Friday, December 26, 2008

Say NO to genetically modified corn

060 Over time, corn has been a major food source for rural families, especially poor, rural families. Nowadays, the fields of corn often seen aren’t the little 2 or 3 acre family plots but hundred or thousand acre fields. Those growing it don’t generally develop their own varieties and save their seeds. Rather, they buy different hybrids designed to meet their needs which are available through seed distributors. What their needs are vary, of course, but usually one of the concerns is production. More is considered better.

When I was a teenager, I worked one summer detasseling corn. There were various seed corn companies that hired teenagers to work in their fields doing this job. In the fields, there were generally two rows of one corn variety alternating with six rows of another variety. By removing the tassels from the corn variety in the six rows, the remaining variety would pollinate them, creating a hybrid. The detasselers’ job was to remove the tassels that the machines missed. I spent another summer working for seed company that was trying to develop other corn and soybean hybrids. My job was cross-pollinating soybeans, a tedious process requiring a steady hand and a magnifying glass.

059 Developing a successful hybrid today involves the laboratory as much or more than the field. Genetic modification is big business. Most of the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the results of Monsanto’s efforts. The process involves injecting foreign genes into the DNA of the corn or soybean or whatever with the objective of producing some desired outcome, like resistance to Roundup herbicide or the creation of BT bacteria (among other things). So many things are today are genetically modified. Too much is unknown about the ramifications of genetic modification in terms of its effects on people’s health, how it affects other animals and plants, and the resulting genetic mutations it produces. It’s actually some pretty scary stuff when you take an in-depth look at it. Watch The World According to Monsanto if you want to learn more.

Our pursuit at New Kentucky Homestead is to grow as much of our own food as possible in a sustainable way. We don’t use chemical fertilizers or chemical herbicides or chemical pesticides. Much of the genetically modified hybrids require a certain level of chemical usage. They also aren’t sustainable; you can’t save seeds from what you grow and have the next year’s crop be true to type. This is the antithesis of what we are doing here. So, we do not use hybrids, let alone GMOs.

In 2006, we grew a half acre of field corn. We bought open-pollinated seed corn from Bunton’s Seed in Louisville, KY. The variety we purchased was Trucker’s Favorite, a white field corn also grown for roasting ears. The corn grew fairly well, although the soil in the field we planted it was less than ideal. Then, because of various other factors, we didn’t harvest all of it. What we did harvest was used for animal feed and to save seeds for another planting.

I didn’t get any corn planted for the summer of 2007, but last spring I was able to prepare a field for another corn crop. The preparation involved plowing and disking. We ended up with just over 1/4 of an acre of corn. It grew and produced fairly well, the biggest problem being from raccoons and deer who apparently thought it was being grown for them. The dryness of the season helped that which was knocked down to not just spoil like it would have if it had been wet.

051 Dad and I were able to harvest the corn this fall. Ramiah and Malchiah helped a little. I think they picked two rows together. Without a mechanical picker or combine, our method for harvesting involved pulling the ear off the stalk, s hucking it, putting the ear in a five-gallon bucket, stepping the stalk down to the ground, and moving on to the next one. When our buckets were filled, we dumped the corn into a small trailer we had at the edge of the field. We spent two days picking corn, and at the end of each we shoveled the corn from the trailer into the corn crib I built for it.

My corn crib is constructed of four, stout cedar poles I cut and set two feet into the grown. 065Onto these poles are attached pallets that a neighbor gave to us. It is one pallet wide and two pallets high. I put a metal shed roof on top and wrapped the structure with poultry netting. The netting is to keep raccoons from raiding the crib. The bottom of the crib sits about two feet off of the ground with each pole wrapped with pieces of aluminum siding that I took off of an old mobile home. The aluminum is to keep mice from climbing the legs and getting into the corn.

All together, we picked about 35 bushels of ear corn. The crib can hold 200 bushels, according to my calculations. Maybe we’ll have a really big harvest sometime in the future.

We’ve been using the corn for our own eating. We’ve had parched corn, grits, and corn bread, all of which we’ve enjoyed. For Thanksgiving I made some cornbread dressing using some of our corn and other ingredients that were all homegrown. It was excellent, if I say so myself.

It is possible that in the future corn will become one of our staple grains. It’s easy to grow and harvest, and we have a crib in which to store it and where it can finish drying after harvest. I’m pleased that we still have the option to grow a real, open-pollinated variety of corn and not the genetically modified hybrids that are commonly available for field corn.




I rarely, if ever, used the magnifier when I was cross-pollinating those soybeans. I must say that it's probably one of the most uncommon jobs anyone has ever heard of, but it was fun at the time.

How long does the corn stay edible in the crib? I would think that it would dry out and only be good for animal feed or cornmeal.


Yeah, I don't think I've ever met anyone else who cross pollinated soybeans.

The corn in the crib is dried corn. Roasting ears are harvested earlier while the kernels are still immature and soft, and it is eaten right away. Once the corn has fully matured and dried a fair degree on the stalk, then it is put into the crib which allows air circulation so that it will finish drying. Once dry enough, it will keep and maintain its nutritional goodness for a long time. The greatest threat to it, apart from rodents, is bugs. I don't expect to keep it in the crib beyond the winter. Most likely, weevils will eat the hearts out of many of the kernels. We'll plant a new field next summer from some of the nicer ears from this harvest. What we don't use for cornmeal and grits will be fed to the animals, even if the weevils eat a lot of it (the turkeys and cow don't seem to care too much).


Commendations for the manual labor to harvest corn. A noble endeavor!
By the time they got to the crib - how much husk was left on them? What would you guess the moisture content was at that point?


Dan, we husked the corn before putting it in the crib -- part of the process of harvesting it. I didn't measure the moisture content, but it was dry and kept fine. Also, being in the crib on the ear allowed for it to dry if necessary.

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