Get cracking!

Its taken awhile but this week I’ve finally had a go at hand grinding my own corn. If you remember I’ve been trying to track down a grinder so I can turn our corn into polenta and other useful products. To date all I had been able to find was unbelievably expensive grinders only available from overseas.  Our luck changed last month when we were at the Sunday market at Bairnsdale. There, lurking amongst the old hand mincers, TB spotted a hand cranked grain mill. It was not cheap, but as it was all intact and appeared to be in working condition we were willing to take the chance.

Grind

Since then the grinder has languished while we dealt with our self-inflicted apple glut. I finally got the grinder set it up this week and gave it a go. Wow it actually works!

Grindgo

The initial effort to break the dried corn kernels is definitely the hardest part of the exercise and I’m quickly convinced that I would be able to eliminate all upper body exercises from my gym program if I took this up on a regular basis! 
Corncoarse
Anyway, the job needs to be done in stages. Each time the corn is passed through the mill the space between the grinders is closed and a finer grain results.The best thing is that each successive grind is easier to do than the one before.  It took me four grinds to get to a nice size suitable for polenta and I gave the corn an additional run through as I was wanting a fine grain to make polenta  & apple muffins. I was pleased to get just under two cups of polenta from two cobs of corn with virtually no wastage.

Cornpol

I’m also sure that once I get the grinder fixed to a really solid surface the whole process will be easier. I came to this conclusion after I noticed the slots which allow the grinder to be bolted to a bench!  Believe me you don’t want to try this exercise with your grinder clamped to a flimsy table.

I used dried cobs from last years harvest. I’m not sure how good the quality of this years corn will be as those cobs we’ve left to dry seem to have been infested with some type of aphid. Next up my blue corn – watch this space.
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Off the Cob

Our corn is one of the few things that has been growing and producing consistently this season. So much so that it is becoming a regular on the menu. Indeed it needs to be eaten regularly because fresh corn can actually grow past its use-by date and turn into a mass of small beautifully coloured MDF squares. Last year we left our cobs too long on the plant and had to throw out cob after cob that we literally couldn’t get our teeth into.

How do you tell if your corn is ready? As soon as that cornsilk goes a dry and red-brown coloured on top of the cob you should be checking. Peel back the top of the outer leaves of the cob. The silk inside the leaves will still be pale, silky green and still moist (if this is dry then your corn will already be too tough to chew). If the kernels are pale yellow, plump and full (we are growing Golden Bantam so yours may be a slightly different colour), the corn is probably ready. Break one of the kernels with your fingernail is the ‘milk’ that comes out clear = not ready; cloudy = ready; white and thick = past its use-by date.

Corntest

 If the cobs aren’t ready put the leaves back over the cob and hold them together with a rubber band if necessary. Check every day.

So if your corn goes past its used by day you can give it to your chooks if you have them, or let it dry out and grind for polenta. Last year we saved ours and dried the cobs.

I must say that the grinding part the most difficult to achieve. I had absolutely no success with a small grindstone we bought from one of the local Asian shops. As far as I can tell it has a more promising future as a very quaint garden ornament.

Corngrind

I had some luck with a small electric coffee grinder, and almost equal success with our very heavy mortar and pestle (although with the latter you are in grave danger of losing an eye to flying corn kernels).

I’ve had lots of fun reading reviews of corn grinders on Amazon, apparently they are a ‘must have’ item for survivalists! The consensus seems to be that the best (electric) corn grinder is something called the KoMo Fidibus Classic, a mere snip at $US499, a European model. On the hand-cranked side the Imusa Victoria Traditional Corn Grinder $US36 seems to be the go, but of course its temporarily out of stock. I’ll be waiting to see what the shipping price is because I saw the same item on ebay Australia with the most ludicrous shipping price of +$100!! Feel like you are a target for a rip-off?

Well I’m not that desperate yet – back to the coffee grinder.

Better Days

In contrast to my sulking solanums some other crops are revelling in the high rainfall conditions. My strawberries are gi-normous, particularly the Red Gauntlet variety. If I can beat the snails to them just a few fruits are large enough to fill one hand.

