S: Corn - A Family Tradition!
1: Written by Jim and Joyce Dishman Forward by Brad Dishman Book design by Brad Dishman Editors Edith Dishman Janet Beams December 2009 | Photography by Jim and Joyce Dishman Madison, Edith and Brad Dishman
2: From my earliest memories as a small child I watched tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, corn, and many other varieties of vegetables start out as seeds, sprout, bloom, and produce many of the foods that our family has enjoyed on our dinner table. The first garden that I remember was at my grandparent’s house west of Chelsea. In the early springtime, I could remember the challenge of trying to walk between what seemed to be the never ending rows without stepping on and squashing a fragile seedling. As a child, I did not have the appreciation of all the time and hard work that went into developing a productive garden.
3: My parents have had three gardens that I can remember. The first one was on the west side of my grandparent’s house across the small spring fed creek that flowed into Oologah Lake. My favorite memory of this garden was not the garden, but the tree house that Dad built for Brian and me. We enjoyed disappearing into the thick brush only to discover our very own hideout awaiting us. Now the trees on that hill have been cleared by coal mining which was very prominent in this area of Rogers County during the 1970’s through 1990’s.
4: The next garden was Mom and Dad’s first garden in Vinita. In 1976, Mom and Dad purchased 68 acres of land two miles north of our Clyde Street home. They planted their first garden on the west side of the pasture. The garden was moved to its current location once the barn was constructed.
5: There has always been a vegetable that has risen literally above all the rest of the garden crops. As you would approach the pasture from the east road in mid to late spring, you would notice this broad green leafed plant stretching toward the sky.
7: As you came upon the barn on a breezy day, the first sound that would attract your attention was the rustling of corn stocks.
8: Over the many years Mom and Dad have both become their own experts in efficiently raising and processing sweet corn. Many of their gardening techniques have been passed down through their parents and family friends. Others have been developed by themselves through trial and error, improved technology, and creativity. The end product has always been succulent sweet corn that has no rivals from the local vegetable stands or grocery stores.
9: The following pages will explore the words and images of the process from seed catalog in late winter, to fresh corn on the table in mid July as part of a festive family dinner.
10: Corn - From Seed to Dinner Table The first section is written by Jim Dishman
11: The process of growing and preserving corn through the freezing process was handed down to the Jim and Joyce Dishman family through Jim’s parents Harvey and Maudie Dishman. Both parents were avid gardeners, and they influenced the way we have carried on the tradition of corn preservation.
12: Gardening for some people who have grown up where this activity was a part of their lives might consider gardening a genetic trait. The urge for me to plant vegetables and harvest them never totally goes away with the coming of fall and winter. | Receiving Corn Seed
13: Most of the seed I order comes from one or more of three different catalogs: Henry Fields, Gurney, and Vermont Bean Seed Catalog. If I can find the seed I want in Vinita at Wal-Mart or Frisby's Greenhouse, I usually purchase it there for about $5.00 per pound and avoid the cost of shipping. When the seed arrives, I usually put it in the freezer until I am ready to plant. It is hard to say what my favorite vegetable is to grow, but the one that presents the biggest challenge from start to finish is probably sweet corn.
14: I often make plans and think about how and what I want to plant when spring and warm weather finally arrives. The gardening urge is further heightened with the arrival of six or eight different seed catalogs in February and March.
15: Preparing the Garden Actually gardening for me usually starts in January and February. When the soil dries up from fall and winter rains, I can start preparing the soil for planting. This entails removing all the debris, the tomato cages, and cucumber trellises remaining from the past season. | Next comes a generous application of cow manure over the entire garden. Manure is a renewable resource which comes from inside the barn and corrals. This process is extremely important to our gardening success. Putting manure on the garden in mid-winter allows it time to break down and mature before the garden is tilled in early spring. Tilling the garden with a tractor is usually the last thing that is done before planting starts.
16: Ron Jones has tilled the garden many times for me and does an excellent job. He says that this is one of the best gardens that he tills.
18: All of last year's grass stems and debris is removed from the garden and then it is tilled with a tractor-powered tiller. This makes the garden very soft, easy to work, and puts oxygen in the soil. The soil is tilled to a depth of 8 to 10 inches.
19: The garden is ready to be planted.
22: Closing the garden gate after the tilling is complete.
24: In February or March I purchase the corn seed. I store it in the deep freeze to keep it fresh until I am ready to plant it.
27: The night before I plan to plant corn, I take the amount of seed I think I will need from the freezer and let it thaw for an hour or so.
28: Right before bedtime I put the corn in a plastic bag and fill the bag with water. After a few minutes, I pour the excess water out leaving the corn completely soaked.
29: Wetting the corn seed and placing the bag of corn in a warm, but not hot, place with the bag open allows the germination process to start. The next morning all the grains that are fertile will be about twice as big as they were the night before.
