Raising Corn

corn3

Raising Corn

My young daughter sleeps with a seed catalog under her pillow all winter, and it is opened to the section touting sweet corn seed. The ears are perfectly filled out, and look good enough to eat right off the page. As we planted corn this spring, as with all other springs in her young life, she was ready to pick it the next day. And every year she is disappointed to learn that she has to wait for what seems like an eternity before the ears are ready.

However, now that she is old enough, I explained to her some of the things that we can do to hurry the corn along. I also told her that there are things that can really stunt the corn’s growth, and I knew she didn’t want that. I now have a very willing helper in the garden, at least in the corn rows. Let’s look at some of these ideas.

Corn can be planted in rows, evenly spaced. But our favorite way of planting it is to have one person with a shovel and one with the seed in hand. The person with the shovel sticks it into the ground at an angle, just deep enough to put the seeds about an inch into the ground. The seed person then tosses in five seeds, no more, no less. Then, a foot away, the process is repeated. I have seen our children make incredible time planting five long rows of corn in just a few minutes.

Corn doesn’t need a lot of water as it grows, but it does need more to sprout. In fact, we like to presoak our seed overnight before planting. It comes up faster, which is just fine with our younger gardeners.

Once the little plants are a few inches high, we fertilize it with lawn fertilizer. We don’t use much of it, but it sure kicks in the growth and also deepens the color of the leaves, which makes me think that there is a lot more photosynthesis going on. We also worked manure into the soil before planting, and will mulch with more manure later on. Corn likes a lot of nitrogen. But remember not to use that lawn fertilizer (21-0-0) on anything else. Garden fertilizer would be much better for the rest of the crops.

Then we do something that many people overlook. After the fertilizer is spread, we take a hoe and hill up the dirt around the stalks. This half buries them, but it will give them greater strength later on when they are more top-heavy. It also buries the weeds. It’s a great way to weed! Once this is done, and they are well-watered, the plants can put on several inches of growth in short order.

Watch the corn carefully during the growing season. If it gets too yellow, it needs more nitrogen. Quite often this is caused by overwatering. Fertilize more, water less. But don’t let it get too dry. Also remember to keep the weeds from interfering with their supply of water, sunlight and nutrients in the soil. Then just watch it grow.

Once the corn tassels, keep a close eye on it. Start checking ears when the tassels are drying out. You will want filled-out ears, but not so much that the corn is overripe. There is a very small window in which it is at perfection. If picked before that, the kernels will be somewhat small, although very flavorful. After that, they are starchy and not very sweet. Check by pulling back part of the husk and visually inspecting the ears. Then carefully fold the husks back up if that ear isn’t ready.

Once you have found an ear worthy of your dinner table, the very best way to have the very best corn is to pick it, husk it as you run, not walk, to your kitchen, quickly rinse it and drop it into a pot of water that is already boiling. Only have about two inches of water in it, though, so the corn will steam instead of boil. You will preserve many nutrients if kept out of the water. Steam for 3-4 minutes, top it off with butter and salt, and enjoy! Another idea is to roast it in the husks over a campfire or grill. Whatever your method, it’s hard to go wrong with fresh sweet corn.

To freeze it, simply steam it to stop the ripening, put it in cold water to cool it quickly, then drain it, cut off the kernels, and pop them into freezer bags. I like to cut it right in a 9×13 pan, then scoop it into bags. We usually pick what is ready, eat all we want for dinner, then freeze the rest. If we do this every day, it’s never a big job.

If you live in a rural area, there are probably plenty of little critters that would like you to share your corn with them, and I am not talking about children. These four-legged thieves are usually skunks or raccoons. They can really decimate a patch in short order. My neighbors are full of ingenious ideas for outsmarting them. Each swears by their own particular method, so if you are plagued by these furry invaders, you might consider trying one or more of these:

– Radio. Country Western only. If tuned to a classical radio station, they will consider it part of the fine dining experience. But if it’s Country Western, they run and hide. As a disclaimer, this tip was given to me by my neighbor who used to work as an announcer for a classical radio station.

– Short electric fence. Put it only about 4-6 inches off the ground. It won’t keep out the deer, but can be a deterrent to the smaller creatures. You will have to put it all the way around your corn patch, though.