Strawb

Thrusting ever skywards are our Golden Bantam Corn. In the picture you can see TB holding a piece of wood that is three metres long. When the photo was taken earlier this week the corn was already higher than the post and they have put on even more growth since.

Corn

The critical focus of the corn crop at present is their pollination. The male flowers are on the top and the female proto-cobs with their silky tassels are in the armpits of the plants below. We did an inadvertant pollination experiment with our corn last year. The corn was planted in several clumps around the garden. Out the front I left nature, via the wind, to deal with pollination. In the back garden TB literally took a hands on approach and shook the plants violently to send the pollen down onto the corn silk.

Much as it grinds me to admit it the backyard corn had a much better pollination rate. The cobs filled out evenly whereas the ones in the front garden were a very mixed bag. Some were full and others only had the odd full kernel on the surface of the cob. So if you see someone violently shaking their corn stalks don’t call the plant protection authorities, its all for the good of the plant.

Back to the Garden

You’d be right in thinking we haven’t been in the garden much lately but on Saturday we did get stuck into some Autumn chores.

Firstly I’ve harvested all of our Blue Popcorn and most of our Strawberry Popcorn. We had hoped to leave all the cobs on the plants until they’d completely dried out but the rain last weekend has encouraged what appears to be a mildew or fungus to get into the leaves of the Strawberry Popcorn in particular. I didn’t want to risk it infecting the cobs. I’m also pleased I picked the cobs as there were a few too many earwigs and slaters falling out of the cobs as I picked them for my liking. Not a big haul by any standard but an indicator of what I’ll focus on next year. The Blue Popcorn cobs were noticeably bigger, both the ears and the individual kernels, than the Strawberry Popcorns, (in the photo Blue is on the right and Strawberry is on the left). I can also confirm that we did get some cross-fertilisation from our one stray Golden Bantam plant that got mixed up with the popcorns. There are some decidedly non-yellow kernels in this cob.We are currently planning on grinding some of our corn, particularly the cobs that remain from the Golden Bantam Sweetcorn. We may only get one meal out of it but that’s a start.

TB also picked a great many Japanese Eggplants. He’s used 1.5kgs of eggplants to make Rose’s Pressed Eggplants, a recipe from Maggie’s Harvest (Maggie Beer, Lantern, Penguin Books, 2007) of salted, pressed and dried fennel flavoured eggplants. The feral fennel was harvested from down near the Mugga Lane tip. Unfortunately for TB he discovered too late that the fennel was growing on a Bull Ants nest and he has the ugly bites to prove it. It will take several weeks to process the eggplants so he’ll have to save it for the April Grow your Own collection.

Before we went away last weekend I direct seeded some bush peas and broadbeans into one of the garden beds. Some have come up already and some have also (from what remains of their stems) been just as quickly demolished by slugs and snails. I’ve now planted my second line of defence into pots. The two varieties I’ve planted are Bush Pea Massey and Snow Peas which were saved from last year’s crop. To encourage pollination, should they get that far, I’ve also planted seeds of 6 heritage Sweet Peas. I’ve read this tip in several books so I plan to give it a go. If nothing else I’ll hopefully get some nice flowers out of it! I also spent some time this planting onion seeds, Creamgold, a brown onion, and my favourite Rosso lunga di Firenze, a long red Italian variety.

Finally we had to do some pond cleaning today. When we got back from our weekend away we discovered our largest goldfish floating upside down on the top of the pond. Vale Klim! we had had him for 10 years. He (the goldfish that is) is survived by Thorpy who we also got at the same time. We are very impressed with the longevity of these two as most domestic goldfish are lucky to survive a year or more. Indeed their other two companions Van den Hoogenband and Suzie didn’t make it for more than a few years. Oh well we’ll just have to go and buy some new swimlets to keep Thorpy company.

It turns out I’m not the only one preparing for spring. During a walk in Commonwealth Park last week I spotted these strange markings on the grass. The work of a deranged grafitti artist? or the start of Floriade preparations? – you choose. From what I could see there seemed to be stars (or perhaps pentangles) and lots of clouds. I can’t see any mention of the 2010 theme on the website. Just remember you saw it here first!