30: Cleaning rust from plow so dirt will slide off easier and make a smooth row. | Taking the tiller from the barn where it is stored until needed. | Tilling the Garden
31: Putting the plow attachment on the tiller so I can lay off rows deep enough to put soaker hose in them.
34: On the previous page I am getting the tiller started. The picture above shows me setting the speed for tilling. The picture on the right shows me starting a row for the corn. After the garden is worked up with a tractor-pulled tiller, the corn rows are laid off using a shovel attached to a small garden tiller.
36: The following pages show me making a row to plant the corn.
37: I make the rows for planting with my tiller by attaching a metal shovel to the back of the tiller. Using the tiller to lay off the rows does two things. Tiller loosens the soil again, and the shovel digs an 8-10 inch deep furrow. It is also so much easier than digging the furrow by hand. You must be extra careful to make the rows straight and the right distance apart.
43: The tiller with the plow blade makes a row that is the right depth for the soaker hose and to plant the corn seed.
45: The next step is to run a garden hoe down each row making a uniform depth and smooth surface to lay the soaker hose on.
46: Madison is taking her turn at the tiller.
47: This piece of hay twine is used as a marker on the panel fence which helps me make a straight row.
48: Corn rows need to be at least 48 to 50 inches apart. I have the distance marked on the hoe handle.
50: A row ready for the soaker hose.
51: Soaker Hoses
52: First, comes the sorting of the soaker hoses.
53: Second, is to check for any leaks.
54: A most important step in preparing to plant corn after the rows have been laid off is putting down soaker hose in each row.
55: Perhaps watering the corn would not be necessary every season when there is adequate rainfall, but soaker hose assures a successful crop during dry years.
57: Here we are laying the hose in the row.
58: Here are some soaker hoses that are ready to be covered with soil.
59: After the soaker hose is placed in the row, the next step is to cover it with dirt just so the hose is even with the soil in the bottom of the row. This makes certain that the corn seed will stay on top of the hose and not fall below the hose.
60: A row that is ready to plant. | End of the row where the water line will be attached.
61: Time to Plant!
62: Planting Garden For many years we have planted Candy Corn which we have found to be the best all-around variety of corn because of its consistent quality and sweetness. I usually plant the corn in early May after the garden has been tilled. In about 86 days–the middle of July–it matures.
63: I plant when the ground is dry enough to be tilled with my garden tiller and hopefully, a few days before the next rain. | Planting two or three days before the next rain gives the corn a chance to germinate and come through soft soil. If the corn is rained on soon after planting, two things often may happen.
64: The rain will sometimes wash extra soil over the grains, and they will be covered too deeply to come up. | Other times the soil can pack down from the rain and form a crust thus hindering the corn from coming up.
65: I try not to plant corn or any other vegetable in the same part of my garden two years in a row. The rows in the garden run north and south which allows for better pollination. The corn rows are about 48-50 inches apart. This always seems too far apart until the corn stalks get mature, and then it’s about right.
66: The corn seed is then dropped every six to eight inches apart down the length of the row and then covered with a couple inches of loose soil.
67: The last step is to turn the water on and soak each row. Since the corn is already wet and starting to germinate, the wet soil allows this process to continue without interruption. By planting corn this way I have found that it increases the amount of corn that comes up to almost 100%. With the soil being moist, it takes only a couple of days for the corn to come up. If you plant dry seed from the package, it has to germinate and sometimes depending on soil conditions and the weather, will take 5-7 days to come up. I have found that the sooner the corn comes up, the higher the percentage of corn that will grow. I usually get from 90-95 percent of the corn to grow that I plant using my method.
68: Often I will plant a short row off to the side (15-20 seeds) and use these plants to fill in when there are skips or where the cats have dug up or covered seeds so deeply they can't come up. Each row will have around 120 seeds, and I usually plant 9 or 10 rows. This sounds like a lot of corn, and it is, but we give lots of corn each year to friends and neighbors. After the corn comes up, I usually fill in most of the skips. I do not till the corn with the tiller because this cuts too many of the roots. I usually hoe the weeds and grass between the rows and stalks and throw soil up around the stalks to keep the wind from blowing the corn over.
69: Watching It Grow As the corn grows, it usually produces suckers, or secondary stalks, at the base of the stalk. This growth takes nutrients and water away from the main stalk, so they should be removed. This growth starts about two or three weeks into the corn growth and often continues until maturity. If the garden is fertile and the corn grows well, then water becomes very important to plant growth and ear development. I never allow the garden where corn is planted to get very dry. In the corn’s early development rain is usually adequate to allow for maximum growth; but as late June or early July arrives, then water can become a problem. This is when the water hose comes into play. When I plant corn, each row gets a soaker hose. Several years ago I developed a way to water 7-10 rows at the same time. Using a soaker hose is an excellent way to water the corn since the water gets to the roots and doesn’t run off. Water soaks into the ground where it is needed. As the ears start to set on the stalk, a good supply of water is critical for the large, well-developed ears of corn.