– Squash. I mean the plant. If squash plants are growing between your corn rows, the animals generally won’t bother them. I don’t know why. Maybe they don’t like the feel of the leaves. But it works. It will make weeding more difficult, though.

Other people have suggested motion sensor lights. It is suggested (by my husband, after a nearly unfortunate experience) that you don’t go walking out in the corn patch when it’s dark. Fortunately for him, the little lump of black and white fur was trying to get away from him just as fast as he was trying to get away from it, but that little skunk sure gave him a scare.

Perhaps at that point one has to realize that even fresh corn isn’t worth that much, but it’s a tough decision.

Drying Herbs

drying herbs

How and Why to Dry Herbs

Imagine adding some homegrown herbs to a pot of stew simmering on the stove. Or brewing some herb tea using your own plants. Maybe a hot bath with lavender sounds relaxing. Or perhaps an omelette with chives from your garden is on the menu.   Sound wonderful? It might not be as hard as you think!

Herbs are one of the easiest things to dehydrate. They can be dried in the open air, but using a dehydrator helps the job go much faster, and there isn’t the chance of spoilage. There are a few basic rules to follow, but other than that, herbs almost dry themselves!

The best time of the day to harvest herbs is in the morning, after the dew has dissipated but not before the day gets hot. The newer leaves are the most flavorful, but all leaves are fine. It is best to use scissors instead of just breaking them off to avoid bruising them. Remember to gather the herbs before the plant flowers. At that point all of the plant’s energy goes into the buds and the leaves are not as strong, and may even be bitter.

If you enjoy gathering herbs from the wild, be sure you know what you are looking for. Also, avoid any plants that grow near roads or other sources of pollution. Dust and car exhaust really aren’t appetizing, can alter the flavor or strength of the herb, and may even be dangerous.

Once the herbs are inside, check them over carefully to remove discolored leaves, weeds and debris. Wash them carefully and shake off. The following methods can be used for drying:
Tie stems together and hang to dry upside down. This can be in the open, or in a paper bag with holes in it to keep out dust. This takes a little longer, but the bunches are sure pretty.
Spread them out on a clean sheet or towel on a countertop or picnic table. However, direct sunlight should be avoided. Herbs are delicate, and sunlight can destroy some of the valuable nutrients and oils.
Arrange in a single layer in a dehydrator, with the temperature set to no more than 105 degrees. This is the fastest method, and there is no worry of insects or damage. Remember, though, not to exceed that temperature. Much of the oils can be lost if the temperature is too high. It is also a good idea not to put more than one type of herb in the dryer at a time, because this can affect the flavor.

Herbs are dry when they are really dry and crumble easily. It is imperative that they are as dry as possible to retard spoilage and molding. If they are just wilting, they are not dry enough. Crushed herbs will lose nutritional value and aroma during storage. It is best to leave the leaves as whole as possible until use.
Store them in airtight glass jars. Some people recommend freezing them for two days to be sure there are no insects to cause problems with the harvest. Then, most importantly, label them! It is pretty frustrating to see several jars of herbs on the shelf and not being able to remember which is which. Perhaps others can remember things from months ago, but I certainly can’t.

Now try to think of some herbs that you would like to have an abundance of in your cupboard. Is the list a long one? Remember that it doesn’t take a lot of space to grow enough for a year, like it does to grow that much corn or winter squash. Only one plant, or a very few, will suffice for most things.

Think about trying these for starters:
Rosemary – great for baths, recipes and herbal tea.
Raspberry leaves – even more reason to keep raspberries. Great for teas.
Chamomile – soothing tea, very calming.
Chives – use in nearly any recipe except chocolate cake! They can be used in soups and stews, salads, casseroles, in marinades for meats, and a host of other meals.
Basil – easy to grow, and wonderful to have in the spice cupboard. Just check any recipe book and see how many recipes use basil. Sprinkle some on homemade pizza. It is instantly transformed into a gourmet meal, or it will at least seem like it because of the wonderful aroma.
Sage – think of turkey stuffing flavored with your own homegrown sage.
Mint – Sometimes this is so easy to grow that it is hard to keep in check. But it smells wonderful just walking by it. Pick a few leaves and bruise them, and take a deep whiff. Then take those leaves in and add a few to some lemonade. Freeze some in ice cubes for a decorative touch at a special dinner. Then leave enough for drying so that the summer flavors and aromas can be enjoyed year round. Try to leave them whole for use as garnishes in desserts too.
Parsley – harder to start from seeds, so see if any neighbors have some available. This is as versatile as they come. Like chives, parsley can be used in nearly everything to add flavor, color and nutrition. It is really hard to have too much parsley on hand. Sprinkle on casseroles, add to salads, and crumble into soups. That is one green item that children won’t be able to pick out of their dinner!

