Golden Bantam corn


Rumors Against Sweet Corn

My fourth and last planting of sweet corn went in a few days ago. I grow sweet corn despite reading years of advice that backyard gardens are too small to make sweet corn worth planting. In the last few decades, that advice has been reinforced by the fact that supersweet corn — which can be more than four times sweeter than heirloom (traditional) sweet corn, and holds that sweetness much longer after harvest — is so readily available at farmstands and markets. I strongly disagree on both counts!

Golden Bantam corn

Golden Bantam corn

Backyard gardens are too small? My vegetable beds are three feet wide and about 20 feet long. I plant corn in “hills,” which actually are not at all hilly. In gardening, a “hill” is a station, a location where you grow a clump of plants. Read more

Of Corn and Compost

Bed Transformation

In an hour and a half this morning, a 20’ long by 3’ wide bed of spired, aging corn stalks morphed into a bed of succulent, young greenery in the form of endive and Chinese cabbage transplants.

Before beginning this job I harvested what ears were still ripe on the stalks. The yield from this first corn planting was small, both in quantity and size of ears. Old fashioned Golden Bantam, as told by its name, normally yields small ears — but not usually as small as the 3 to 5 inch long ears I harvested. Golden Bantam sweet corn, non-hybrid
Planting in “hills” (clusters of 4 plants) usually provides for adequate pollination, but poor weather at a critical developmental stage might have thrown pollination awry.

At any rate, with ears harvested, I lopped each stalk in half with my Hori-Hori knife, then dug straight down right around the base of each hill to sever the main roots so I could jerk the cluster of stalks up out of the ground. I also cleared away from the bed any weeds, and then carted everything over to a compost pile.

For the return trip from the compost pile, I loaded the cart with finished compost from another pile. An inch depth of compost slathered on top of the old corn bed had it ready to receive the endive and Chinese cabbage transplants I had waiting in the wings. The 40 transplants had grown up during the month of July in a seedling flat and were just ready to outgrow their individual cells. Each went into a quickly made hole jabbed into the ground, the holes 15” apart in each of the two rows running down that bed.

The refurbished bed will provide good eating beginning in early October and, with some covering for protection, on into December.

Compost Discoveries

Besides merely compost, the compost pile often yields some interesting and forgotten objects. (Some annoying things as well, such as those fruit labels glued to the skin of almost every piece of commercial fruit.)

For years now I’ve had trouble bringing myself to tossing anything compostable into the garbage for eventual burial in a landfill. It seems so wasteful of materials and disrespectful to the soil to use it as a dumping ground for cast-offs. Soil is a limited resource so eventually there will be no more acreage to bury trash.

Much of my clothing is cotton, wool, or leather — natural products that would eventually decompose to enrich a finished compost. So I sometimes compost such garments, forgetting that I did so until an uncomposted piece of the garment makes an appearance as I turn the compost pile or shovel out the finished material.

Partially composted Levi jeans

Partially composted Levi jeans

The distinctive zipper and fly snap from my Levi jeans, for example. After three compost cycles, except for the zipper and fly snap, those jeans are surprisingly intact but look more like sheer polyester slacks than Levi’s jeans. In contrast, my daughter’s non-Levi jeans were threadbare after merely one cycle.

Composted (almost) non-Levi jeans

Composted (almost) non-Levi jeans

I came upon a not immediately identifiable object today as I shoveled out finished compost for spreading on the endive/Chinese cabbage bed. It was about a half inch thick, almost flat except for some bends, and spongy. What could it be? Aha! The cushioning from my sheep skin booties. Most of the leather portion had decomposed.

My guess is that the bootie was transformed as far as it would go in the near future so I’m not returning it to the new pile for another cycle.

Worms in My Ears (Some of Them)

My ears, now, are relatively large. Corn ears, that is.

Since writing about the diminutive ears from my first planting of sweet corn, I’ve harvested a few ears from my second planting. That second planting went in 2 weeks after the first planting but is ripening close on its heels. Warmer weather earlier in the season compressed those ripening dates.

Just about every ear in this second batch of ears is large (for the variety Golden Bantam) and well filled with kernels. I occasionally find a corn earworm feasting on some of the kernels at the tip of the ear. Corn earworm
That’s the nice thing about home-grown sweet corn — it’s not nice having the earworms but it is nice not being bothered by them. Corn farmers don’t have that luxury. I just break off the tip with the worm and enjoy the rest of the ear.