CornharvestHybridBothcornsPressed_eggplantImage064

Trial and error

Oh dear, several of my recent garden trials have gone somewhat pear-shaped lately.

Pumpkins
The most obvious of these was the pumpkin pruning. I returned home to find that my pruning trial had been, as the saying goes, terminated with extreme prejudice. To be blunt no pumpkin was in evidence, gone, disappeared, nada. I can only guess that it got knocked off by the hose as it was pulled past the garden corner it was sitting on. I won’t be asking my neighbour who was kindly watering my garden when we were away as I may need to call on her for help in the future. I’ll have to try Monty Don’s suggestion (The Ivington Diaries, Bloomsbury Publishing 2009), of using his childrens spare cricket stumps on the corners of garden beds to stop the hose demolishing plants on the edges of garden.

Corn
Well the corn may be as high as an elephants eye, but the cobs are somewhat less than impressive. Those kernels that have been fertilised are very moist and tasty but they are in the minority as you can see from the picture. Thankfully subsequent cobs have had a greater number of kernels develop fully.

While I was trying to find out if there was any way of improving the fertilisation of the corn I came across the University of Illinois extension services website http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/corn1.html who, if nothing else provided this somewhat useful bit of trivia. Sweet corn may be divided into three distinct types according to genetic background: normal sugary (SU) which is where our Golden Bantam fits in, sugary enhancer (SE) and supersweet (Sh2). Details on some of the varieties that fit into these categories can be found at their website. I’m not surprised, but also not impressed that corn is being developed with increasing sweetness – I think its rather overdoing it.

We are still waiting for the pop corn varieties to ripen. Their cobs however are far more numerous than those of the sweet corn as well as being quite a bit smaller. However we may yet fall foul of Uni of Illinois dire warnings about cross fertilisation as we have a rogue Golden Bantam plant currently flowering amidst our pop corns.

Beans
I’m starting to believe that enthusiastic posting is the death knell for any plant mentioned. This could seriously limit my topics of conversation on this blog. No sooner have I said encouraging things about my broad beans soldiering on beyond their normal growing time than we had two weeks of really ugly hot weather and the poor remaining plants started curling up their toes. I also was a bit too enthusiastic with sprucing up the soil around their roots and probably disturbed them which didn’t help either. Several, which are being protected by the corn, are still hanging in there. Dare I hope?

The Borlotti beans haven’t fared much better. For once eating them while they were young and were tender enough to be treated like string beans meant we did have several feeds before they too started to whither and die. For them I suspect it was the hot weather in combination with a virus in the soil. It was probably not a good idea to plant them in the same place where we had beans gorwing last year.

SadcobBettercob

While I was sleeping

With the good rain on Christmas and Boxing Day and the distractions of the holiday season I haven’t been in the garden so much lately. I was therefore pleasantly surprised as I watered my way around the beds this morning to see that things have moved on since I last checked.

First of all I can say that friend M has definitely won this years tomato competition. While her tomatoes didn’t quite make Christmas eating when we went over to check on her moggy on Boxing Day the tomatoes were only one or two days off being edible. Ours (see photo) spurred on by this acheivment now look like they’ll be edible next week.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was the corn cobs (although TB tells me he drew my attention to them last week), three on the Golden Bantams that I can see. Out the back the Green Feast peas have put out their first pods and the zucchinis will need picking lest they turn into Zeppelins!

The Italian variety Eggplant Prosperosa (seeds available from www.theItalianGardener.com.au), that I purchased at the Allsun Organic Farm open day in November, has just started to flower. Given its ‘bella figura’ I think that this plant would be one to seriously consider if you want to mix flowers and vegetables in a small garden. The combination of deep purple stems and the pink flowers against the wavy-edged green leaves is just lovely.

Tomat31decCornCorncobGreenfeastZucchiniEggplant

And the corn is as high…

I know I bang on about how much my corn benefits from having a good feed of compost every few weeks. To prove to myself that I wasn’t just imagining this improvement I measured the height of some of our recently planted Golden Bantam sweet corn. On the day I mulched and composted the corn most of the group of 8 plants were between 20 and 30 cms high at the central point of the stem where the leaves emerge. Today, eight days later I have found that all these plants are now 50 to 60cms tall at the same point. I’m glad its not just my imagination or I would think I’d had just a bit too much Christmas cheer!

