Raising your own food – Corn, the other grain
Continuing in our assessment of how you should develop your food plan – Corn is the third crop that we will look at as a basic component of your diet and a great source of calories, several of the B vitamins (1, 2, 5, 6, 9), and some minerals (Magnesium and Phosphorus mainly, with some Iron, Manganese, Potassium and Zinc).
Fun facts first: the US produces around 50% of the world’s corn (take that Russia!) and it is the third largest grain crop. About a third of the harvest is currently used for ethanol, a third for animal feed (are you raising chickens, rabbits, goats at your place?), 10% for distilling (hmmm, we will have to look at this later…), 10% for high fructose corn syrup, and 10% for human consumption (Source USDA). The USDA estimates that Americans eat about 25 to 30 pounds of corn (fresh, frozen, canned) in a year but since a lot of food in the grocery store have corn added in some form – they upped their estimate of total consumption in the US to 160 pounds per person.
If I extrapolate all that out, given that an ear of corn is about 120 grams (4 ounces which is also considered to be a serving of corn), you need about 120 ears of corn per person a year for the corn consumed as corn. Each serving has approximately 450 calories times 120 servings equals about 54 thousand calories or about 150 calories per day (if you eat corn every day). Isn’t math fun? Ok, maybe not so much… The point is you want to grow some corn and the climate in North America is conducive to growing corn so it all makes sense.
Going to grow all your corn yourself? A family of four needs almost 500 stalks (they say you should get more than one ear per stalk but to plan for one just in case). You can plant 20 stalks in 15’ so you would need 25 rows total. Rows are 24” to 32” apart so total area is just over 600 sqft which is not too much.
Corn tassels pollinate the corn ears so planting corn in a cluster (close together) promotes fertilization and growth of nice plump ears of corn. You can give a corn plant an assist by placing a paper bag over the tassels and giving them a shake so the pollen drops down on the ear silk. We will call that the vegetable equivalent of a reach around.
Corn is also a full sun plant (like wheat and potatoes and rice). Plant 3-4 seeds in a shallow hole every 9-12 inches and tamp it down (step on the hole). One ear of corn can have 800 kernals so one ear might be enough for ten 15’ rows of corn.
Corn takes 2-3 months to grow from seed to harvest (depends on the variety that you plant). Keep the soil moist (water if the top of the soil starts to dry out). You can plant as early as one week before the average last frost in your area but you may wish to stagger your planting in the spring so you have successive rows ready for harvest throughout the late summer and early fall. When the silk turns brown, the ears are ready to harvest. Fresh corn tastes better (isn’t that true for most vegetables and fruits) because once the ear is picked, the sugar in the corn starts to turn to starch. Keep the picked ears cool to keep them fresh for a couple of days but any longer than that and you should look at canning the corn. If you have done successive planting, you won’t be swamped with a whole field of corn to can in one go, you can take it a little easier with more manageable volumes at any given time.
Another benefit of growing corn is that the stalks and the husks make good animal feed and fertilizer. You can feed the cobs to your goats or pigs. Any kernels that were overripe can go to the chickens or ducks or any excess you have can be dried and turned into scratch. If you do use some of your corn to make spirits, the residue makes great animal feed. Basically, anything you don’t eat can be either composted or fed to animals.
Of course there are other animals that may want to get in your corn before you get a chance to harvest. You will probably have to fence in your corn to keep rabbits, squirrels, deer and racoons out. And a scarecrow gets its name from trying to keep birds out of the cornfield… On the other hand, one of the nice side effects of raising corn is for hunting! In the fall and winter, large flocks of birds will converge on corn fields that have recently been harvested. Dove, duck, pheasant, geese. (especially if you have a stock pond on the property). In Texas, and other places, huge feral pigs (some 200-300 lbs) and deer are attracted to corn crops. Some people use corn feeders to bring in the hogs and deer! Free Meat!!!!
So you can determine which variety of corn you want to grow and experiment with different seeds to see what works best in your area but be sure to include growing corn in your food plan as another staple that provides calories and nutrition.
Only 100 seeds in a pack 300 seeds in a pack