Great Big Ideas & Takeaways:
- Join field corn freak Hank Will as he walks you through the process of raising, harvesting, using and storing this “a-maize-ing” crop on a homestead scale.
- Discover how heirloom flint, flour and dent corns are much more versatile than sweet corn—and arguably more practical in the garden or small field plot.
- Learn about varieties that have short growing seasons, are highly drought tolerant, are excellent for grinding into flavorful cornmeal and flour. And more!
- The best hand tools for cultivating, hilling, and planting corn.
- Income opportunity? How to start a side business growing beautiful ornate corns.
About The Speaker:
Hank Will (Oscar H. Will III) currently serves as the Editor-in- Chief for Mother Earth News, as well as Editorial Director, all brands, for Ogden Publications. He is a business leader, academic, and agricultural practitioner devoted to conservation and small-scale, sustainable agriculture.
Hank’s small-scale, high-cash-flow farming experience spans more than four decades with projects as varied as native perennial plants and heirloom laying chickens. His current project, Prairie Turnip Farm in rural Osage County, Kansas, is home to a direct market Highland beef, Will’s landrace lamb, and a small broiler business.
Will has authored or co-authored seven books and hundreds of articles, and he enjoys maintaining the open-pollinated corn varieties his great-grandfather developed. In his spare time, he enjoys making Finnish-style puukko knives.
QUESTION: Have you ever tried growing corn? What varieties? Did you get the crop you were expecting? What went right or wrong? Leave your thoughts below!
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Is there a way to calculate how much corn to grow for animal feed?
I highly recommen John Jeavons book “How To Grow More Food Than You Ever Imagined In Less Space Than You Ever Thought Possible” – it is the bible for figuring out yields for small scal sustainable growing.
You can estimate yield for a given variety after a little research. You want to factor storage characteristics in to the equation too. It’s not too hard to get 20-bushels of grain per acre for my least yielding types — this amounts to about 1100 pounds of grain. That’s more than enough corn for my annual chicken needs, but they get a bunch of other stuff too.
Oh Hank! SO glad to see you online!
It is STRICTLY dependent upon the QUALiTY of your soil. The preeminent sign/indicator of quality soil for a particular crop is reflected in the %PROTEiN yielded by your crop. Growing High brix crops is one standard, but high PROTEiN from high brix, that’s the gold for livestock value in farming. (Because the higher the protein, the less volume is required per animal).
The best information sources I know of in regards to Quality Oriented/Obsessed agriculture are going to be from John Kempf of HighBrixGardens.Com (for the beginner/101 introduction)
& for the really serious student, John Kempf’s 2013 Keynote Lecture of the Food & Nutrition Conference is still online at BioNutrient.Org in the audio section of their library. It remains one of the most powerful/important lectures in regards to human health & quality oriented agriculture in my memory.
It’s the 2013 conference which is still superior in my mind. The others are good, but THAT remains the defacto explanation in my mind.
It isn’t for everyone as the both follow the so called, “Biological Agriculture” approach, which is quality measurement dependent from implementation to results.
It is focused on soil improvement by quality soil testing, minerals & rockpowders, foliar sprays, & advanced plant sap testing.
It isn’t something to take on unless you have a single larger plot to focus on that can be fitted to ONE SINGLE soil test for the whole plot; in other words it becomes way too costly if you have 5 different soil plots/gardens which each require seperate testing & amending.
By comparison, all other approaches to gardening & agriculture are pretty much guesswork garening/agriculture in reality.
Not that less rigorous strategies can’t be adequate.
But the biological agriculture approach is where we are discovering outrageous crop quality, where the epigenetics are improving to a point that nobody realized was possible. Plants that are resistent to temperatures extremes, that bugs can’t digest, & pathogens can’t touch which return compound improvemened year after year because the seed quality improves rapidly along with the soil. Costs decrease over time as inputs are required as years pass until eventually the plants & the soil take care of themselves, in theory.
(Sorry, it’s John Frank w/HighBrixGardens.com
John Kempf w/GrowBetterFood.Com)
Tried to grow corn once and was so small and sparse I never tried again.
COrn is what we call a “heavy feeder” i.e. it love nitrogen! Also if you don’t have a lot of space it need to be hand pollinated.
Use slides with charts with name, traits, uses
If you only plant a small amont fo corn, plant it in 3 to 4 short rows instead of all in one long row. It can pollinate much easier if it is bunched together.
Video area is empty on firefox
Try giving the page a refresh!
Hmm, I am on firefox with no problems. Hmm, let me get out tech genius, Jimmy, to come back to you on this. Hang tight for a moment!
