Don’t lose your harvest: corn

Any gardener will tell you that once the summer garden starts to come in, it’s one giant wave after another.  If only we could breed plants to produce two zucchini a week for 6 months and be immune to Squash Vine Borer, enjoying your garden produce would be much easier.

This year I planted a modest stand of corn (80 square feet) for the early harvest and another for the second crop.  The first corn wave came in, was tasty, and we enjoyed it.  I probably should have been blanching corn for the freezer every night we ate fresh corn, but I succumbed to a perennial garden hazard in the South: I got lazy and didn’t want to deal with the heat.

Once the corn is past it’s prime, the best alternative it to let the over-mature corn stay on the stalk to field dry.  I will use it for corn meal later on in the year.  Drying corn is the oldest method of preservation and requires no special equipment.  To save corn for seed to planting next year, you must wait until the corn reaches the R6 stage.  For eating use, you should wait until it at least reaches the R5 stage.  (How to identify your corn stage: Grain Fill Stages in Corn.)  Corn at both stages will need to be further dried in order to keep long term; ideally you should harvest when the corn is at 25% moisture, but I know of no way for the typical home grower to measure this. Whatever the harvest stage, keep the corn well-aerated and process immediately — don’t leave it sit in a damp place over night.

To dry, I peel back the husks and remove the silk.  The silk should be well dried at this stage and come right off.  Then, I hang the cobs up by their husks in the driest place I have, which happens to be my basement.  If you live in a less humid climate, a shed or shady spot outside may be drier.  Bear in mind that the birds, squirrels and deer may be *very* interested in your harvest!  For larger quantities, you may wish to build yourself a corn crib. Moldy corn should be removed and discarded.

Once the cobs are dried to a rock hard stage where you can’t dent the corn at all, remove the kernels from the cobs.  If you’ve ever seen real “ornamental” dried corn for sale around Thanksgiving, that’s the correct hardness.  Properly dried and stored corn will keep for up to 10 years.  In reality, many critters would be delighted to raid your corn storage, and even a trace too much moisture may cause it to mold and may contain dangerous levels of mycotoxins.  If possible, I would keep your dried corn kernels in the freezer until you are ready to use them, otherwise monitor your stash of kernels for signs of mold.  (If you want corn for long term emergency food storage, I would purchase commercially dried corn which has been tested for moisture content.)

Drying corn is an easy and low-energy way to preserve some of your harvest for use in the winter — for yourself or your backyard chickens.  Frozen and pressure canned corn are also tasty options, but will require energy to process and/or store.