Now plan to grow some in your garden, or even your flower bed. Most herbs are decorative enough that they fit in almost anywhere. Be sure, though, that they are close by and easily accessible. You will want to use them often!

What to do about WEEDS!

WEEDS2

Now that the garden is planted and growing well, it’s time to notice that the vegetables aren’t the only plants thriving in that plot. It’s quite likely that there are at least a few weeds popping up here and there. Now it is time to talk about the menace these invaders are, and why they are so detrimental to your garden.

Sometimes it is easy to think that a few weeds aren’t going to make a lot of difference in the growth of the plants, but I have found the opposite to be true. Just last summer we planted two rows of carrots. They were still small when we went on a two-week vacation. When we returned, those poor carrots were desperately vying for sunlight against the taller invaders. As I found time, I would gradually weed my way through the rows, and it was interesting to see what happened. As I did so, the carrots that were released from their entanglements seemed to grow two inches almost overnight. The others stayed puny. Within a few days, the row had several different heights surging upward. It was almost as if they had been anxious to grow, but were halted in their progress.

This is really true for any plant, even trees. Although trees are much taller than the grass surrounding them, the trees grow much faster if that grass is removed for 2-4 feet all around the trunk. Why is this so? It is all about competition.

Any plants that are crowded together compete for sunlight. Trees that are close together grow taller more quickly, trying to reach for the canopy so that the sun can be available to its own leaves. Houseplants that don’t receive enough sunlight grow tall and spindly in an effort to reach more light. Their leaves even turn flat to the window, trying to maximize the light coming in. Because sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, their survival depends on it. A lack of sunlight may cause taller growth, but it is weak growth.

For instance, tomato plants that are grown under full-spectrum lights are stockier, with thicker stems. Those grown with minimal light are tall and spindly, and the leaves are lighter. They are not as healthy as the others. They are more prone to breakage and insect invasions, as well as diseases.

In the garden, removing the weeds that crowd the vegetables will benefit them greatly. They will grow faster and healthier, with stockier growth. There will be more leaves, and the plant will be denser. There will be a higher resistance to pests and diseases.

Weeds also rob the garden of moisture. What moisture is in the soil evaporates more quickly through leaves, and more weeds exacerbates this problem. This can cause the plants to shrivel and become weak. It is interesting to see that in most gardens, the growth of the weeds tends to outpace the growth of the vegetables. This could be because they tend to be hardier. Weeds have evolved in such a way that they can grow in somewhat forbidding circumstances. In a garden, where heat, light and moisture are in abundance, they can be almost as invasive as kudzu.

Nutrients in the soil are also depleted by those weeds. Although they don’t need as rich a soil as most vegetables, they still take their share, and grow even faster in the process. Some plants can be grown as a cover crop for a while, then tilled in as green manure, but it’s really not a good idea to do this with weeds. They come with baggage – namely, seeds. Weeds have also evolved in such a way that they produce many, many seeds that can hitchhike from place to place very easily, and lie dormant until growing conditions are met. Don’t give them a free ride to the fertile soil of your garden. Burn them, or get them off your property in a dumpster. Leave those valuable nutrients for your pumpkins and corn.

So what is the best way to handle this problem? First of all, try really hard not to let them get out of hand in the first place. Hoeing them out when they are small is one of the best ways to keep on top of it. Some things will need hand weeding, especially at first. But after that, when the plants are taller, the job is easier. In fact, once the plants are nearing harvesting stage, weeding can be suspended, because by then the plants themselves are crowding out the weeds.

Be especially vigilant removing quack grass. Its roots are incredibly tenacious, and can choke out a garden in short order. When working with this menace, as well as other weeds, be very sure to dig or pull out the roots, and not just the top of the weed. This will ensure that it will not just start growing again. With quack grass, remember to dig up all of the roots, following them along wherever they go. It grows quickly, and leaving even an inch of root is asking for more problems.