70: As the ears develop, I often walk down the rows to locate stalks having a small and a large ear. Sometimes I break off the small ear and always remove third ears. This doe not damage the stalk and allows all the plant's nutrients to go toward the single ear thus producing a good ear of corn.
71: Sometimes I remove only 20-30 percent of second ears.
73: Only two jobs remain as the corn nears its final growth before it is ready to be picked. In the past I have had problems with raccoons raiding the corn patch just as the corn reached its peak and ready to be picked. After years of trying to keep the varmints away with varying degrees of success, I hit on the idea of an electric fence. I put a two-wire fence around the corn patch and have had no further raccoon problems. I use two wires with the lowest one about 3-4 inches above the ground and the second wire about 4 inches higher. Raccoons can’t go under or over the wire, so this is successful – no more raccoons.
75: Not all the corn ripens at the same time, but experience will tell you which ones are ready and which ones need more time. However, most ears are ready to be picked at about the same time. We take five gallon buckets and begin picking on the north end and head south so we don’t have as far to carry a full bucket. It takes about 2 buckets to fill a feed sack. Usually each row produces two sacks of corn. All the sacks are then placed in the pickup and taken to the house. | Picking the Corn
77: Shucking Corn The process of shucking begins when the pickup arrives home with the load of corn. The sacks of corn are carried to the garage and dumped into a large pile.
78: Those cleaning the corn sit in chairs encircling the corn and each person has a knife for removing shucks, a brush for clearing the silks, a pan for placing cleaned corn, and a clean towel to cover the clean corn. On the floor beside each person sits a cool bottle of water. Now the work begins in earnest. Each ear of corn is shucked and silked and all the munching, healthy caterpillars (worms) and bad places that they have made are removed. When the pans are filled with corn, they are taken to the kitchen for the next phase.
81: House: Process in the Kitchen and Dining Room Written by Joyce Dishman | In preparing the dining room table before freezing corn, it is important to cover the floor under the table with plastic and to cover the table with a plastic tablecloth. The kitchen sink should be cleaned before the process begins and again after the corn has been washed. Now the sink is ready to be used for the ice water baths.
82: When the corn arrives in the kitchen, it is washed and brushed clean.
83: After a few minutes in the ice water bath, the corn is placed in a second ice water bath. The next step is to place the corn in a dish drainer to remove excess water. Now the corn is ready for processing.
84: Large containers are filled with water and placed on the stove over high heat. When the water begins to boil, several ears of corn are placed in the water for 7-10 minutes in a process called blanching.
85: The next step is to use tongs to remove the corn from the boiling water to a container (sink) filled with ice water.
86: The corn is then placed in pans and taken to the table where the very best corn is placed in large gallon sized plastic Ziploc bags that have been dated for future reference into the freezer. Usually five or six dozen ears are used each year.
87: The rest of the corn is removed from the cob using electric knives. Two people usually work the electric knives and cut the corn off the cobs into large pans.
90: The cobs are placed in another pan for the next person to scrape the cobs. The scraped cobs go into a container to be fed later to the cows.
91: When a pan of corn scrapings is full, the scrapings are mixed with a pan of cut-off corn.
93: The pan of corn is now ready to be bagged in quart-size Ziploc bags that have the current year placed on them with permanent magic markers. After the bags are filled with about 1 cup of corn, they are sealed, flattened, and placed in the freezer to be used later. Flattening the bags allows for efficient storage and a quick cooking process.
96: The final step in corn production is to pull up the corn stalks soon after the ears are picked. The green stalks are taken out into the pasture and fed to the cows. Some of the rows where corn was grown are then smoothed, and peas and beans are planted on top of the soaker hose and grown for a late summer and fall crop. On part of the area where the corn was planted a crop of zucchini, yellow squash, and acorn squash are planted. The squash will produce a better crop in the late summer than in the spring because there is little or no damage from squash bugs and other insect pests. These squash will need the extra water which the soaker hose provides.
98: After all the corn is picked, the green stalks are removed and fed to the cows. They love to eat stalks and later on, the cobs, after the corn is removed. Next, the excess grass and weeds are removed and I plant cow peas, black eyes, and horticulture beans. The soaker hoses are already in place, so the fall garden is easily begun once more. The beans will produce an abundance before frost arrives.
99: Closing | When the Dishman family gathers for family dinners, corn fresh from the freezer is usually served. Why? It is a family tradition some 45 years old. Our boys, Brian and Brad assisted their parents in the corn preservation process. Now their wives and daughters have also assisted, and corn has become highly requested at meal time. Even though this process is mentally and physically exhausting, at the end of an extremely long day it is rewarding by providing the family with a food that is unsurpassed in quality and taste.