I’ve not got any video either. Why is the time off on the posts? Are you from the future?
No video here either.. FireFox
3 seconds in, it died. No video
Hi River! Try giving your browser a refresh. Let me know if that doesn’t work!
Where can you buy these seeds now.
Join Seed Savers Exchange and look for thousands of varieties, including these in the annual yearbook.
Please give your browser a refresh!
What kinds of corn are you growing now?
I took a moratorium, from growing corn this year since my infrastructure was in shambles and my mindspace too — fallout from accompanying my wife on her journey through cancer treatment. RIP, Karen.
so sorry for your loss
I took a moratorium, from growing corn this year since my infrastructure was in shambles and my mindspace too — fallout from accompanying my wife on her journey through cancer treatment. RIP, Karen.
Hank, understandably so. Been there done that. It’s an emotional time for sure. I am guessing you will be bouncing back next year. Life throws some nasty curves but you have pulled yourself up before and you will do it again.
Have a great day.
Thanks, Dave. I did start thinking about hauling compost to my plots this weekend. :-)I almost can’t look at my seed though because I know there’s weevil damage.
Oh Hank… I didn’t know.
Oh, that’s OK. I felt guilty about not planting this spring at first, but I decided to cut myself some slack. 🙂
So very sorry for your loss. It is always hard to lose ones we care for, especially for a long time.
I come from land of sweet corn. I feel kinda ripped off.
Thank you! I am excited to try some of these varieties of corn. I have Native American heritage (Cherokee-great grandmother)and colored corns have always intrigued me.
What is the name of the corn grinder that you use?
I got my grinder from GrainMaker up in Montana. Hand built in the good old US of A.
Pink popcorn fertilized with cow manure did well for me for a few years. My kids loved it!
At my current location I’ve never been very successful with any types of corn, having a problem with smut. Gave up a few years ago.
There are corns that are more or less resistant to smuts and other pests. And dry-adapted corns tend to do poorly in wetter, more humid areas. I lost many years worth of corn about 20 years ago when trying to grow then in the Kokosing River valley in Ohio.
I grew and harvested 8 douzen corn cobs last year …. i had 4 rows 16 inches apart …each corn seed was 12 inches from the next … i was satisfied with my results … 🙂
Wonderful presentation. Thank you very much.
Thanks, Michael — the ultimate introverts risk is to put yourself out there not knowing if you have anything useful to say.
To everyone having a problem with their Firefox browser, you might try starting a new profile by starting it thru the profile manager (http://kb.mozillazine.org/Profile_Manager?PHPSESSID=12bdc439817263e3d8046b14dd6318fe) and not having more than the one tab open. See if that solves your problem. That is always a good way to start to eliminate other problems. You can name your new profile for this summit, and can always go back to your old profile at another time.
Michael, thanks for that tip!
What a pain to have to do this.
I never have to do this with any other content and I live on Firefox. For a living, I mean.
Will, wonderful informative presentation-I have been interested in non-sweet corn. BTW-Great job with MEWs I have many years of the mag and attend the fair in Wisconsin. Keep up the great work!
Thanks, Barbara! I so appreciate your kind words.
I’m sorry for your loss.
My son lost his wife last year leaving three teenage daughters.
I’m unable to watch your video.
no video or audio here
Hi Joe! Please try refreshing your browser.
Thanks, Josie. I’m in a good place these days. I’m not sure at all how to make the browsers behave.
Jimmerson, the TGN tech guy is on it! Usually if people refresh their browsers, that does the trick.
Howdy Hank! Sorry about your browser troubles! As Marjory suggested, please try refreshing. If that doesn’t work, and you’ve tried an alternate browser, you may need to update it!
Great presentation, I learnt a lot.I didn’t realise how seful corn can be on the homestead. I’m full of ideas for next year’s growing season Thank you
I had to “trust site” on ghostery before the vid would play.
Well, yes, you can trust this site… and I’ll check into why you had to do that…
Hi Glenn! I believe your Ghostery extension is warning you that we are tracking website traffic! We aren’t recording any personal information. Let me know if you have any questions!
Where can we get Navajo Sacred Corn Seeds ?
Right now, I think the USDA in Ames Iowa might have some under the name Cudei. I don’t have enough to send thanks to serious weevil attack on my seed (my fault for not putting it in the freezer. You might check at Sandhill Preservation Center, he may have some.
I live in a very windy suburban area in Tennessee. Usually plant short rows of sweet corn and popcorn in our back yard garden- nothing storebought compares to home grown popcorn. Our problem is wind. ANy suggestions on how to plant to try to avoid the corn getting knocked down?
