Tag Archive | autumn

Indian Corn Harvest

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Every year I grow Indian corn, also called decorative or flint corn. A starchy variety, Indian corn is not for eating fresh. It can be dried and used to decorate, or can be ground into corn meal or popped. The colorful kernels make very interesting popcorn. Sometimes I will place an ear of corn in the microwave and the kernels will pop right on the ear. Popped corn on the cob!
The corn harvest is nearly over, only a few late ears still ripening. The ears are ready to cut from the stalks when the husks turn dry and papery. Decorative corn comes in many colors. The basic shades are white, blue, red and yellow. Many color combinations form as the plants cross-pollinate. Amazing mixes of colors and the beautiful effects of sunbursts on a cob make opening each ear like a treasure hunt.

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This corn takes at least 100 days to mature and must be planted by late May. The stalks are either green or red.  Deep burgundy red corn ripens first, blue corn is last to be ready.  Corn should be planted in blocks of rows for adequate pollination. The stalks grow to 8 or 9 feet tall and are susceptible to heavy winds. To encourage root formation and help stabilize the plants, during the early summer when the corn is about 3 feet tall, I hoe along each row to form a mound around the base of the plants. The corn will grow a second series of roots in this mound and will be able to withstand near hurricane force gales.
At harvest time, I remove the ears, open them and allow them to air dry for several days. The stalks I gather into bunches with baling twine and use to decorate around my house. I leave some of the smaller ears of corn on the plants for the chipmunks and squirrels to enjoy.corn3

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Woolly Bears

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The banded woolly bear is the caterpillar stage of the Isabella tiger moth, Pyrrharctia isabella. The furry little caterpillars are common this time of year, as they are actively searching for a good place to spend the winter. The caterpillars curl up in sheltered areas under plant debris. As the temperatures drop below freezing, the baby moths also freeze. Their blood contains an antifreeze that prevents crystals from forming and allows them to survive until spring in an insectile cryogenic state. When warm days arrive they thaw out and go about their business of turning into moths and starting a new generation.
An interesting survival ploy of woolly bears is their response of curling into a ball and playing dead when touched. Not sure how convincing this is for predators, but it must work or their instincts would not have selected for the behavior.
An old wives tale has it that these furry creatures can predict the severity of the winter. Most myths hold that the larger the orange segment, the milder the winter. Some say that a narrow orange stripe means heavy snow and very fuzzy, fat caterpillars mean very cold weather is ahead.

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a2 This caterpillar found making slow progress across our lawn has a fairly large orange segment compared to the black sections. It is also quite large and furry. So does that mean we’ll have a severely cold winter with lots of snow? Or perhaps a very warm winter? Maybe it just means this is an older caterpillar and it grew during a time of relative dryness.
According to entomologists, banded woolly bears shed their skin, or molt, six times before they are mature enough to pupate. Each time they shed, it is because the original skin is too small and their body is larger. The biggest caterpillars are oldest. They also tend to get more black on them as they age and black seems to develop more when the weather is damp. So if you find a big woolly bear that is mostly black, that doesn’t mean a new ice age is arriving. It is much more likely the caterpillar is nearing maturity and it has experienced a rainy summer.

Harvest

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The harvest is well under way.  I’ve picked pears and apples, winter squash, pie and field pumpkins, mini pumpkins, and indian corn.  Still lots to do, just some of the harvest is in.  Also I need to make apple sauce and pear jelly.  The sunflower is looking beautiful, just before the frosts hit and kill it.  The bees love the fragrant blooms and the pollen.

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Vegetable Garden

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As summer draws to a close, the vegetable garden burgeons with produce.  Otto, the German Shepherd, is eager to greet visitors to the garden.  A fence of plastic lattice half-sheets lashed to pressure-treated deck stair balusters keeps dogs, chickens and strays of all sorts from the garden.

The indian corn grows to heights of eight feet or more.  Each stalk produces at least two large, colorful, decorative ears.  This high starch corn can be hung to brighten a doorway, ground into meal, popped into flavorful kernels, even fed to livestock.  The stalks are bundled for autumn décor.

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My garden always overflows with various squashes.  Summer eating squash have tender skins and are consumed raw or cooked and are kept cold until they are eaten.  This year I grew Sunburst summer squash, a bush variety having yellow fruit with green end decoration.  They are very yummy!  The flowers can also be eaten raw or coated with batter and deep fried.garden8

I grow tiny, Jack-Be-Little miniature pumpkins for decorations. These may be eaten and are quite sweet and fine textured.garden9  Mini pumpkins like to climb the garden fence.

Also, there are pie pumpkins, especially sweet and tender fleshed without a lot of heavy stranding, just what you need to make the perfect pie.garden5

The garden giants, the carving pumpkins for Halloween jack-o-lanterns, are still green, but will soon turn deep orange.  Carving pumpkins are called field pumpkins and can reach sizes of 40 pounds or more.

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The squash compliment is not full without the winter variety. These are Carnival acorn squash and have beautiful white and orange stripes. They make lovely fall ornaments, but really are for eating. Their tough outer shell will allow these squash to be stored for use during the long winter. I like to cook these whole in the oven or microwave, then scrape out the seeds and flesh. The seeds can be roasted with a little salt for a fiber-rich snack. I use winter squash to make nourishing soups and hearty vegetable side dishes.garden7

For the rabbit and horse friends on the farm as well as for our winter supply, I grow several rows of carrots. These are near harvest, and some of the stalks are beginning to die back. The carrots are between 4″-8″ long when I pull them. I like to get them before they grow too large and develop a woody texture.

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Most years I have yellow, wax string beans and I can 20 pints or more for winter eating.  This year the crop failed, even after two re-plantings.  The weather was too wet and cool for the beans to grow well.  Any plants that did sprout quickly shriveled and died.  That’s part of farming life, sometimes you lose the crop.

In the past I also grew tomatoes, but have stopped.  The neighbors always give me more than I can use.  Tomatoes seem to draw small rodents to the garden.  Once they’ve eaten the tomatoes, the mice and voles chew pumpkins and carrots (right in the ground!) so by removing the enticement of tomatoes, perhaps the rodents will be less of a problem.

This year there is a new addition to the garden.  It is a perennial and has a whole corner dedicated to its growth.  Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes, are actually a member of the sunflower family.  They produce a plethora of showy yellow blooms and their tuberous root is edible.  It has a taste that reminds me of sunflower seeds and can be eaten raw or cooked just like potatoes.garden10

The garden also has decorative sunflowers, one can be seen towering on the right side of the top photo.  These produce masses of small, fragrant flowers and black oil seeds the birds devour.  The plants can reach heights of 10 feet or more and are susceptible to the violent winds that come with the early fall tropical storms.

The leaves of the trees are beginning to show a hint of fall color beneath their green.  Soon frosts will arrive, light at first, then deep and killing.  By the end of October the garden will be completely harvested and resting in anticipation of next year’s abundance.