Monday, December 7, 2009

Corn Harvest

Painted Mountain Corn - From skyline

We grew three varieties of corn up at Skyline Farm, just outside of Portland, OR, this year: Painted Mountain, Robust 128YH popcorn, and Nothstein dent. These were very experimental for us and we're learning a lot through the process, which I thought I'd share a little of with all of you.

All of the varieties were grown without supplemental irrigation of any sort. They were seeded to moisture the week of May 4 and didn't see much more than a couple of inches or so of rain for the remainder of the season, most of that coming in small drizzles, just heavy enough to germinate some weeds. Mostly we used 36" row spacing and thinned to about 12-18" between plants after direct seeding with an Earthway seeder. We grew less than a quarter acre total in corn.

For one section of popcorn we did a three sisters planting and the row spacing was 108". We seeded five different varieties of pole beans for dry bean harvest three weeks later, right along side the germinated corn rows. Three to four weeks after seeding the corn we direct seeded hills of winter squash (10 varieties) half way between the corn rows. This planting had the best looking corn plants and seemed to yield similarly per row, if not a little better (this is only based on how many bins per row we were filling when we harvested). I was skeptical about this planting scheme but I have to say the plants all looked great. More on those plantings, along with photos, are over at the Slow Hand Farm blog. Gophers got many of the beans in the end but the squash yielded impressively and the corn looked healthier than the corn which was planted alone in a block (same variety).

Robust 128YH at harvest - From skyline

We weren't particularly well set up for drying corn. Most of the corn we harvested with the husks on, but we switched to husking in the field and this was definitely better, mostly just in how much space it took up and how easy it was to move. The Painted Mountain was dry very early in the season, in late August/early September, but we didn't have time to pull it out of the field until the week of September 21. Balancing how dry the corn was in the field, and the coming rain, we chose to harvest all of the corn the week of the 21st and 28th, with the popcorn being the last to come in. We piled the cobs in shallow fruit bins, 48" square and about 12" deep. These stayed in a covered area for a few weeks until it started to get cold and damp and then we brought them in the barn with the front loader forks.

We did experience some molding in the bins, as there wasn't enough air flow really and we should have had fans circulating air earlier than we did. The humidity here is quite high and it's really difficult to get the moisture down.

The Sheller - From skyline

Video of the sheller (with bins in the background) - From skyline

Fortunately one of the crew had an antique sheller sitting around and he was kind enough to bring it up to the farm. We shelled all of the corn in November in our spare time (actually there's still a little popcorn left). The dent corn was easiest, with big fat kernels, the narrow cobs of the popcorn went through the sheller without taking all of the kernels off on the first pass so we still need to run them through a second time. I have a VacAway seed cleaner, which cleaned most of the remaining silks, broken kernels, and pieces of cob from the good kernels.

(l to r) Painted Mountain, Robust 128YH, Nothsteins Dent - From skyline

(l to r) Painted Mountain, Robust 128YH, Nothsteins Dent - From skyline

I've ground a bit of the Painted Mountain and Nothstiens, by hand, to sample the two. I hope to get more done on an electric mill soon. The yield on the Painted Mountain was about 2300 pounds/acre of grain (38 bushels?). The Nothsteins yielded about 3500 pounds/acre (58 bushels?). Trying to remember back, and estimate, I'd guess it's costing us around $1/lb to produce the grain, plus whatever it ends up costing to mill it. This of course is a very rough estimate and it depends on the yield, although more of the cost, as I estimate it, is actually post harvest rather than in the field.

I'll try to give an update when we're all done milling, tasting, etc.


John Schneider - Gold Forest Grains said...

Great blog!! Love reading about heritage varieties of grains etc. We are doing the same sort of thing with certified organic wheats and grains up here in canada.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Josh, I am amazed at the difference between Skyline and here, for dry crops. We're right at 1375' so not much difference there - although we rarely get any warm nights throughout the entire growing season.

The corn looks great BTW. Don't know if you saw my final bean post, but I ended up with 17.5 # per 100' for an average, but one row was in much better soil, (no hard pan) and had twice the pods, so I could easily up my dry bean yield with careful site selection.

Which tastes better - Painted Mountain or Nothstine?

Slow Hand Farm said...

Nita, I did see your post and it gives me hope that we can, eventually, produce at least some beans at a reasonable cost. It looks like you're getting 50-100% more than we are which could cut our production cost almost in half.

Both the Nothstine and Painted Mountain have a white meal. Nothstine is flecked with yellow and Painted Mountain comes out almost purple. The Painted Mountain color bleeds through and makes a red/purple polenta. Both have good flavor and are slightly soft. I didn't find either to be exceptional flavor wise but I need to work on my corn cooking skills and try a few more recipes. I'm curious to try the popcorn ground and see how that is.

lucy said...
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