You can try growing in blocks rather than rows, or you can also be sure to hill the stalks at the last cultivation and then surround the plot with some strands of wire or wire panels to prop it up.
tomato cages the tall ones we live in Wyo at 7000 feet I feel your pain
Unable to view summit. I used all gigabytes allowed so am running on 2 instead of 4g at this time. Reading the comment, must have been a good gonna presentation. So sorry for the loss of Karen. Seeing you are able to pull this presentation together, you are doing well. Keep up the good work, your gonna make it! I appreciate all your effort!
Thanks, Brenda. I am in a really good space now … not quite so much late last year when I should have been preparing the corn plots. They grew some nice weeds this year. 🙂 And the sheep liked the weeds.
Didn’t say anything about canning sweet corn.
Hi Pat, no this wasn’t about ‘canning’. It was about other varieties of corns instead of sweet…
Such beautiful colors! I live on THE desert island in the tropics, and bed ridden just when finally it rains and my rain gutters are laying on the ground :(. What would be a drought tolerant variety and should it be partly in shade or can it handle full blown sun and ‘occasional’ hard wind?
Full sunshine is a must and some varieties stand in the wind really well. We get 60-mph gusts in Kansas fairly regularly.
Should I plant ornamental varieties in a different patch than corn for flour and meal?
It’s good to keep them separated if you want to collect seed. Or you can plant them a few weeks apart so they won’t be tasseling at the same time or you can hand pollinate, which is not difficult but takes discipline to keep at it.
Great talk Hank… wish it was even more in depth (love genetics). You have inspired me to try something besides sweet corn in my garden. How/when do you hand pollinate?
Check out this video .. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wikhr33AEc
that is a really good video on hand pollinating corn Hank, thanks for sharing.
I have to worry about drought. Which varieties are most adaptable to growing under low water conditions?
A lot of the Pueblo varieties will thrive with minimal water. Hopi Blue is an easily obtained choice.
here in central Texas, which is drought prone, I’ve successfully grown the Rio Grand Red, Hopi BLue, and other “Indian” corns from the SW.
I rated this, excellent, because you had loads of info I am interested in. I am new at learning about heirloom varieties. Not mych of a vegetable gardener, but very interested in growing more of my own food. Here in central KY I only ever see sweet corn being sold by road side vendors. After watching this video, I can say I now know more about corn than I ever did before ;D thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone. Deepest sympathy, and concern for you as you morn the loose of your dear wife.
Ugh! Spelling errors:-/ Lose not loose. Mourn not morn. Take care of yourself Hank. Thanks again.
Thanks, Lisa! You are very kind.
I have grown many kinds of op corns most recently Daymon Morgan Kentucky Butcher .I love the cornbread it makes . Have you read the book “Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden” It makes me happy that people are growing and saving all these old seed corns
I first read that book in the 1970s. 🙂 Melvin Gilmore was my grandfather’s colleague and friend and he also knew Buffalo Bird Woman.
Wow Hank. I love that book..
Hi – how far apart are the centres of the hills? Thanks.
Mine are about 30 inches on center, but you can adjust depending on soil moisture and variety.
Beautiful presentation. I have been growing tall dent corn for a few years now, about 28 plants in a 13×13 foot three sisters plot. Tall, I’ve read, means deep roots and drought resistance. We get enough corn for a year’s worth of corn muffins! I’ve been after Japanese beetles since year two (they love the silk). This year I was surprised by a single ear of smut (the fungus) which I immediately tore off and disposed of, though I hear it is considered a delicacy.
Thanks, Susan! I did my Ph.D. on smut fungi and I can say that smut is tasty when young. 🙂
no video…have audio…is this the free presentation?
Yes sir, it is free! It sounds like you may be experiencing slow connection speeds if only the audio is loading. Try refreshing the page and/or pausing the video and letting it load a bit before playing.
Do the colored corns give that color to the flour or popcorn?
To some degree you will impart color to meal (blue cornchips), but not so much to the popcorn, since most of the pigment other than yellow and white is in the “hull” part of the popped corn.
Finally able to view and hear video though it took a long long time with pauses each sentence related to watching on 2gig. I have been growing 5 rows about 3 feet apart so spouse can cultivate between rows with lawn/garden tractor. He is in his 70’sleep so using tractor makes it possible to still green a very large area of our old horse corral. We have been growing sweet corn with great success here in central Valley of California with very little shut. Not enough to hurt anything anyway. Next year I will attempt to grow one of the dentist or flint corns. I have heard a great deal of good comments on Florida corn (I think that’s how it’s spelled). Thank you for the excellent presentation. I will watch again when I get my 4gig. back.