The earworms got inside the husks by eating their way down the corn silks. Spraying the corn with the benign biological pesticide Bacillus thurengiensis (sold under such friendlier names as Thuricide), or cutting off or squirting some of mineral oil into the silks right after pollination is complete (3 to 7 days after silks appear) could control this pest. But why bother for an occasional pest that is so easily ignored or removed?

Picked At Peak Of Perfection

Tomatoes Vs. Sweet Corn

Some gardeners sit tapping their fingers waiting for the first tomato of the season to finally ripen. I don’t. I’m waiting to sink my teeth into my first-picked ear of sweet corn.

Not that my tomatoes don’t taste really good, but they’re also good all winter dried or canned, as is or as sauce. Or just frozen.

An ear of sweet corn, though, captures the essence of summer. Not just for flavor and texture. It’s the whole ritual of peeling back the husks and snapping them off at their bases, brushing away the silk before steaming the ears, and then, holding an ear at each end, biting off kernels from one end to the other like an old fashioned typewriter carriage. (An image perhaps unknown to readers below a certain age.)

An art to harvesting corn at the just-ripe stage, and anxiousness for that first taste, make harvesting, especially early in the season rather tenuous. I do early planning for that first taste by counting the days-to-maturity from when I planted. Problem is that the days listed on seed packets vary: One seed company lists days to maturity for Golden Bantam, the variety I grow, at 75 days; another lists it at 85 days; another at 78 days; and yet another, more realistically, at 70 to 85 days. It depends on where the variety is grown and how the season develops.

The real countdown begins when tassels first appear atop the stalks. Harvest will be about 3 weeks hence.

Then it’s time to keep an eye out for drying tassels at the end of an ear. Once that happens, the time is near. That right moment is critical because harvested too soon, and the kernels have little taste. And this is among those fruits — yes, corn is a fruit, botanically — that will not ripen at all following harvest. Harvested too late, and the kernels are tough and starchy.

That exact right moment for harvest is when the ear feels “full” when grasped in my hand and a kernel on the peeled-back husk, with the ear still attached to the stalk, oozes a milky fluid when pressed with the thumbnail. If all these systems are go, it’s time to snap off the ear and whisk it to the waiting pot of steaming water.Corn, testing for ripeness
Golden Bantam is a non-hybrid variety. Like other non-hybrids, a planting does not ripen all at once, which is not a good commercial characteristic. It’s fine for me, though, because between staggered plantings and a wide window for harvest for each planting, I intend to be eating Golden Bantam corn, a favorite for many gardeners since its introduction in 1906, for weeks to come.

Watermelon, Are You Ripe

Besides the first harvest of Golden Bantam, which I’ll be enjoying by the time you read this, I’m also eagerly awaiting the first harvest of watermelon, which, according to days-to-maturity listed on the seed packet, 65-75 days, I should have already been eating. (I sowed seeds indoors in pots in mid-May but it’s been a relatively cool growing season.)

While I’m confident in harvesting sweet corn at just the right moment, not so for harvesting watermelon, another fruit that will not ripen at all once harvested. Yes, I know all the published indicators of ripeness: drying up of the tendril closest where the fruit is attached to the vine; a dull thud, rather than a tighter, ringing or hollow sound, when rapped with my knuckles; and a yellow or cream-color of the fruit where it rests against the ground, and a toughening of the skin there, enough to resist indentation with a thumbnail. (The thumbnail is evidently a useful harvest tool.)

A ripe watermelon?

A ripe watermelon?

Still, I’m not confident about harvesting watermelons on time, and not even just the first ones to ripen. The trial and tribulation is worth it. I hope to be harvesting and eating ripe watermelon also by the time you read this. (Update: I did and it was.)

Tomatoes, You Are Ripe

In contrast to harvesting Golden Bantam corn and watermelon (I grow the variety Blacktail Mountain), tomatoes are cinch to harvest. Except for some green-ripe varieties, which I don’t grow, tomatoes turn their characteristic shade of red when ripe.

Tomatoes can even be harvested underripe to ripen off the vine. Research has shown that when a tomato is about half green and half pinkish-red on the vine, a layer of cells form across the stem of the tomato sealing it off from the main vine. Then nothing that can move from the plant into the fruit, so the fruit can ripen to perfection.Ripe tomatoes

I came across some older research (J. Amer. Hort. Soc. 102:724-731. 1977) showing that the best-tasting tomatoes are those thoroughly vine-ripened. Duh. I knew that, and will harvest only vine-ripened tomatoes.




