are popped, the popcorn is white to yellow and a bit smaller than standard popcorn. The dried kernels can also be ground into cornmeal.
Grinding Corn in a Hand Mill
We grind our corn in a hand mill. The dried corn kernels are poured into the hopper on top. Then someone turns the crank to grind the corn between the grinding plates. The plates can be adjusted for a coarse or fine grind.
This is a great job for children! It takes a lot of energy to grind enough corn for a meal, and they seem to enjoy the job. We use the Country Living grain mill to grind our corn.
Preparing and Storing Corn
Before the corn can be ground in the mill or stored for later use, it must first be dried and taken off the cob. After pulling the ears from the corn stalk, we strip off the husk and silk. Then we set the ears in a place where they will dry well. They should not be touching each other and should be in a place where air can circulate on all sides. An electric fan can be used to keep air moving around the ears.
To test for dryness, push your thumbnail into one of the kernels, if it dents or juice comes out, the corn is not ready. When it is properly dry, you should not see a mark from your thumbnail. It is important to dry corn thoroughly so that it does not mold in storage. In the case of popcorn, the kernels must be dried to 13% humidity in order to pop properly. If they are too moist, you will end up with a lot of un-popped kernels in your bowl.
Once the kernels are dry, they are ready to be taken off the cob. This process is called shelling. There are devices available to help remove the kernels from the cob, but we do it by hand. This is a great time to sit around on the porch and visit as a family.
Once the kernels are removed, we need to clean them to remove any chaff (papery skins) and silk. Out on the porch, we pour the kernels back and forth into bowls in front of a fan. The heavy kernels land in the bowl and the light chaff is blown away. With the kernels clean, we bag them in breathable paper bags and store them in a dry place. Empty cobs are given to the chickens, along with any other waste.
Expand Your Palette With Unique Corn Varieties
If you want to expand your horizons and try something new, you can usually find blue corn chips in the organic section at the grocery store. Or, if you have the space, try growing some colorful corn of your own! Colorful corn seed can be purchased online from many seed distributors. Just search for the types of corn mentioned in this article, and you will be well on your way. Happy growing!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Amanda Buck