When I was younger, my family didn't garden, so I really never paid any attention to vegetable varieties. Corn, for instance, came on the cob, canned, creamed, frozen, or popped. Now that I'm actively involved in planning the varieties we'll depend on for the year, the names of different varieties are like old friends to me. I'm always on the lookout for a new friend who will perform well, too. This means we'll plant multiple varieties of many vegetables, and there really is a lot to learn before you can be successful.This year, we are planning to plant seven different varieties of corn. Not all seven will ripen at the same time, or even be used for the same purpose.
Probably the most important corn is one we won't eat, and that is our field corn. It will be the variety we plant the most of, for it is what we feed to the animals all winter as a supplement to their hay. Many a city kid has been bitterly disappointed when raiding a farmer's field after dark for those luscious looking yellow ears, only to take them home, cook them, and find them to be starchy and tasteless. We'll leave it on the stalks to dry until late fall, when we'll pick it. Some will be left whole and on the cob, while some of it will be ground into feed. We also use some of this (in a different grinder!) to make the cornmeal we sell here.
I have planted Earth Tones Dent corn for the past 2 years now, it's an ornamental, or "Indian" corn. It's very pretty, and we sell some of it for decoration in the fall. It also dries like the field corn and can be fed to the animals or used to make colored cornmeal. I'm still using up my yellow cornmeal, but the next time we grind, I'll be interested to see what it looks like. It is also not a hybrid, unlike most corn varieties, so I save the seed from the biggest and prettiest ears every year. We plant a little more each year, and are going to try planting more this spring to use as animal feed as well. It would be so nice to have a dependable corn crop from a seed that we don't have to buy each year, as it can be quite an expense! Plus I have a fondness for the old time varieties.
Two varieties we're planting this year are new to the farm. Dan wanted to plant Bloody Butcher, a macabre name for a red corn that again can be used for animal feed, decoration (it's a deep, deep red) or for an interestingly colored cornmeal. I wanted to try strawberry popcorn, a cute little miniature ear, only 2" long, that can be popped right in the microwave. It just sounds fun, and if it does well, we'll have it for sale at the farm stand later on in the season. We purchased both these varieties from Seed Savers Exchange, so if they do well, we'll be able to grow them for years to come, saving the seed from year to year.
So four of our planned varieties are for the fall, as the kernels have to dry out before they are ready to harvest. Don't worry, it just wouldn't be a farm stand without sweet corn, and we have three varieties of that in mind! I really thought sweet corn only came in three varieties- all white, all yellow, and butter and sugar, the yellow and white kind. Turns out that's not the case at all. One catalog we receive has over 70 varieties of sweet corn alone! Most are bi-colored- turns out "butter and sugar" could be one of at least 50 different, named, varieties. That explains why some taste so much better than others! We'll be planting 2 bi-color and one all yellow variety of sweet corn. While they all mature much earlier that the fall corns, each variety has its own pace. The catalog gives you a rough guess of how long it can take between the day you plant and the day you pick. A short one will be something around 65 days, extending all the way to 90 or so. This is a rough guess, and will vary depending on weather conditions and the like, but if you pick varieties that ripen a week or two apart, it's possible to have fresh, ripe corn for a much longer stretch in the summer. So there really is a lot more to planning than deciding something named Silver Queen or Seneca Dancer sound tastier than the new ACX MS4012BC F1 (all real varieties!) Of course, all the planning in the world can't protect you completely from bad weather, bugs, or blights, but doing my gardening homework and looking at the pictures of those delicious plants of summer sure help to pass the winter nights!