LESS IS MORE: An heirloom worth saving

Anasazi sweetcorn is an ancient multi-coloured sweetcorn grown by Greenpatch. Picture: Karl Bayer
Anasazi sweetcorn is an ancient multi-coloured sweetcorn grown by Greenpatch. Picture: Karl Bayer

MY first sweetcorn seeds for the season have gone into the ground. I’ve sown two varieties so far and will be planting at least another three.

I didn’t plan to grow so much corn,  but I couldn’t resist. A corn and maize conservation project run by Greenpatch Organic Seeds is now in its third year and Australian gardeners can start to reap its rewards.

The Corn/Maize project aims to rescue non-hybrid heritage varieties of corn and maize before they are lost forever. Greenpatch Organic Seeds, based on the mid-north coast of NSW, grow and multiply the seeds and make them available to gardeners and farmers. They are selling nine varieties of heritage corn, maize and popcorn this season. Neville Donovan tells me they have another 10 varieties that will be grown and multiplied this summer. 

So far I’ve sown Golden Bantam and Balinese. Next I’ll plant Hawaiian and the beautiful multi-coloured Anasazi. I might even do some more seed shopping and add Blue Mini Popping corn to the mix. Blue corn that can be popped is too irresistible. 

Being able to grow multiple varieties of corn at the same time is one of the advantages of non-hybrid varieties. Neville tells me that ‘‘planting multiple non-hybrid heritage varieties at once will not affect the flavour or taste of the resulting crop’’. In contrast, hybrid varieties of corn shouldn’t be grown with other varieties because any cross pollination can ruin their flavour. Most sweetcorn seed readily available to home gardeners is hybrid. You’ll notice the F1 on the packet indicating its hybrid status.

Another advantage of non-hybrid varieties is that you can save seed to grow the following year – whereas F1 hybrids are sterile. 

Saving seed isn’t a priority for me this year. Corn is wind pollinated and all my varieties will be cross pollinating with each other. Neville suggests saving seeds from a mixed planting ‘‘is a hit and miss as to what it will produce the following season, but that could be an interesting outcome too’’.

I’ll save seed next year once I know which varieties I prefer. Greenpatch grows up to four varieties on its property each season by staggering plantings to reduce cross-pollination.  ‘‘As a general rule we work on five weeks between any two varieties of plantings. It is critical to make sure plants are fertilised and watered well to prevent bolting and possible cross pollination. Pop corns normally take less time to tassel (flower) so it is best to plant them as your first crop,’’ Neville said. 

Two varieties Greenpatch are particularly proud to be saving are Manning White Maize and Anasazi sweetcorn.  

‘‘They are both worlds apart,’’ Neville said.  Manning White was bred in the Manning Valley  near Taree in the 1930s for the dairy farmers to grow as animal feed. It can be eaten fresh when young. Anasazi was bred on the other side of the world more than 2000years ago by the ancient American Indians.  

‘‘We’re still searching for seed from Hickory King and Manning Pride – both once grown widely in the Hunter and North Coast regions. We still hold hope that somebody may have some of these seeds,’’ Neville said. 

Greenpatch is seeking growers to help with the project. If you are interested – and have some space, gardening experience and a reliable water source (or a secret stash of Hickory King or Manning Pride) – I’m sure Greenpatch would be happy to hear from you. More information  via greenpatchseeds.com.

Tricia shares tips for living better with less at littleecofootprints.com and on Instagram (TriciaEco).