Corn can usually be weeded quickly by hilling them up when they are about a foot tall. This is done by hoeing up the dirt on each side of them, burying more of the stalk. This helps strengthen them anyway, and buries the weeds. By the time the weeds are growing again, they are shaded by the much-taller corn plants, and grow more slowly.

Once the garden is weeded, consider mulching to keep the weeds down for a longer time. Also, plan to weed the garden regularly, especially early in the season, to ensure the healthiest plants and fastest growth.

Perhaps the best thing to keep in mind is the Santa Claus principle: Hoe, hoe, hoe!

Substitutions From Your Food Storage

Substitions for food storage
I hate those times when I am in the middle of making a great recipe and I have run out of a certain item that it calls for.  This list is for those times!  A simple list of things that are in our food storage that can be used for substituting things called for in recipes.

When a Recipe Calls For You Can Substitute With This
1 square (ounce) baking chocolate 3 TBSP cocoa plus 1 TBSP fat
1 TBSP flour for thickening 1/2 TBSP cornstarch; 1 TBSP quick-cooking tapioca; 1 egg; 2 yolks; 2 TBSP cornmeal
1 Cup corn syrup 1C. sugar plus 1/4 C. liquid
1 cup honey 1 1/4 C. sugar plus 1/4 C. liquid
1 C. molasses 2/3 C. brown sugar plus 1/3 C. water
1 C. brown sugar 1 C. white sugar plus 1 TBSP molasses
1 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp baking soda plus any one of the following: 5/8 tsp cream of tartar, 1/2 C. sour milk 1/2 TBSP vinegar, 1/2 C. applesauce, 1/2 C. mashed banana, 1/4 C. molasses, 1/2 C. Yogurt
1 C. self rising flour 1 C. flour plus 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt
1 C. cake flour 7/8 C. sifted all-purpose flour
1 C. dry bread crumbs 3 slices of bread, dried
1 C. milk 1/2 C. evaporated milk plus 1/2 C. water; 1/3 C. instant nonfat dry milk plus water to make 1 C.
1C. Whole milk 2 1/2 tsp butter added to nonfat milk
1 C. buttermilk, yogurt or sour milk 1 C. milk plus 1 TBSP vinegar or lemon juice; or 1 C. milk plus 1 1/4 tsp. cream of tarter
1 C. cream 1 C. milk plus 3 TBSP butter
1 C. half-and-half 3/4 C. milk plus 1/4 C. whipping cream
1 C. whipping cream 3/4 C. milk plus 1/3 C. butter  (this will not whip)
1 egg 1 tsp unflavored gelatin plus 3 TBSP water; egg powder plus 2 1/2 TBSP water, psyllium husks
1 TBSP instant dry onion 1 small onion
1 clove garlic 1 tsp garlic salt or 1/8 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dry mustard 1 TBSP prepared mustard
1 C. orange juice 1/4 C. frozen orange concentrate plus 3/4 C. water
1 C. tomato juice 1/2 C. tomato sauce plus 3/4 C. water
1 TBSP fresh herbs 1 tsp dry herbs

Things I Learned From Hurricane Sandy: Tips for Hurricane Survival

Hurricane Sandy, Ocean Grove Pier -  New Jersey, October 29, 1012 - Photograph by Bob Bowné

Hurricane Sandy, Ocean Grove Pier –
New Jersey, October 29, 1012 – Photograph by Bob Bowné

Things that I learned from Hurricane Sandy

1. The excitement and coolness wears off around day 3

2. You are never really prepared to go weeks without power, heat, water etc. Never!

3. Yes it can happen to you.

4. Just because your generator runs like a top, does not mean its producing electricity.

5. If you do not have water stored up you are in trouble.
a. A couple of cases of bottled water is “NOT” water storage

6. Should have as much fuel as water
a. Propane
b. Gas
c. Kerosene
d. Firewood
e. Firestarter, (kindling, paper, etc)

7. Even the smallest little thing that you get from the store should be stocked up.. (spark plug for the generator, BBQ lighter, etc).

8. If you are not working, chances are nobody else is either.

9. I was surprised how quickly normal social behavior goes out the window. I am not talking about someone cutting in line at the grocery store.
a. 3 people were killed at gas stations within 50 miles of my home.
b. I did not say 3 fights broke out, 3 people were killed.

