Friday, March 4, 2011

Twenty-one Days - Day 5: Stocking Up

Field corn doesn't look like or taste like sweet corn. It's different. Field corn isn't supposed to be eaten on the cob - although some kinds of field corn can be roasted and eaten like we do sweet corn. Just ... it's not the same taste or texture, and perhaps someone who is accustomed to the hybrid corn most Americans know as "corn" might find it not as appealing.

Corn, or zea mays is indigenous to South America, but its been a staple of the aboriginal natives here in what is now the US long enough for it to have migrated all the way up here, to Maine, because when the first colonists arrived from Europe, they were gifted this amazing grass.

I've tried, over the years, to grow corn many times, and, typically, I have a lot of huge, gorgeous corn stalks, and not so many ears. I've always thought I just couldn't really grown corn, that I don't have enough space.

Several years ago, I decided to give up on sweet corn. When I can get as much as I need at the farm stand for a few dollars, it just made more sense to grow higher cost vegetables here and buy the corn. Two years ago, looking through the Johnny Seed catalog, I found information for field corn. The description said it could be "ornamental, ground into corn meal or popped." Really? I could grow popcorn? I LOVE popcorn!

The first year I tried it, I got it into the ground rather late in the season. So, when I peeled back the husks in the fall, and I found ill-formed, mostly green, diminuitive ears, I tossed them in the compost pile and figured it was a wash.

The next year, I decided to plant a Three Sisters "bucket" garden. Again, I had some beautiful stalks. I left the ears on the stalks in the buckets until really late in the season - probably November. Like the first year, the ears were really tiny, and it looked like the kernels hadn't properly formed again. So, I harvested all of it and put it in a wooden 1/2 bushel basket until I figured out what I was going to do with them.

One day, after watching the squirrels outside, I decided I'd give them the ears, and I started shucking them. Then, I took a very good, very close look at the ears, and then, I twisted off a few of the kernels.

Popcorn! It was popcorn! Blue popcorn!


Over the years, I've seen a lot of recommendations regarding what and how much to store. Some of the advice, I felt, was good advice. Some, however, always left me wondering, "... and then what?"

I mean, I could store 400 lbs of wheat berries in food grade plastic buckets with gamma locking lids. I could, but unless it's something that my family eats regularly, it doesn't make a lot of sense to store it.

I could store nundreds of cans of stuff I bought from the grocery store. I could, but when those stored cans get used up ... and they will ... if there's no grocery store for me to buy more cans, my family is going to be pretty hungry.

For me, the most logical response is to store things that I can grow, or to which I have access in my local food shed. Wheat has, in the past, been grown in Maine. Unfortunately, Maine grown wheat isn't as widely available, especially here in the southern part of the State, as, perhaps, it once was, and I can't grow enough wheat for it to be worth my while. I can, however, grow popcorn, and like wheat berries, kernel corn is fairly versatile.

I have a grinder, and so I can grind up the corn to make corn meal, which can be made into bread (and I have found some wheat-free corn bread recipes) or boiled and made into a porridge (polenta is boiled ground corn). Corn can also be sprouted, just like wheat. I can even make it into corn cakes or corn chips.

Unlike wheat, however, corn can be poppped and made into my absolute favorite snack. In fact, I eat popcorn for breakfast sometimes, and why not?

If I had a surplus of corn, I could make whiskey ... or fuel ;).

Healthwise, corn may be a much better choice for an increasingly larger portion of the population than wheat. There is a very large body of research to suggest that wheat may not be as healthy for us as we have come to believe, and an even larger body of research to suggest that, perhaps, there is some not insignificant portion of our population that, literally, can not stomach wheat, who have symptoms ranging from body aches (often misdiagnosed as "fibromyalgia") and fatigue to depression to severe abdominal symptoms (with some evidence to suggest that Crohn's disease is the result of long-term exposure to gluten by someone who is allergic).

Of course, for me, the absolute best reason to turn away from wheat to corn is that I can grow corn and with a Three Sisters configuration, I can grow enough corn, beans and squash (180 lbs last year ;) to get us through a Maine winter, and really, while the food may get boring, corn and squash and beans are much more versatile and exciting than 400 lbs of wheat berries.

What one chooses to put in one's pantry will depend on where one lives, but there should be something that is currently enjoyed by one's family and that can be easily replaced as it's used up, and there should be a lot of it.

To help get you started on figuring out what and how to store food, today I am offering a copy of Sharon Astyk's Independence Days. If you're interested in being entered into the drawing to win Sharon's book, please leave a comment. The winner will be announced on March 8. Good Luck!


The winner of the magnesium firestarter is FARFetched. Congratulations :). Please leave a comment with the address to which you would like your firestarter mailed. Comments are moderated, and I won't post your address.


  1. I just came across your blog this morning and I think we are both on the same page on many things. The whole time I was reading I was thinking to myself YES! YES! YES! Love it. Will keep reading :)

  2. I agree 100%! That's what I always think regarding food storage lists that include powdered eggs, powdered milk, powdered peanut butter - if you can't grow it or make it or trade it without access to the factories, it's not sustainable.

  3. Great series. Keep 'em coming.

  4. I'm enjoying the 21 days and appreciate a chance to win Sharon's book! Thanks! I don't think I can put my email in the profile, but I do read your blog every single day.

  5. This where I am really lacking in the prep dept..the growing part. I have food stored but like you say it is not sustainable..going to have to think about this. I would like to be entered for bood..

  6. Excellent post, and very good points.

    I'd love the chance to win the books - books are always welcome in my home!

  7. I've had similar thoughts. You can store so much and when it's gone, then what. You have to decide what to grow and go with that. I'd love to win the book.