With blossoms spent on forsythias, lilacs, fruit trees, and clove currants, spring’s flamboyant flower show had subsided – or so I thought. Pulling into my driveway, I was pleasantly startled by the profusion of orchid-like blossoms on the Chinese yellowhorn tree (Xanthoceras sorbifolium). And I again let out an audible “Wow” as I stepped onto my terrace, when three fat, red blossoms, each the size of a dinner plate, stared back at me from my tree peony.

Tree peony blossoms

Both plants originate in Asia. Both plants are easy to grow. Both plants have an unfortunate short bloom period, more or less depending on the weather. Fortunately, both plants also are attractive, though more sedately, even after their blossoms fade.

The tree peonies have such a weird growth habit. I had read that they were very slow to grow so was quite pleased, years ago, when each of the branches on my new plant extended its reach more than a foot by the end of its first growing season. Tree peony is a small shrub; at that rate mine would be full size within a very few years. Or so I imagined.

The tree peony still grows that much every year. But every year many stems also die back about a foot, more following cold winters. No matter, though, because every May giant silky, red flowers unfold from the remaining fat buds along the stem.Yellowhorn blossoms

I originally planted Chinese yellowhorn not for its flowers but for the fruits that follow the flowers. Each fruit is a dry capsule that later in summer starts to split open to reveal within a clutch of shiny, brown, macadamia-sized nuts. Yellowhorn frequently makes it onto permaculture plant lists, with the edible nuts billed as having macadamia-like flavor also. Not true. I’ve tried them raw and roasted. Roasting does change the flavor, but raw or roasted, the flavor is bad.Yellowhorn tree

Still, those blossoms make yellowhorn well worth growing. And after the blossoms fade, this small tree is adorned with shiny, lacy leaves. Much like the tree peony, yellowhorn grows many new stems each year, and many of the stems die back, not necessarily from winter cold but because they’re seemingly deciduous. I tidied the tree up last week by pruning off all the dead stems.

Out With You-All

Today, May 25th, with temperatures around 90 degrees F., I may not be able to restrain myself. It’s hard to imagine that temperatures could still plummet below freezing at least one night sometime in the next week or so. I’ve already ignored that “should” and a few days ago moved houseplants outdoors.

Why the rush? First of all, houseplants enjoy growing outdoors more than growing indoors. Outside, breezes rustling leaves and stems make for stronger, stockier growth and rain showering the leaves washes off a winter’s accumulation of dirt and grime.

After a winter indoors, the plants do need to acclimate to these conditions, which is why they start their outdoor vacation on the terrace on the north side of the house, which blocks wind and, for part of the day, sunlight.

I also urged the plants outdoors because populations of aphid and scale insects were outgrowing the appetites of the ladybugs crawling up and down the stems. Outside, natural predators keep pests in check and, if necessary, I can spritz the plants down to knock off pests and spray soap or summer oil to kill them without worrying about getting spray or oil on windows, walls, or furniture.

The Rush On Sweet CornCorn planting

Even tender seeds, such as corn, squash , and beans, can be sown now. The earth has warmed enough for decent germination, and by the time the plants are up, warm weather will have settled in for the season.

Tomorrow I plant sweet corn. Kinky as it sounds, I’m anxious to sink my teeth into a freshly picked ear.

Upcoming Workshop

June 24, 1-4:30 pm, DRIP IRRIGATION WORKSHOP at the garden of Margaret Roach in Copake Falls, NY. Don’t wait for dry weather to learn about this easy and better (for you and plants) way to water, including participation in hands-on installation. For more information and registration,


End of Summer But I Still Need some Watermelon

    Given sun, heat, and reasonably moist, fertile soil, watermelons are easy to grow. The greater challenge is in harvesting them at their peak of perfection. Even professionals sometimes fall short, as witnessed by not-quite-ripe watermelons I “harvested” awhile ago from a supermarket shelf and, a couple of weeks later, from a table at a local farmers’ market.
    That was while I was waiting for my own watermelons to ripen — the delectable variety Blacktail Mountain. But should I have been waiting?
    All sorts of indicators are touted for telling when a watermelon is ripe. The part of the melon laying on the ground supposedly turns yellow. The tendril opposite where the melon in question is attached dries up. Or my favorite method: thumping. Knock you knuckles on your forehead, your chest, and your stomach. The sound of a ripe watermelon should match the sound of the chest thump. The forehead sound indicates that the melon is underripe; the stomach thump, overripe.

