Friday, September 19, 2008

Harvest Moon

It is the middle of September and Summer appears to be winding down.  The cool evening air has moved in to replace the warmth that lingers long after the sun has set on summer nights. The summer growing season is coming to a close and it is time to harvest.

It always appears to be a simple idea:  when the fruit is ready pick it.  Like so many things, the harvest schedule is just more complicated than that.  Today is a great example.  In the last week of May I planted a fairly large section of corn for grinding.  Seven tight rows each a hundred feet long, give or take.  Not an Iowa corn field, but more than you could eat in an afternoon.
In the past I had grown sweet corn:  big, yellow kernels of sweet hybrid corn to boil up and smear with butter.  This year I have two kinds planted:  an open pollinated dent corn, and the present small patch of flint corn:  Indian Corn.  The dent corn story is a different day's chatter, presently the issue is the Indian Corn.

It has looked great all summer, growing nicely, tall, verdant and flowering well.  As it is not a hybrid, each stalk is a little different, one ear here, two there, three small ones on the next.  A week ago I began picking one and checking it out.  The kernels appeared to be large, full of color and the silks were drying.  I wanted to keep it on as long as possible in the field.
The goal with this corn is to dry the ears whole, rub the corn off of the cobs and then in the winter, cook it up as polenta, or corn bread or masa for tortillas.  If the corn doesn't dry properly then I end up with a stack of moldy, rancid cobs with no value.

This afternoon I wandered into the corn rows to check them out. The skies are showing the great chance of rain soon and I wanted to check them out prior.  What I found was a bigger problem than weather:  the ears had been chomped on by critters.  Most likely raccoons had found their way into the garden and begun feasting on the sweet, high protein snack.  They had chewed through maybe a dozen ears, pulling the sheaths down to get at the milky kernels.
The raccoons told me a couple of things: that the corn was ripe.  Pest, sadly, have a better gauge of the readiness of a crop than I.  Squirrels want the nuts when they are just about ready to pick, the aphids grab at the best looking broccoli, and the raccoons are not interested in undeveloped corn.  Secondly, I decided that it was time to bring in the corn.

I quickly began to pick as much corn as I could.  I found that they had nibbled on more ears than I thought, but there is still plenty for us for the coming cooler months when polenta will be the perfect warming dish for the table.  The corn is beautiful as I pull back the green from a few.  Bright red and white and blue and yellow corn.  The red is like blood, dying my hands as I rub the dried silks away.  It is nothing like the corn I am used to.  It feels real, genuine and of this earth;  it isn't trying to look like the neat rows in the grocery store.  Each ear is different, some thick, some skinny, short stubby ears and delicate lengthy grains.

The raccoons will have gotten a taste, but with luck I will have it all picked this afternoon.  We will it dry a bit and then began to process it when there is more time in a couple of weeks.  The tomatoes are also ready now, the apples falling off the trees, the shell beans coming on soon. The potatoes need to be dug while the ground is dry and so on.   

Back to the field.

1 comment:

  1. It's been the oddest of harvests this year. Close to mid-October and nary a beefsteak tomato has landed from garden plot to plate. Pumpkins have a hint of amber, but are veined mainly in green. And like your crops, what is ripe is fodder for the Vashon's varmits. A gang of greedy squirrels stripped my two English walnut trees in what seemed to be minutes. Now I know why they retail for $12.98/lb. locally; just try to find one to harvest.
    Tom | Tall Clover Farm


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