Country Living Series

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Harvesting corn

This year we had a successful corn crop for the first time in ages.

Growing corn has been a huge challenge for us. Our short growing season means we often can't get seed into the ground before early June, and we can often expect the first frost around September 15 or so. Assuming we plant around June 5 and assuming the corn will germinate by about June 10, this leaves less than 90 days for corn to grow, achieve its stately height, pollinate, tassel, and mature. Oh, and it also has to survive the rip-roaring winds we often get here on the prairie.

In years past, we grew the faithful Golden Bantam. At least, we tried to. But Golden Bantam (despite its name) grows tall, over five feet. It also had a germination-to-harvest time of 78 days. In theory this is plenty of time to get a decent yield in north Idaho.

In reality, we had spotty success. Not because the corn didn't grow well -- it did -- but because it often got damaged by the high winds and had difficulty reaching maturity before frost.

It was also late pollinating and therefore forming ears. This photo was taken September 1 of last year -- about two weeks before we could conceivably expect our first frost. Meaning, waaaay too late to form mature ears before the growing season ended.

Bottom line, last year we got about ten or fifteen ears of corn out of nine tires. NOT a good yield.

So this year we tried a new heirloom sweet corn variety called Yukon Chief. Developed at the University of Alaska in 1958, it promised 55 days from germination to harvest. Based on these promises, we planted twenty tires on June 6 of this year.

It promptly sprouted and grew vigorously. But it never grew tall.

This corn is tough. We had three violent thunderstorms during the summer which flattened it first one direction, then another. All three times it's sprung back upright (well, mostly). That in itself makes me admire it.

When the corn started tasseling at no more than two feet in height, at first I thought there was something wrong with it. But no, that's just the way it is. It puts all its effort not into height, but into early production. We didn't realize until later this is a huge advantage for us since the corn never got high enough to get irrevocably knocked over by wind, like the Golden Bantam corn did.

And my goodness, did this corn produce.

The ears were mature well before September 1 -- bliss!

On August 29, Don, Younger Daughter, and I (Older Daughter was away from home) went out to harvest the corn. I drew up twenty circles (to denote tires) so we could keep rough track of how many ears of corn we got per tire. We went out after the sun had set to avoid the heat of the day.

Despite the short stature, the ears were abundant.

We each took a tire, and counted ears as we pulled them. We pulled both big and small ears (though "big" is relative -- the largest ears were only four or five inches long).

We brought Lydia into the garden with us where she had a grand time exploring.

The tubs we brought were soon overflowing... we just tossed the picked ears into piles between the tires.

As we filled in the worksheet, it became apparent we were averaging about thirty ears per tire.

By the time the corn was picked, it was too dark to do anything else, so we left it overnight. The next morning I pulled the corn into dedicated garbage cans (by "dedicated" I mean we keep certain garbage cans for garden use only, not garbage)...

...and brought all 600 ears or so closer to the house so we could start shucking.

Needless to say the chickens thought this was a terrific idea.

It took a few days to get it all shucked...

...and we had help all the way.

All those ears -- reduced to two bins.

What we didn't eat fresh, we dried.

We'll save some for seed, and the rest we'll try grinding and see what kind of cornmeal it makes. I won't bother canning any because I've got so much corn canned up already.

I don't know if we would have gotten higher yields from a different breed of corn. I don't know, because nothing else would come to maturity or withstand the high winds we get. So if I can get 600 ears of corn from 20 tires with this short-season heirloom, you can bet your booties we'll continue to grow it.

We had vague hopes that we could grow enough corn to rough-grind and feed to the chickens, but I realize now we'd have to have at least an acre of corn to do this. However we'll still double the number of corn tires we'll plant next year. It's so nice to have success at last!


  1. Replies
    1. I just added a point of clarification in the post, thanks for pointing it out. I have so much corn canned up already (several gallons) that I didn't bother canning any of this year's crop.

      - Patrice

  2. yay for heirloom! I grew some heirloom potatoes and the hoards of grasshoppers didn't touch them but ate my russets instead.

    1. kara,
      what name potato heirloom and what growing zone? thanks.
      deb h.

  3. I'll have to remember that type, we have similer problems here with growing corn, the season's just not long enough, especially with the stalks getting knocked over....

  4. We haven't been able to grow corn either. Maybe we will try this variety next year. I am not sure how you use your corn, but we love eating corn on the cob all year long. We purchase about 200 (or more) ears from local farmers, leave it in the husks, and put it all in a black garbage bag and throw it in the chest freezer. When we are ready for the taste of fresh corn, we just throw it on the bbq or remove the husks and boil in on the stove. If you bbq it, the husks keep the moisture from being frozen in the corn and basically steams it. You can also leave the husks on and put it in the microwave. We have been doing this for years and guests always ask how we have fresh corn in January!

    1. Interesting.... I've got to try that!!

  5. Holy Moly and good golly Miss Molly! This is the second ringing endorsement I've read for Yukon Chief corn.

    I'm absolutely, posi-muh-tively going to plant this corn next year. I'm so impressed. Nice job!

    Who cares if the ears are smaller than usual - it looks to me like the overall yield weight of the harvest is outta sight. That's what we look for, isn't it?

    Just Me

  6. We love the Yukon Chief corn and have been growing it for 6 years here in north Idaho (north of CDA). It is only supposed to grow 3-4 feet tall, although we do have some that are 5-5.5 feet. They are very hardy in the wind and always produce well with a high germination. Most stocks produce 2 ears. We planted soaked seed on 6/11/14 and harvested the ears on 8/25/14. even then, some of the ears were over mature and starchy, so we could have harvested earlier than that. We planted 6 rows with 18 (x2) per row and then thinned to one per spot when they were 6" tall. I would say that we got about 180-200 ears. They are drying in our basement and ready to rub off and store. Some to eat, and some to plant. We feed the stocks to the cows and they love them. I used to cut them by hand with nippers into 2-3" pieces but my Dad gave us his chipper/shredder this year and we used that. It needs to be really dry to use the chipper/shredder.
    TC's advice about freezing is good. When we would visit the central valley of CA and buy corn (13 for $1, ah, those were the days)they suggested wrapping the corn, with the husk still on, in newspaper and then freezing it.

  7. Patrice, if you picked it at the 'sweet corn' stage, will the kernels reliably sprout? Please post an update next year what germination rate you get. I had an ear of Bantam from a couple of years ago, I missed its fresh-eating window so I let it dry down on the stalk. Those seeds grew ok, meaning around 80%.

  8. Just curious - how do you go about drying the ears? Plus - keep us posted on your thoughts once you try grinding into meal. Thanks for a great post!

  9. Corn should be allowed to dry on the stalk and then you pick the ears off and shell it. I don't quite understand why you pick it green and lay it out to dry.

  10. Where did you get your seed to start? I'm definitely interested in them!

    1. Victory Seeds. The corn is hyperlinked to the source.

      - Patrice

  11. this was very informative..think we will look into growing this next year.thanks for the info

  12. Is it yummy to eat as corn on the cob? Is it good canned? When you dry it does it make a good corn bread?

  13. I saw this blog entry and I thought of you.

    Corn Cob Jelly.