July 4 – 17, 2016
Mt. Washington — Colorful tassels are forming and bursting out like fireworks atop lush-leaved corn plants. Tassels of the Painted Mountain corn I am growing are black, red, or greenish. The whorled flower spikes first appear with closed buds arranged like fish scales. Each bud covering opens away from the spike revealing a delicate spray of little threads (filaments) with a pollen-bearing organ (an anther) on top. The tassel is a male flower. Its anthers, full of pollen, dangle on the filament and vibrate in the breeze.
The female flowers, shiny, green-gold and pink tinged strands of silk in flowing bunches, spill from embryonic ears of corn along the stalk. Each strand originates in an ovary deep inside the forming corn husks. The outside end of the silk catches pollen and transports it to the ovary, fertilizing it. Each strand of silk is attached to a kernal of the corn we eat.
In April, prompted by the interest of a fellow plant adventurer, I reached for a quart jar of Painted Mountain corn kernels that I’d put in my cupboard about 10 years ago. I’d intended to grind the mix of ruby red, blue, violet, yellow, and white kernals into flour ages ago. I wasn’t optimistic about it as seed but he was, so I gave him half and dumped my half into a sprouting jar, thinking I’d eat it if it sprouted. When every kernel sprouted, I was overwhelmed with respect for the Montana farmer, Dave Christensen, who developed Painted Mountain. I couldn’t eat it. I had to plant the corn! But it was the end of April! I re-read Christensen’s description:
Painted Mountain is not a hybrid variety, it is an open pollinated gene pool. It is descended from over 70 native corns rescued from Indians and homesteaders who lived in the harshest climates of the Northern Rockies and Great Plains regions of the U.S. and Canada. Some of the ancestors of Painted Mountain are now extinct and live on only in this gene pool.
On May 2, I sowed the extraordinary sprouted seed outdoors. The plants came up. I saw the thermometer dip into the 20s and they survived without protection. There’s been very little rainfall. I watered very rarely. The flowering plants hold the promise of ears of colorful “green,” or fresh, corn to eat and ears to dry on the stalk.
Ordinary seedbeds need water every day or twice a day in these dry conditions. I always harvest rainwater from my little garden house roof. The photograph of my rudimentary set-up shows a full barrel last year at this time. Typically, I dip a watering can into the barrel and walk to the beds sprinkling and weeding and observing changes. All barrels must be covered when not in use, to prevent mosquitoes from reproducing in them. It is easy to stretch a tight-fitting plastic bag over vessels that don’t have lids (see “Resources” below for a myriad of simple as well as elegant rainwater harvesting techniques including roof gutter devices and rain barrels).
When there’s no rain to gather, we save bathwater and kitchen sink rinse water (also discussed among the “Resources”). And there’s the role of mulch: After a rain, cover the wet ground between rows of plants with soaked leaves or spoiled hay to keep the water in the ground.
I’m rushing off to plant a row of carrots and water seedlings of pickling cucumber, red storage cabbage, and basil!
Tom Zetterstrom Portraits of Trees exhibit through July 10, Lisa Vollmer Photography Studio + Gallery: https://lisavollmer.com/gallery/current-exhibition/
Helia Native Nursery and store open Thursday-Saturday 9-5 and Sunday 10-4: https://www.helialanddesign.com/
Northeast Organic Farming [and Gardening] Association (NOFA) Summer Conference early bird registration 20 percent discount through July 15: https://nofaserconference.org/2016program/
Painted Mountain corn – https://www.seedweneed.com/index-1.html
Rainwater monitoring, conservation and collection – https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
FYI (no endorsement implied) https://gardenwatersaver.com/