Sorry for auto correct. Grow a large garden. Smut not shut.Dent not dentist…lol, and Fiorini not florida.
We grow 5 rows 3 feet apart and 50 feet long.
Autocorrect is horrifying to me, but it makes me chuckle too and usually folks know what we’re trying to “say!” Thanks!
I once got a “time out ” in a Christian ladies chat room I was trying to type DUCK,,,, yeah , it was ugly
Also forgot to mention we have been growing Amish Bearpaw popcorn with great success.
Loved the presentation! Sorry if I missed this: How long can I save seeds for growing in the future? Are there more options besides Seed Savers?
Kat, there are lots of options. If you go into the free Library at the Grow Network website, we have a recommended list of seed suppliers. Go here to get access http://try.thegrownetwork.com/free-membership/
You can save them for several years … I store most of my good seed in the freezer. Look for seed at Shumway’s Baker Creek, Native Seed Search, Territorial Seed, Sandhill Preservation Center, Museum of the Fur Trade, Southern Seed Exposure and I am sure many others.
So helpful…thank you! So there are no seeds I might harvest that are destroyed by freezing?
The trick with freezing corn seed is to ensure that it is sufficiently dry that ice crystals can’t form in the embryonic tissue. 14 percent should be fine. If you are worried about your percent moisture level, weigh a handful of seeds, toss them in the food dehydrator and weigh them until their weight doesn’t shrink anymore. Subtract the last number from the first, divide by the first number, multiply by 100 and you know the moisture %. Good luck!
whew, nice tip Hank!
Any recommendations for short season growing … I am in Calgary, Alberta Canada and we usually have a pretty short growing season … this year it has gone longer due to delay of winter but we can have frost up to mid May and then again in September … usually cool at night and hot during the day though this year was weird with lots of rain early on … never really did get very hot … growers here do corn but usually a sweet corn ..I would like to try some of the colored heritage corns if possible
so glad you asked the question, Teresa. Most of the northern plains corn I grow is around 90 days to maturity. Dave Christensen’s Painted Mountain might work for you, it does great way up north along the highline in Montana and at higher elevations. Painted Mountain in my own pots matures in about 80 days — I suspect because we get more heat units typically than in North Dakota and Montana. There are plenty of Assiniboine corns that were/are grown well into western Ontario and SK. There is a 70 day sweet corn called Will’s Early June that might work for you too if you can find it. I have some old seed that needs to be grown out but not sure if John Austin in MT has any.
Wonderful presentation. Hank, thanks for sharing your wealth of experience and information. You have given me much food for thought and I plan on expanding my corn options. Thank you!
Thank you, Amy.
do you have any recommendations for sources of corn landraces based in the Eugene Oregon area?
I do not, other than a selection of Roy’s Calais grown out for generations by Ayers Creek Farm. Heat units is likely the toughest piece to the puzzle.
I have found one person who may help- but she is not accepting orders until January. http://caroldeppe.com Author of the Tao of Vegetable gardening. Worth a try.
I live in Central Florida and is there a certain type of corn that you would recommend that I should try?
That’s a hard call, but I think something like Hickory King might work down there.
Thanks for all this information. I will definitely try planting some flint, dent and flour corn next year. We love cornbread. This year i planted an Indian red corn (seeds from a local exchange)in a small patch next to patches of sweet corn. I wasn’t sure when to harvest it and had to pick it before completely dry, because it was going to rain, but it was still gummy. If I dry it inside, will be alright to grind at this point?
i think the video presentation was good, but I couldn’t hear well the info about planting in hills. I had to listen several times. It would be good if in the future you had a diagram. After cultivating the field, how did you bring up the level of the mounds, with a hoe or a digging fork, or adding more material? Also how did your 35 gal. tub experiment work out? How many plants were you able to grow in them?
Thanks again for this inspiring talk.
Definitely husk the ears and allow them to dry inside. The 35-gallon tubs worked great. I grew Glass Gem in one and another emerald colored miniature popcorn in another. I didn’t hand pollinate the 5 plants in each tub, but I did shake pollen from the tassels onto the silks in the mornings.
The sound doesn’t work.
Starts out fine then nothing.
Have started over 3xs.
Want to hear this man.
Hi Jennifer! This sounds like it might be an issue with your connection speed. Try pausing it a bit to let it load, and then press play again!
Wow…I was just going to watch the video and got lost in the comments! Off to watch said video. Excited!
What was the variety of flour corn and where can you buy it?
I’m hearing him, but I’m not seeing anything!! Help!!
