Thursday, 21 August 2014

Sweetcorn Salome

The sweetcorn this year has performed slightly oddly. The cobs have swelled and ripened well, but the plants themselves are rather stumpy. The result is that many of the cobs are low down on the plants, within reach of anything that decides to take a nibble.

In the past I have grown my sweetcorn in a 'three sisters' method. This involves growing three crops in one area, corn, squashes (including pumpkins and courgettes) and climbing beans. They are supposed to complement each other in terms of nutritional needs, light and shade. That may work perfectly well in the desert climate where the native American Indians used it, but here in the fens the beans don't seem to do so well in this system.
So this year I tried three different methods of growing my corn.

The first was to grow them in blocks - it is important not to grow sweetcorn in single rows as it is wind-pollinated.
The second was to grow them in stations, 4 sweetcorns, squash, 4 sweetcorns, squash...
The third was to grow a square of 9 corn plants under a wigwam of beans, surrounded by several courgette plants.

In the end, the first two methods did the best. For some reason, those in the third system never got mature enough. Looking back on it, I think they may have gone in a bit later than the others. The beans got nowhere.

So, the conclusion to my experiments is that it does not really matter which pattern you grow it in, as long as it is not in single rows! It does make sense, however, to grow squashes underneath, as the plants quickly creep along the ground between the corn plants and their leaves shade the ground nicely, keeping in the moisture and shading out the weeds.

One reason why my sweetcorn plants were a bit stumpy this year may be that I kept them in modules a little too long. I also used a different supplier, as my original seed supplier stopped stocking my favourite variety, Sweetcorn Lark. I doubt the change of supplier had much to do with anything.

So, when the field next door was harvested a few days ago, I was keen to gather in the corn cobs, for the invading rats are more than capable of climbing a corn plant to reach the succulent cobs, not that they'd need to climb very high this year.
Most of the cobs were nicely swollen and the tassels had turned brown, so in theory they should be ready. However, in this country sweetcorn needs a long growing season to get enough sunshine and I had squeezed this at both ends of the season. I sent Sue in to test one of the cobs and it was deliciously sweet and ripe.

192 sweetcorn cobs in a wheelbarrow

We then set about the task of harvesting 192 sweetcorn cobs. Some plants had two or even three cobs, but others we left unharvested in the hope that they would swell and ripen further.

Not many to go

I lugged the wheelbarrow full of cobs up to the house and set about stripping (the cobs). To be honest, some of them could have done with an extra couple of weeks on the plant as they had not fully ripened, but we had to balance that against the risk of them being nibbled. Also, if they are left on the plant too long they can go too starchy. Harvesting on a large scale becomes more tricky once the summer holidays are over too.
Some of the cobs had developed patchily. I guess this is down to not being well pollinated.
In the end we got nearly 150 cobs though. We put them whole into the freezer. No blanching. This has always worked well for us and should keep us supplied with delicious corn cobs throughout the year, until next August and the next harvest.

In fact, we've got enough for Sue to make some sweetcorn relish and the rejects, the unripe and patchy ones, well let's say that the chickens were very grateful indeed.

Stripping back 192 corn cobs, the mind wanders. So I leave you with a somewhat quirky version of the dance of the seven veils. Sweetcorn Salome!


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