Watermelon, it was ripe & delicious

Watermelon, it was ripe & delicious

    Sure, one could pull out the bells and whistles. As I wrote, even professionals have problems determining watermelon ripeness. To aid in commercial harvesting, nuclear magnetic resonance, one possibility, was considered — at $60,000 to $1,000,000 — out of budget. Acoustic resonance testing ($950) was a more viable alternative, but still not for me, with my five plants.
    After my two disappointing purchases, my mouth was watering for my own melons. I ignored the question mark hovering in air above the largest of the lot and, despite its lack of a dried tendril, a yellow bottom, or a telltale thump, cut it from the plant. Long story short: It was delicious, perhaps just a tad overripe.
    What about the other waiting melons? I’m just going to harvest them, as needed, and hope for the best.
    Update: I may have one more addition to the imperfect list of watermelon ripeness indicators. It seems that ripe melons might develop a whitish, waxy “bloom” on their skins.
    Update on the update: Scrap that way bloom indicator. Or, it might be part of the picture. Now I look for a number of indicators, and if some indicate ripeness — I thump the melon before picking.

Next Year: More Watermelon Plants

    Part of the watermelon problem is that I don’t grow enough watermelons. I once lived and gardened in southern Delaware, a few miles from one of the epicenters of watermelon production. With ideal climate and soil (sandy), I grew an abundance of large watermelons. Whether or not a single melon was picked underripe was not so critical. Once ripening began, any unripe ones could be relegated to the compost pile; a better one was always in the offing.

My Favorite Vegetable (Fruit?)?

    Like watermelons, sweet corn is also easy to grow. It can get by with less heat than watermelon, but demands a more fertile soil. Harvesting sweet corn at its peak of perfection also can be a challenge, though not nearly the challenge of watermelon. Picked too soon, corn is tasteless and toothless; picked too late, and it’s too starchy and toothy, a delight for animals, excepting humans.
    The first hint as to when I get to pick corn is when tassels atop the stalks begin to shed pollen grains — millions per tassel!

Corn, testing for ripeness

Corn, testing for ripeness

   About three weeks later, I start peering into the corn bed to look at the silks spewing out the ends of each ear. Silks are more or less dry on a ripe ear. At that point, I can usually tell ripeness by just wrapping my hand around the ear to feel its fullness, although less than perfect pollination can drain the bulk of a ripe ear so it feels underripe. (It’s hard to imagine less than perfect pollination when you consider that each tassel sheds literally millions of pollen grains; then again, each grain remains viable for only a few minutes; then again, again, it can travel hundreds of feet in that few minutes; then again, again, again, each kernel only develops if a pollen grain lands on a germinates on the single silk to which it is attached.)
    Any doubt about ripeness, and it can be confirmed before committing to harvest by peeling back the husk just enough to see some kernels. Their color and plumpness might be a giveaway. If not, a thumbnail pressed into a kernel should yield a milky fluid.
    Sweet corn, in contrast to watermelon, is easy to produce in quantity, even in a relatively small garden. So tasting an ear is no great sacrifice; there’s plenty more.
    Hybrid varieties of corn tend to ripen uniformly, so once one ear in a bed is ripe, the whole bed is likely also ready for harvest. A bed of a non-hybrid variety requires more frequent assessment and harvesting, which is better for home use where you might want a few ears each day or so, rather than a once-over harvest. With successive planting and selective harvesting, we’ve been enjoying sweet corn almost daily since the end of July.


 Why Grow Sweet Corn?