Howdy Theresa! Please try first refreshing your browser, if that doesn’t work, try an alternate browser. It may also be an internet connection issue, in which case you need to pause the video, let it load a bit, and then press play.
OK – never mind! I got to visuals to work. I have no idea what was going on before. 🙂
Wooohoooo! Sorry about the inconvenience. : )
The owner of a store which serves Guatemalan people in central Illinois has begged me to grow a white, large kernel corn which his people use to make a drink. Any idea what this would be called and what company might have it? White popcorn and white sweet corn won’t do it.
If I hd to guess, I would say it is a white flour corn that isused to make ‘pinole’ which is a milk like drink common in S. America. For the Summit last spring I had a presentation on how the Tarahumara Indians make pinole, and also how the grow their corn. But is is basically a soft white flour corn.
Marjory’s expedition to learn from the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico involved a corn drink that was very nourishing and energizing. Baker Creek’s Heirloom Seed/Rare Seed catalog featured some Tarahumara plant varieties last year. They may be able to help you locate an heirloom seed of that variety. What a longing those Quatemalan’s must have for a taste of home!
Nothing on Safari 5.1.10 osx 10.6.8
Any suggestions for varieties less prone to lodging? I grow Kentucky Rainbow (Daymon Morgan’s Knt. Butcher) Dent Corn for wonderful lavender cornbread. Each year half the patch blows over. Also any ideas to prevent chipmunks from digging up seed and young plants? Thanks Hank, from one introvert to another. Your talk was great and very inspirational.
Hi Harriet, Hank mentioned above that growing a bunch together and then tying them up for strength is a tactic in windy areas. That is how the Hopi’s do it.
Hi Hk. Thank you for sharing all this with us. What a treasure you are saving . Sending loving angels to help heal your sorrow.
I appreciate the fact that there are people out there who care enough to save the very best.
Firefox browser is not the best browser to use these days, may want to try Google Chrome installation. I switched a few months back after having trouble with Firefox, and have had no problems since.
Great presentation: very knowledgeable and informative!
so glad to hear you discussing the dent, flint, flour corns I’ve been experimenting with corn for several years to try and determine which varieties grow best in my part of Kentucky in a low/no till environment- glad to know I’m not the only one looking at landraces – but not very good yet at it. have you tried Boone County, Silvermine, Silver King, both of Hickory King, Boone County varieties and did they grow ok>
Is it too early to start cutting down the days until next year’s seed catalog arrives?
Never too early! Ha ha, oh how much time I waste on seed catalogs…
For the folks having trouble getting the presentations to play: for some reason the large play arrow in the middle of the screen does not seem to work, only giving a few seconds of sound. But the small arrow on the bottom worked for me.
Hank, thank you for an excellent presentation. You have a true treasure of an inheritance from your ancestors. And thank you for your dedication to preserve that treasure and pass the enthusiasm for it on to others.
Such a great presentation. I live in the land of sweet corn … North Georgia Appalachian foothills! I’m going to try growing a different variety in the mounds or blocks as I’m limited on garden space with enough sun.
Enjoyed the video, Hank. I had done some reading about the glass corn and was led off into other articles about corn. Interesting stuff. Sweet corn has never done well for me in mid-east Ohio, so I gave up! But I’d rather have corn to grind for flour and meal anyway! I am going to check out ordering some seeds this year again. Thank you!
The best way I have found to keep the chipmunks from digging up every seed I plant is to cover it with floating row cover and then cover all edges with dirt. That is the only way I will get a corn or pea crop.
Oh good tip Debbie!
I’m glad that I got the usb. I hope that the comments and answers will be included.(Hint, hint.) Am heading back to the others to read all the comments.
Wow, so enjoyed this. I now know a little more about corn. I’m inspired to try and grow some of these varieties come spring. Thank you, Hank.
Thank you for the wonderful presentation & sharing your vast knowledge on Zea!
I just moved to N. Idaho from N. Illinois last year. I grew up on a farm, corn & beans, so, this incident is embarrassing! For my first try at growing corn (other than sweet) I grew out Carol Deppe’s Magic Manna corn & ruined much of the seed due to moisture damage…because I was waiting for the ears to “fall” down (point towards the ground).
Do these old varieties not display this “pointing sign” that it is ripe? I know it was fertile…because it sprouted in our very rainy fall. ?
Also, any good seed saving books or sites you can recommend?
Doesn’t the plastic in the buckets leach into the corn plant? I looked last year for safe buckets to use for planting food and found none.
Hank, thanks so much for your presentation. Personally you have made my day. So sorry for your loss accept my sympathy .