This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
To write anything on the cultivation of Indian Corn would appear, on first consideration, like a waste of words. However, as we so often see only an indifferent quality, and so seldom meet with a good or regular successive supply, a little talk respecting it may be of service to some of your readers.
Here we have a true Native American, which is known amongst botanists by the cognomen, Zea Mays, and is one of the very numerous family of Cereals.
Corn, in general, will always give a good percentage of interest when well cultivated, and Sweet Corn, in particular, is not, strictly speaking, wholesome, unless it has a supply in the soil of the required ingredients for the formation of a perfect structure. With this, a good cook, and well-worked base, we may throw to the winds the physician's advice with regard to the avoiding the use of Green Corn dnring cholera times.
Like all other vegetables, this is the better with good drainage and deep tillage. A well-broken, strong, bnt friable, fresh loam, in which is a due deposit of vegetable matter, phosphate of lime, and ammoniacal salts, is the best Where there is a deficiency of any, or all of these, it will always be fonnd that the addition of vegetable matter, bone dost, or gnano, separately or collectively, will have a great influence on the productiveness and better quality of the grain. Every housewife knows the difference in the cooking of "ill or well-fed beef, and how far the want of proper food makes the flesh tough and fibrous. The same applies to the esculent which we are discussing; for, according to the supply of constituent elements during growth, so will the seeds shrink in boiling for the want of substance, or swell up to distension by a redundancy.
If the seeds of Corn are planted in the open ground before some solar heat has been diffused into it, they are subject to rot; consequently, it is best to wait until the opportune time. In this latitude - 40° - this generally happens about the middle of April. Further south, it will be earlier, and north, somewhat later, according to distance or sheltered locality. We may, however, gain something like ten days or two weeks, by planting a portion for the first crop in shallow boxes under glass. In my present position, it is necessary to have an uninterrupted supply, commencing as early as possible, and continuing on until frost Being so, it may be well to record my own practice. At the beginning of March, a number of rough boxes (three inches deep) are part filled with good earth; the seeds are laid on this four inches apart, and covered one inch. These boxes are placed in a glass bouse where a night temperature of some 50° is maintained, or, in lieu of such convenience, then, in a cold frame, the glasses of which are kept closed at all times until the sprouts appear above ground; they are also covered with mats, at night, to make secure against frost Air is afterwards given during the middle part of all warm days, and, when there is no further fear of frost occurring, the earth in the boxes is cut into square patches, each containing four young plants.
These are planted out four feet apart, in a sheltered situation. For the next succession, the seeds are planted on the ground level, at the same distance, after making an even surface to lay them on, and afterwards covered two inches. This process forms so many small mounds, and somewhat prevents the tendency to decay, as the immediate soil is thereby rendered drier than it otherwise would be. Throughout the summer, up to the middle of July, other plantings are put in, at intervals of ten days or two weeks, two inches deep, below the surface, and the soil filled in level. By this method, a supply of well-filled young Corn is obtained for gathering every day, from the beginning or middle of July, according to the earliness or lateness of the season, until frost occurs in the fall, and for some time afterwards, as, when such is apprehended, a quantity is gathered, and laid in a dry room, the husks being left on.
Sweet Corn may also be preserved for winter use. For this purpose, when the seeds are a trifle part in the milky state, but not quite ripe, strip off the heads with the husks on, loosen the latter so as to admit the air freely to the seeds, and hang them over a line, in a dry room, until all the moisture is evaporated. The apartment must be very dry, however, or they will become mouldy and worthless. Afterwards the husks may be removed, and the cobs laid by until wanted.
There are several varieties known as Sweet Corn, each possessing more or less of good or indifferent quality. The best which I have so far been able to obtain, was under the name of Twelve Rowed. This is rather short and small in the cob, averaging from twelve to sixteen rows, with deep and not large seeds, very sweet, fleshy, of a light yellow color when cooked, and a good bearer.
Stowell's Evergreen is a good and prolific kind, averaging twelve to sixteen rows, but not equal to the above.
Large Connecticut has eight rows, with very large seeds. Flavor only second quality.
Early Tuscarora. This is one of the best of the early sorte. There is, however, no other good property to recommend it.
Early Golden Canada, and Smtih'e Early White. These are very eariy kinds, but small, and not good flavored. '
When the intention is the saving of seed, the best plants of a pure breed ought only to be chosen, and no other variety should be allowed to blossom in the same garden, unless very far remote; as there is, perhaps, no other class of plants which will more readily fertilize with each other. The abundant anthers, or male organs (Tassel), are profuse of pollen, which is distributed to a considerable distance by the slightest breeze; and the stigmas, or female parts (Silk), present a great surface to be acted upon, the consequence of which is a probable deterioration, if an inferior root be in the vicinity, and in flower at the same time. In connection with this, some persons remove the small and bottom side suckers, which only beat the tassel on the tops, thinking thereby that the plant is strengthened. I have, by way of experiment, at different times, tried both the leaving on and removal of these suckers, and always find that the seeds are more equally filled, and the heads better formed, when they have been left to blossom.
This, in theory, would appear reasonable, on account of the extra amount of pollen which is in close proximity to the silk; and, practically, it is the case.
As the tops are greedily eaten by cattle, it has been advised to cut them above the ears after flowering. I have always observed, that when this has been done before being fit for use, the sweetness is reduced. It may, however, be practised with economy after this period.
To cook Sweet Corn, trim off the husks, and immerse in boiling water, with a little salt. Boil gently half an hour; then take out the cobs, rub over some butter, pepper, and salt, and brown before a quick fire. Another plan, and one which most persons prefer, is to boil as above; afterwards, cut off the Corn neatly, return to a pan containing a sufficient quantity of milk to cover, throw in a tablespoonful of butter, the same of sugar and salt, to flavor, simmer slowly for fifteen minutes, and serve up hot.
Never forget to plant sweet corn in July. We always plant some each week in the month, and the result is we have it into frosty weather; and our last ears we cut up with the stalk and stack them in small shocks, to pull from even into December, near upon Christmas time.