   With all the supersweet, tender ears of corn readily available at farms, farmers’ markets, even supermarkets these days, why do I bother to grow my own sweet corn? Because it tastes better, much better. Corn can be too sweet, and too tender for many of us maizophiles.
    I grow the variety Golden Bantam, which was the standard of excellent in sweet corn a hundred years ago. Its fat, golden kernels are toothsome, giving you something to chew on (but they’re not too chewy), with a rich, corny flavor. And yes, they are also sweet, just not supersweet.
 A bed of ripe Golden Bantam corn   Corn is a relatively pest-free vegetable that warrants space in any garden. I grow corn in hills (clusters) of three plants each with 2 feet between hills in the row and two rows of hills down each 3-foot-wide bed. With each stalk yielding one to two ears, I reap 30 to 60 ears for each ten feet of bed! That’s a lot of ears, and it’s in space in which I sow early lettuce or spinach before planting the corn, and late turnips or, again, lettuce, spinach, arugula, or other cool season vegetables to follow the corn harvest.
    Of course, I plant more than just one 10 foot bed of corn and I spread the harvest season with successive sowings, 4 of them 2 weeks apart.
    There is one limitation to backyard corn: raccoons. Given the opportunity, they will harvest every ripe ear. Trapping is one way to keep them at bay. My dogs, Sammy and Scooter, spend day and night frolicking outdoors — and convincing raccoons to search for greener pastures.

GMO and Crap Shooting

    Golden Bantam corn, because it originated in 1906, is, of course non-GMO, that is, a “non genetically modified organism.” (As of now, almost all commercial sweet corn is still non-GMO; just about all field corn, which makes its way into animals, corn syrup, and more packaged products than you can imagine, is GMO.) This is my lead-in to clearing up some basic misconceptions about what GMO means.
    When the pollen from any plant lands on the female part of a flower of another plant, cross-pollination occurs. The resulting seeds and the plant growing from those seeds carry genes contributed from each of the two parent plants. As a result, the offspring are similar to, but not genetically identical, to the parents. The offspring is a natural hybrid.
    Enter Homo sapiens . . . Since the dawn of civilization, we humans have sought certain traits in our plants. To get plants with such traits, we chose plant parents having qualities to our liking and deliberately mated them in the hopes that their offspring would pick up only the parents’ good traits. The more offspring that are grown, the better the chance of finding a hybrid — one produced with human assistance, in this case, possessing desirable traits.
    Besides the crapshoot of traditional breeding, success is further limited by our only being able to choose from among plant parents that are related closely enough to breed. For instance you could not mate a tomato plant, which is not frost tolerant, with, say, a flounder, a fish very tolerant of freezing temperatures, in an effort to make a frost tolerant tomato. Tomatoes and fish are not even distant kin and could never breed with each other under natural conditions.
    About 30 years ago, scientists developed methods for circumventing the capriciousness of natural or human-assisted breeding. Laboratory methods were developed for teasing a desirable gene out of a cell of one organism, then injecting the gene into cell of another organism to create new organism — a GMO. And I do mean a “new organism,” because it contains genetic material that need not have come from a related organism.
    That “fish tomato” was, in fact, created by incorporated the so-called antifreeze gene from winter flounder into a tomato. It turns out that gene expression is not as straightforward or as predictable as once imagined. The fish tomato was a commercial flop in its frost tolerance and other agronomic characteristics; perhaps it would have been a good swimmer.
    Since that fish tomato came and went, other GMOs have been developed. Many have been commercial successes.
    Just to be clear: While it is true, as is often stated in support of GMOs, that hybridization or cross-breeding has been going on in nature for eons, that cross-breeding has always been between closely related species. Humans intervened, but nature could also have produced those traditional hybrids.
    All the above involves, in some sense, genetic modification. You are a genetic modification of your parents. But the term “genetically modified organism,” or GMO, genetically engineered, or transgenic organism, signifies an organism that has picked up genes via manipulation in a laboratory, often genes that never could have showed up naturally in the organism.

Some Summer in Winter

    I awaited my first taste of this season’s Golden Bantam with more anticipation than my first taste of tomato. Finally, we’re awash in sweet corn, more than we can eat.Dried sweet corn, for storage all winter.
    But six weeks of sweet corn will not satisfy, so we’re packing away some for winter. Steaming or boiling the shucked cobs arrests enzymes that change kernel’s sugars to starches. With sweetness retained, we slice kernels from cobs, then either freeze them or dry them. Either way, they are a flavorful addition to soups, stews, and breads on dark, cold, winter days. But nothing like biting into a freshly steamed cob in the heat of summer sun.

For More, Live . . .

Check out my upcoming lectures for the weeks and months ahead at

Controversial Garlic & Corn

When to Plant & Whether to Plant, Corn & Garlic

Into the ground goes the stinking rose. That’s garlic. As a matter of fact, by the time you read this my garlic cloves will have been in the ground for awhile, since the beginning of the month, already sending roots out into the soft earth.

