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Well, the best news I can share with you is that spring is only 53 days away. I am so ready for warm. Even the dogs are complaining about the cold, in their own way. It’s got to be a pretty inviting scent to get them to roam very far from the door. When the door opens they make a beeline straight for the wood stove. It’s too funny.
The snow sure did make everything pretty. The stark branches of the trees look like they’re reaching for the warmth of the sun. The cedars still have white gloves on their boughs that make them bend to the earth. I just keep repeating to myself that we needed this water, as I hike up the hill each day.
It won’t be long before we get to start some seeds. We haven’t yet set the date for the annual heirloom seed workshop at the library. I’ll let you know as soon as we get a date. Until then, keep checking out those catalogs and planning your garden.
As soon as the white stuff melts, I’ll be laying out some plastic to warm the garden soil. You can buy big rolls cheaply and cut them to any size you need. It works like a blanket and speeds up the soil warming process. Every little bit helps.
Now, we’ve covered how to grow, harvest and store beans and tomatoes in the last two columns so let’s move on to corn. I’ve grown sweet corn and popcorn, and popcorn is the easier of the two — primarily because it doesn’t attract as many “fans” from the wild.
Corn is pollinated by the wind, so the garden plan is key. If you want to grow different varieties they must be 100 feet apart, so you don’t cross-pollinate and end up with something different all together. You also need to plant them in blocks, so that they get the best opportunity for pollination. You can plant a new block every two weeks, so you have longer harvests.
Corn doesn’t do well in heavy clay soil. The soil pH can range from 5.5 to 7.0, but it must be warmed to 60 degrees before you can direct seed. Seed should be 1 inch deep and about 10 inches apart. Leave 30 inches between each row.
After planting, wait about a week and start watching for sprouts. If you plant a super sweet, watch those sprouts closely. The sprouts are super sweet, too, and attract all kinds of wildlife. They make a great tasting snack or salad garnish, but most of us wait for the ears.
A quick, light dusting of baby powder will help keep the sprouts safe. You’ll also need a fence of some kind, or a really dedicated dog.
Depending on what variety you plant, you’ll get one to two ears per stalk. If you plant miniature corn you’ll get about 20 ears per stalk, but you must harvest them just days after the silks appear.
If you plant popcorn, you get to wait until the husks have dried up. Sweet corn takes a little more watching to harvest at its peak. When the sugar really comes up everybody but us can smell it, so watch it closely. Poke a fingernail into a kernel. If milk squirts out it’s probably ready for the pot of water.
Every minute the corn is off the stalk the sugar starts to turn to starch, so it becomes less sweet. Keeping it cool or even cold is really important because it slows that process down. Keep the husks on and store it in the crisper drawer until you’re ready to cook.
Corn ear worms can be a problem during the ear formation and a little bit of mineral oil or Bt on the tips, just after the silks appear, will keep them from burrowing into the ears.
Now, if you haven’t yet heard, the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl. Just like the beginning of each gardening season, I’m wildly hopeful. Happy growing.
Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.