We ate our first apricots today. This seasons crop will be smaller than last years, but the fruit tastes great. We’ve had to net the tree as our local birds also share our high opinion of the fruit and had already started eating it where they could. The rain has certainly helped give a boost to all the plants in the garden so we’ll be harvesting quite a bit of veg over the coming weeks. Our Borlotti beans appear to be doing particularly well and all things being equal we expect a good harvest.

Our recycling bin collection was today so once the truck had been we transferred all the water captured in the buckets into it as a temporary storage measure. Even if we get rain later this week I’m sure we’ll have used our supply up in the bin before the next recycling collection day.

Back to the garden

About time we caught up on some serious gardening again!

TB harvested great armfulls of thyme and only slightly smaller amounts of tarragon over the weekend. It’s a good idea to do this now and let the plants grow back again to enable a second harvest at the end of summer. You don’t need any fancy drying equipment to dry herbs. For small amounts you can tie them up and hang them upside down in an airy corner to dry – you might want to loosley enclose them in a paper bag to catch any stray bits. For big amounts you can still air dry but make it easy on yourself by getting one of those old multi-drawer plastic-coated wire storage units – they can be found at Revolve in large numbers, just check for soundness before you buy. If they have the wire drawers with them you have a good find. Either put some fly wire or even some loosely woven fabric in the bottom of the wire drawer. If there isn’t a drawer its pretty easy to knock up a frame and staple some fly wire over it and then just lay your herbs out to dry. Again a dry corner where they won’t be disturbed is necessary – we use our shed.

You can also use this method for drying fruit later in the year but some sort of covering to keep the flying insects off will be necessary. For fruit drying you will also need to turn the pieces over regularly to assist in even drying and (hopefully) avoid mould growth (sticking the drying rack near your ordinary fan will also help the process). For some reason it’s hard to conjure up the prospect of moist air today!

Carrots, what can I say. Our first lot shrivelled up in the early part of this month. It only took one day of hot weather and a failure to water, for the poor little things to dry up and die. Thankfully more dilligent watering, with the watercan on non-watering days, has ensured that our second crop has now reached the stage where they are putting out recognisable carrot leaves. The second lot are also positioned where they get some shade in the late afternoon.

My Coles Proloific Broadbeans are living up to their name and will shortly overtake the Red-flowered broad beans in production (although to be honest this isn’t much of a challenge). I think ‘ll take the advice on using the Red-flowered variety more for a green manure crop in future years. Apparently the best time to dig them in is when they flower. I’ll be waiting until a bit later as the braoadbeans are only second to that other wonderful legume the Sweet Pea in terms of having a sweet scent. The other tip is to run over your green manure crop, whatever it may be, with the lawn mower as this is, apparently, the easiest way to chop your crop into small enough pieces to rot down easily. BTW all green manures are best dug in when they are wet to encourage breakdown of plant material. So wait for a rainy day or water well before digging in.

The corn in our front garden is leaping ahead and is now a good half a metre tall. It’s just under a month since I planted them (October 24 to be precise). My big dillema since i mounded the soil up around them and gave them some chook pellets to be getting on with is the rapid development of side shoots. Last year we grew corn and left the side shoots but I was thinking that this may not be beneficial to production. I’ve checked my usual sources but there was nothing forthcoming on this point. I can, however, rely on the good old interweb to provide the answer. Good ole Purdue University has provided the answer http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-98.pdf. It says “Research has shown that removal of corn side shoots (suckers or tillers) not only offers no advantage, it may actually reduce yields.” So now I know. We’ve also planted Blue and Starwberry Corn, a different species Zea mays everta – a popcorn (rather than Sweet Corn Zea mays saccharata). These two types were planted at the same time, side by side. The Blue Corn is nearly twice as tall as the Strawberry Corn. While both are meant to be popping corns I’ll be trying to grind the blue corn as there is a Mexicam staple of Blue Corn tortillas. You can check this out on http://veggicurious.com/2009/05/ they really are blue!