Corn pudding and hush puppies, cornbread stuffing and succotash. If anything qualifies as authentic American cooking, it surely involves corn. We eat it fresh—still on the cob, creamed, and as the critical ingredient in corn chowder. We eat it dried and ground into cornmeal—in corn pone and muffins, as fritters and johnnycake. Domesticated for millennia, corn has come a long way from its teosinte roots.
Today have six types of corn, five of which are the result of selective breeding: pod corn, flint corn, popcorn (this could be considered a subset of flint corn), flour corn, dent corn, and sweet corn. (Pod corn is a mutant that forms leaves around each kernel, and isn’t commercially useful.)
“Heirloom seeds are better, right?” It’s a question I hear a lot when I’m teaching classes on growing your own veggies. Just the term “heirloom” makes us think of precious family treasures, fine antiques. “Heirloom seeds” is a phrase that sells and many seed companies take full advantage of it.
Heirloom vegetables (or flowers) are varieties that have been in cultivation a long time—decades, if not centuries—and are still being grown today. They’re what your great grandmother would have sown in her garden. They’re the antiques of the gardening world.
True confessions… I am allergic to spinach. Very sad, I know. So, I don’t grow it. Everything I’m about to tell you about spinach cultivation I learned from such wise gardeners as David Whiting, Colorado State University professor and State Coordinator for the Colorado Master Gardener Program, and Diane E. Bilderback, one of my favorite garden writers (and, along with Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, author of my favorite veggie gardening book, Garden Secrets).
The first tricky thing about spinach is when to plant it. Being extremely day-length sensitive, it is sure to bolt when it receives 14 or more hour of daylight per day. You can squeeze in a crop as soon as the weather is warm enough (and thankfully, spinach is relatively hardy), or wait until days are getting shorter again and plant for a fall harvest.
Is your garden being bugged? While 95% of all insects are either beneficial or benign, that last 5% can eat us out of house and home—or at least out of cabbage and broccoli. If insect invaders are on the attack, sometimes you just have to fight back.
Pests may be persistent, but we gardeners are not helpless. I like to remind myself that I am smarter than an aphid and more cunning than a flea beetle. When it comes down to a battle for the harvest, there are lots of tools at our disposal. As a master gardener, I was taught the principles of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Rather than just reaching for a spray can, this approach is multifaceted. There are many ways to outwit a weevil.
Red, green, plain or fancy, tall, squat, and very delicious, lettuce is my favorite crop. Because I plant so much of it, I’ve experimented with dozens of varieties. And since there are hundreds to choose from, I’ve only scratched the surface. I’m always open to your suggestions.