10. Cash is king (all the money in your savings means nothing)

11. Stored water can taste nasty.

12. You eat a lot more food when you are cold.

13. You need more food than you think if your kids are out of school for 2 weeks

14. Kids do not like washing their face in cold water.

15. Your 1972 honda civic gets to the grocery store as well as your 2012 Escalade… but the Honda allows money left over for heat, food, water, a generator, fire wood, a backup water pump, you get the idea..

16. The electrical grid is way more fragile than I thought.

17. Think of the things that are your comfort, your escape, a cup of hot chocolate, a glass of milk and a ding dong before bed, tequila, etc. Stock up on those too. You will need that comfort after day 3.

18. You quickly become the guy in the neighborhood who knows how to wire a generator to the electrical panel, directly wire the furnace to a small generator, or get the well pump up and running on inverter power or you are the guy whose Master’s degree in Accounting suddenly means nothing. (Love you Steve!)

19. A woman who can cook a fine meal by candle light over the BBQ or open fire is worth her weight in gold. And women, whose weight in gold, would not add up to much, usually die off first. Sorry skinny women.

20. It takes a lot of firewood to keep a fire going all day and into the evening for heat.

21. All the food storage in the world means nothing if your kids won’t eat it.

22. You might be prepared to take care of your children and their needs, but what about when the neighborhood children start to show up at your door?

23. Some people shut down in an emergency. There is nothing that you can do about that.

24. Your town, no matter how small is entirely dependent on outside sources of everything.
a. If supply trucks stop rolling in due to road damage, gas shortages or anything else you could be without for a long time.

25. In an emergency Men stock up on food, Women stock up on toilet paper.

26. I was surprised how many things run on electricity!

27. You can never have enough matches.

28. Although neighbors can be a great resource, they can also be a huge drain on your emergency storage. You need to know how you are going to handle that. It is really easy to be Bob the guy who shares on Day 3, not so easy on Day 11. Just reality.

29. Give a man a fish he eats for that day, teach a man to fish and he will never be hungry again.. Now I get it.

30. All of the expensive clothes in the closet mean nothing if they don’t keep you warm.

31. Same goes for shoes… Love you Honey!!!!

32. You cannot believe the utility companies. They are run by politicians!! Or so it seems,

33. Anything that you depend on someone else for is not avail anymore.

34. Quote “A man with a chainsaw that knows how to use it is a thing of beauty” hahaha

35. Most folks don’t have any emergency storage. They run to Wal-Mart and get water and batteries and then fill their tubs with water. That is it. A lucky few will get a case of ramen and a box of poptarts. That will be your neighbors supply.

36. Fathers, all the money you have ever made means nothing if you can’t keep your kids warm.

37. Mothers, everything you have ever done for your kids is forgotten if your kids are hungry.

38. You really do not want to be the “Unprepared Parents” The kids turn on you pretty quick.

39. Small solar charging gadgets will keep you in touch. Most work pretty well it seems.

40. Most things don’t take much power to operate.
a. Computers,
b. Phones
c. Radios
d. TV
e. lights

41. Some things take a ton of power to operate.
a. Fridge
b. Toaster
c. Freezer
d. Hot plate
e. Microwave

42. When it gets dark at 4:30pm the nights are really long without power.

43. Getting out of the house is very important. Even if it is cold. Make your home the semi warm place to come home to.. not the cold prison that you are stuck in.

44. Someone in your family must play or learn to play guitar.

45. Things that disappeared never to be seen again for a very long time.
a. Fuel, of all kinds
b. Matches, lighters of any kind etc.
c. Toilet paper
d. Paper plates, plastic forks and knives
e. Batteries, didn’t really see a need for them. (flashlights??? I guess)
f. Milk
g. Charcoal
h. Spark plugs (generators)
i. 2 stroke motor oil, (chainsaws)
j. Anything that could be used to wire a generator to the house.
k. Extension cords
l. Medicines (Tylenol, advil, cold medicine etc)

46. There was a strange peace to knowing all I had to do each day was keep my family safe, warm, and fed, but my peace was someone else’s panic.
There were also many things that were not learned from hurricane Sandy, but reinforced. Those things were the importance of my family and their love and support, especially my lovely wife, that my Heavenly Father is really in charge, period, and finally that I am very thankful for the upbringing and experiences that have taught me and brought me to where I am .. Wherever that is…hahahaha..

God Bless!!!