  8. Hubby was raised by Mormons who believe in having a year's worth of food on hand at all times. So yes, there are quite a few buckets o'grain in my MIL's garage!
    My dad was all paranoid about Y2K and they're STILL eating rice and beans they put up over 10 years ago...hahahaha!
    Once we own a home and actually have storage space (under the bed is already in use! I know that's your favorite spot for what, squash?) I can see myself saving more food.

  9. You have a wonderful point about balancing "stocking up" vs providing for your family. I have a friend who is set on trying to stock up all the MRE's for his family. But then what to do when that supply runs out?

    I tried potatoes this past year, and harvested 97 pounds from 10 pounds of seed potatoes. We're still eating them. Plus, it's great for conversation starters with dinner guests!

    I've enjoyed Sharon's other books, and would love to read (and then share) this one.

  10. One more question for you - what type of grain mill do you have? My in-laws got me one for Christmas, but it looks pretty flimsy.

  11. Our garden is going to double in size this year :) New crops, more preserving, really looking forward to it. As for the popcorn, yes, it really is an amazing staple. We bought some non-GMO, organic rainbow coloured popping corn from a local grower. It all pops up white, but is SO pretty in a jar. There is even a variety that is white in colour, that has no husk, so there is no annoying seed cover to get stuck in your teeth ;) Would love to win the books - great 21 days, Wendy!

  12. LOL: Ok you are a long way from Mexico so I will cut you some slack. They have identified (through dna testing) the actual valley in Mexico that corn first came from. Mexico is in North America.

    Some call the area it is in Central America, but that is a very fuzzy term. What is called Central America is in any case part of the North American Continent.

    How on earth did you wind up planting popcorn? Popcorn is a specialty type grown in only a few areas of the U.S. They grow it here in North Carolina.

  13. Hi Wendy! I don't need a copy of the book but I absolutely love it! It changed my life, literally. Now I try to store and eat what I or my community can grow. Sharon is big on oats and if they grow in Scotland, I think they should grow just about anywhere. They might be next on my "to grow" list.

  14. Thank you for this post. We live in the desert southwest, and unfortunately, haven't had much success at growing major food crops. I have had enough beans, corn, and squash for a pot of soup or two, but mostly, it isn't worth the (imported) water to grow it. My winter garden provides a lot of greens for us, but we're really looking to relocate somewhere where we can sustain more production and feed ourselves. Otherwise, mesquite and cactus are going to get pretty old pretty fast.

    I would love a copy of the book. We bought the magnesium starter you recommended this week and I got my first ignition earlier today!


  15. Wendy, don't enter me (for obvious reasons), but your allusion to foraging (perhaps another post) is important. Indigenous people have lived and thrived in all areas of the country. There must be some native plants to sustain us wherever we are. It is simply a matter fo identifying it and then preserving what you find. Although, it is probably a bit more difficult than I am making it sound. Regardless, great work!

  16. I just had a thought regarding growing sweet corn. I seem to remember that corn absorbs a lot of nitrogen out of the soil, and that to get a good crop you need to add nitrogen.

    And of course, the best natural source of nitrogen is chicken poop ~grins~

  17. Been following with fascination - we're a ways away from being able to make the kind of changes to building and land I'd like (rental and all), but we went ahead and took a head-first dive into seeing what we could do about food self-sufficiency, starting with getting things as close to home as possible. (And trying to get the parent's farmhouse back to a productive status.) I've had my eye on that book as a possible help in figuring out some of the storage challenges I'm having for a while now.

  18. patricialynn - yes, growing corn leaches a lot of nitrogen from the soil, but beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and so if you use the Three Sisters configuratuion - grow corn and beans together - you get the corn and the beans, and they work together to make sure that each plant has what it needs to grow healthy.

    Oh, and if that fails, we have chickens, too. Another great "natural" source of nitrogen is your ... ahem ... urine ;).

  19. @Wendy OMG I read that and had a mental picture of the look on my neighbor's faces if I started peeing outside - ~grins~ thanks for the chuckle!

    But in all seriousness, you're right, urine has nitrogen in it. The only concern is that when urine goes stale, it turns into ammonia - so you want to make sure you are putting it out there fresh.

  20. OK, I've sent the contact info in a separate msg, looking forward to hearing from y'all!

    Here on Planet Georgia, making whiskey (excuse me, ethanol!) from corn has been a long-standing tradition. My father-in-law tells me when he first bought the property here, he ended up asking three people to move their stills. :-P You have to be careful with corn though — if I understand what's happened out on the prairie, a field of corn will eat about 1/2 inch of topsoil per year. A tourist trap about 6 miles from here grows popcorn, so I at least have a local source for that…

    I think a lot of the "stocking up" mentality is marketing-driven. It's almost predatory, the way they play on people's fears. I saw a lot of that hucksterism in the Y2K wars.

  21. russell1200 - It's all "south" from here, right? *grin* ... oops! I'm not sure exactly how I ended up planting popcorn, but it was something like, I wanted to plant a 3-Sisters garden, but I didn't want to plant sweet corn, and I saw the popcorn/field corn seed in the Johnny seed catalog, and decided to try it out.

    marygee - we have a No. 2 Universal Food chopper - like this one. It was one of our incredibly lucky freecycle finds ;), but we saw a lot of similar ones at the indoor flea market when we were there last week.

  22. I'd love to learn more about food storage!

  23. We grew and canned a bunch of (crushed) tomatoes this past fall...and this winter have found we don't really use that many crushed tomatoes. We use a crazy amount of pizza sauce, though, so next year there will be quite the shift in our canning regimen!

    Great post. Thanks!