Coun­try Gen­tle­men Corn

NZ Gardener - - 2018 Gardener Of The Year - FAM­ILY: POACEAE SPECIES: ZEA MAYS CUL­TI­VAR: COUN­TRY GENTLE­MAN

Coun­try Gentle­man is an heir­loom va­ri­ety de­vel­oped and in­tro­duced to the Amer­i­can mar­ket in 1890 by S.D. Woodruff & Sons. Its milky white ker­nels are tightly and un­evenly packed in zigzag-like pat­terns re­ferred to as shoepegs. Picked young, this corn is de­li­ciously sweet.

Corn be­longs to the Poaceae fam­ily of plants known as grasses, which in­cludes many ce­real crops such as maize, wheat, rice, bar­ley, oats and mil­let (other rel­a­tives in­clude bam­boo, lemon­grass, sug­ar­cane and rye). Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence shows that corn has been cul­ti­vated for some 7000 years – its ge­netic lin­eage can be traced back to Cen­tral Amer­ica and Mex­ico from a se­lec­tion of wild grasses called teosintes, and it is thought that nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring mu­ta­tions, to­gether with hu­man se­lec­tion of cer­tain species, trans­formed these into the cul­ti­vated plant we know to­day. Plant corn in groups or blocks rather than sin­gle rows; be­ing wind-pol­li­nated, this will aid bet­ter pol­li­na­tion. Corn prefers full sun and needs a nu­tri­ent-rich, loamy soil to grow well. In cooler cli­mates, corn seeds should be planted once the soil is be­gin­ning to warm and there is no dan­ger of frosts. From seed to har­vest will be about 90 days.

Corn is a ma­jes­tic plant to watch grow from the ini­tial shoot to its tow­er­ing 2.4m height. Watch­ing its tas­sels sway in the wind and know­ing that pol­li­na­tion is un­der­way give me a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion. The joy of pick­ing a ripe cob in the height of sum­mer and peel­ing back its husk to ex­pose the milky white jew­els makes the wait worth­while.

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