Corn planting time

My taste in corn have changed over the years.  No more of eating funky GMO corn for me.  Home grown is always better, and having a variety of heirloom corn to grow makes it even better.  Last year I got a pack of a variety called Abenaki.  This corn is an open-pollinated flint corn originally cultivated by the western Abenaki (Sokoki) people in Vermont, and subsequently grown and maintained by pioneer farmers.  It comes in three colors with the entire cob being a single color.  The red color is a recessive gene so you need to plant a higher proportion of it to keep it coming back.  For those of you who do not have any biology back ground that means there are three possible gene combinations possible responsable for color.  It takes two recessive genes to give red color, one of each pair for orange, and both dominate genes will give yellow.  There is a lot of statistics that go into figuring out what percentage will come out any one color.  First studied by a monk named Gregor Mendel if you are interested in more information on it.

Red and yellow ears of Abenaki corn. The 3rd color is an in between of the two
Red and yellow ears of Abenaki corn. The 3rd color is an in between of the two

Last years planting was in a spot that was so windy that it kept knocking the plants over.  It looked like it also prevented some pollination of the ears that developed.  I rotated out the location to put them in a more sheltered section.  Hopefully this will make a large different in my final harvest.  Off of roughly 100 plants I harvested about 1 1/2 gallons of kernels.  Which is still not a bad quantity, but if all the ears were fully developed it would have been close to triple that.  To prep the soil i added in one cubic yard of composed barnyard manure to the garden spot, and then tilled it into the soil.  Total seeds planted was around 200 this year.  The nice thing about flint corn is that after you dry it on the cob you will have a storage life of over 10 years if stored in an airtight container.

Now for a little history and background on this wonderful corn:

The strain is somewhat variable, but plants typically grow 6 to 7 feet tall and bear 8 to 12-inch-long ears with eight rows of kernels that vary in color from golden-yellow to dark maroon red. The red gene is recessive, and a higher percentage of red kernels must be planted to maintain the color variation.

In taste evaluations of different corns conducted by Fedco Seeds, the cornmeal ground from Abenaki flint corn has proven superior in terms of taste and nutritional quality. A little sticky it can be eaten as a sweet corn, but is mostly used for posole or hominy. Its protein content is significantly higher than most flint corns (11% to 12% instead of 9%). It is rendered more nutritious through the process of nixtamalization, which involves soaking the seeds overnight in water and a small amount of fine wood ashes or hydrated lime, then slow-cooking in the same way as soaked dried beans. The resulting hominy (posole) is rich in niacin and complex protein, and it can be used in many dishes (soups and stews, polenta) and as masa flour for tortillas or tamales. The corn has a buttery aroma and a rich, creamy flavor.

The history and cultural significance of this corn is great. Bands of the western Abenaki (Sokoki) people grew corn and other crops (including beans and squash) for centuries, and it is estimated that some 250 acres of land east of Lake Champlain was under cultivation at one time.

This flint corn, or some closely related variety, was the only type to survive and produce a crop in Vermont during the infamous Year Without a Summer (1816), when snow fell in June and killing frosts struck in every summer month. The unusually cold weather resulted from the ash cloud that filled the upper atmosphere and blanketed the Northern Hemisphere following the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora—located halfway around the globe, on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies.

You can see why I have fallen in love with this variety of corn.  It is extremely hardy and has a very short growing period.  Both of these qualities make it a great corn for the unpredictable spring and early summer weather that we have in Oregon.  I was able to get the entire garden area worked up and planted while we had the strange dry weather this spring.  After my corn gets to be about a foot tall I am going to plant bush beans at the base of the plants.  Correct companion plantings to get the highest yield of a section while still replenishing the soil with nitrogen fixed by the beans into the soil.

My short little rows of corn.  all of them about 4 ft long
My short little rows of corn. all of them about 4 ft long

6 thoughts on “Corn planting time

  1. J.D. McLaughlin

    Such a great sounding corn! I will have to remember it for next year, especially if I’m not pleased with the varieties I’m planting.


  2. Pingback: Spring planting phase II | Shane's outdoor fun

  3. Bart

    Nice! I am growing Roy’s Calais for the first time this year. I only have about 50 plants. I planted it as a small “three sisters” garden in raised hills with Triail-of-tears beans and a variety of squash. Hoping to make some cornbread! Good luck with yours!


    1. Mine are looking great so far. The tallest is close to 12′ tall now with giant ears coming on. They look much better then the crop I planted last year. I planted mine to close together to get the squash planted with them. But the bush beans I planted in betweeen the rows are looking great so far. Good luck on your planting.


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