Planting garlic this early is sacrilege in most garlic circles. But it may make sense.

Garlic needs a period of cool weather, with temperatures in the 40s, to develop heads. Without that cool period, a planted clove merely grows larger, without multiplying. Which is why it’s planted in fall. Spring-planted garlic might still get sufficiently chilled or needs to be artificially chilled, but yields are generally are lower than fall-planted garlic. Garlic cloves planted 4 inches apart in a furrow.

Lower yields could also be because the cloves, planted in spring, must put energy into growing both leaves and roots. Roots grow whenever soil temperatures are above 40 degrees F., so fall-planted cloves start growing roots immediately. And for quite a while because, with the ground cooling more slowly than the air, balmy weather lingers long in the soil in fall, especially when it’s covered with an insulating layer of wood chips, compost, straw, or other organic mulch.

My reasoning for late summer planting rather than fall planting is that the sooner the bulbs are in the ground, the more time roots have to grow before temperatures drop consistently below 40 degrees. More root growth now means more roots to fuel leaf growth in spring which, in turn, means bigger heads to harvest next summer. More root growth also means that cloves are more firmly anchored into the ground through winter, so are less likely to heave up and out of the ground as it freezes and thaws.

The caution against planting as early as I suggest is that leaves might awaken and push up through the ground in fall, only to be snuffed out by winter cold. True. But garlic is a monocotyledenous plant, so its growing point, like that of other “monocots” (such as lilies, onions, grasses, orchids, and bananas), lies beneath the ground, protected from cold. The usual recommendation for garlic planting is to plant early enough to allow time for some root growth but late enough so leaves don’t appear aboveground.

Leaves peering above ground in fall might even help spur root growth, at least once they start exporting energy. (Their initial growth is fueled by energy reserves in the planted clove.) Even if winter cold kills the leaves, they will have done some good if they begin growth soon enough. The sloppy mess of frozen leaves could, admittedly, breed unwelcome bacteria or fungi.

Biological systems are complex, and plants don’t read what I write and may not follow my reasoning. Just to check, I planted only half of my garlic bed; I’ll plant the other half in a month, the recommended planting time. Next summer I’ll know if my garlic cloves followed my reasoning.

Corn, Worth Planting

Garlic is for the future; sweet corn is for the present. Whoever it was — and there were plenty of those “whoevers” — that recommended against growing sweet corn in a small garden because it wasn’t worth the space did a disservice to gardeners. My garden isn’t all that big yet we’ve been harvesting all the sweet corn we can eat and freeze since early August and will continue to do so for much of this month.

Sweet corn can share a bed with other vegetables, lettuce here.

Sweet corn can share a bed with other vegetables, lettuce here.

My vegetable garden is in 18 foot long, 3 foot wide beds, and I planted 4 beds at two week intervals from early May until the third week in June. I sowed the seeds sown in hills (clumps) to end up with 3 to 4 plants every two feet in a double row running down each bed. Planting in hills provides better pollination and resistance to wind than planting rows of single, more closely spaced plants.

Each stalk yields one or two ears, so a conservative 1.5 ears per stalk and 3 plants per hill computes to yields of 81 ears of corn from each of four beds. That’s a lot of sweet corn! And not just any sweet corn, but Golden Bantam Sweet corn, the standard of excellence in sweet corn a hundred years ago. You can’t buy ears of this variety these days. It’s the only one I grow.

Corn, densely planted, and ready for harvest

Corn, densely planted, and ready for harvest

Pumping out all those delectable ears requires good growing conditions. To whit: Very fertile, well drained soil; water as needed; and little competition from weeds. I slathered the beds with an inch or more of compost in spring and all summer plants’ thirst has been daily and automatically quenched with drip irrigation.

I didn’t even have to devote those beds to only sweet corn for the whole season. Earliest plantings were preceded and are followed by quickly maturing vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and radishes. Turnips, winter radishes, and bush beans are other possibilities to follow harvest of those first sowings of sweet corn. A row of carrots and beets was sown

Delectable Golden Bantam, a hit since 1906

Delectable Golden Bantam, a hit since 1906

up the middle of the second planting shortly after the corn emerged and is doing fine now that the corn has been harvested and those plants cleared away. I’m still trying to figure out what to plant to follow the third planting, which is just finishing up.

I also grow popcorn, but that’s another, also delectable story.

A corn bed, a few weeks after harvest & cleanup

A corn bed, a few weeks after harvest & cleanup

Demise of Miss Kim, Sweet corn

Aug 30, 2012 #34
by Lee Reich
I killed Miss Kim. Sure, she was pretty enough, with lilac purple flowers late each spring. In fact, she is  . . .  I mean “was” . . . a lilac, although she was Syringa patula, a different species from the common lilac (S. vulgaris). 
The very reason that I had planted Miss Kim was because she was different. She would blossom later than the common lilac, extending the season when lilac blossoms and their fragrance could be enjoyed. Later in summer, her leaves were never to be marred by the powdery, white coating — powdery mildew disease — that mars the leaves of common lilacs. And her expected stature, no more than 6 feet high, would be fitting for the bed of perennial flowers that she would call home. 
The relationship did not work out. Her later blossoms did not extend the fragrance of lilac blossoms, at least not the heavenly aroma of the common lilac. Miss Kim’s flowers were fragrant but not pleasantly so. Her growth was my oversight: I should have predicted that the rich soil here in the Wallkill River floodplain would coax Miss Kim to new and greater proportions, proportions that overpowered other plants in the flowerbed. 
So Miss Kim had to go. After an initial effort with shovels, I, along with helpers David and Jonathan, coaxed her root ball out of the ground by adding a tractor and chain to the tool mix. Unfortunately, this is not the ideal time of year to dig up a large shrub for replanting. Miss Kim is now in some kind of lilac heaven.
Perennial bed, minus Miss Kim
The spot vacated by Miss Kim is thankfully open now to light and air. A bit too open, in fact, so a replacement shrub is waiting in the wings. My probable choice this time around: summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia), a native shrub that is adorned with fragrant, usually white bottlebrushes of blossoms in late July. 
Clethra usually grows to about 6 feet tall (uh-oh) but some varieties are more compact. I’ll be on the lookout for the variety Hummingbird (to 4 feet tall, heavy flowering, shiny leaves), Pink Spice (dwarf height unspecified, pink blossoms, dark, shiny leaves), or September Beauty (dwarf height unspecified, blossoms 2 weeks later than others). 
Clethra grows in sun or shade, in either case needing a moist, acidic soil. My site is in full sun; I’ll bank on plenty of mulch for keeping the soil moist. 
There’s time until fall to ponder which clethra to plant, or even whether to plant something else. Fall is particularly good for planting because the soil is just right for digging, warm and moist, not sodden, and because roots will grow in their new home but shoots won’t grow until after they’ve experienced sufficient cool weather between fall and spring. I like to plant on October 14th.
Not that Walmart is the go to place for good sweet corn but Walmart is, after all, the largest retailer of organic foods. Now there’s one more reason to grow your own sweet corn (in addition, of course, to at least some others of your own vegetables and fruits). Soon to be found on Walmart’s produce shelves: GMO sweet corn,”GMO” as in “genetically modified” sweet corn. 
Most corn grown in this country is, unfortunately, GMO corn. That corn is field corn, destined for animal feed, ethanol, and processed foods. Allergens, pesticide-resistant pests, adverse health effects to animals fed such crops, genetic contamination of wild plants and non-GMO crop plants, questionable economic advantages, increase pesticide use, and a host of unknowns are among the reasons that GMO crops should be banned. (For more, see GMO Myths and Truths at
Golden Bantam corn, grown here on the farmden

Most aggregious is the fact that GMO foods and feeds are not required to be labeled as such. 
I find comfort in knowing that the sweet corn I’ve been harvesting for the past few weeks, and for a few more to come, is non-GMO (the variety Golden Bantam, the standard of excellence in sweet corn 100 years ago) and has not even been sprayed with pesticides. I plant in “hills” (clumps of 3 plants), 2 rows of hills spaced 2 feet apart in the row down each bed. With good soil and water as needed, a 20 foot long bed yields 90 plus ears of scrumptious, healthful sweet corn.
I will be giving a workshop “Grow Fruit Naturally” at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY on September 9th. For more information:
Do you want to grow fruit but think you don’t have room? I’ll be giving a workshop “Fruit for Small Gardens,” covering the fruits and growing techniques needed to reap delectable rewards from spaces as small as a balcony to as “large” as a small suburban yard. The venue is Stone Barns inn Pocantico Hills, NY on September 22nd from 1-3 pm. For more information, see