Lost Varieties - Wheat, Corn
The phone call ended up being about corn, but it started with wheat. The old-timer who called the office today asked whether it was too late to plant wheat as a cover crop for his half-acre garden. He wanted to plant the wheat to keep out the henbit that would take over if he left the soil bare. The birds could have any seeds that the wheat might produce.
According to UGA’s 2012-13 Wheat Production Guide, “The optimum window for wheat planting in Georgia is typically one week before the average first frost date for a given area and one week after.” In other words, this week is perfect for planting, since our first frost is usually around November 1.
I asked about his seeds, and he said they were just an ordinary winter wheat, and he didn’t know the variety, but it wasn’t like the one his daddy had grown on the family farm many years ago. That wheat had a bluish-purple tint to it, and the grain was very hard. Apparently, the guys at the mill didn’t like it because it was hard on their roller-equipment. I was told, though, by my old-timer, that the blue wheat made great biscuits.
When I asked if he still had any seed for that variety, he said no, it had been lost, like his daddy’s corn.
Then, I had to ask about the corn.
His daddy had crossed Hickory King, which has very wide kernels and is a good corn for hominy, with Tennessee Gourdseed, because he had liked the look of the tall kernels on that gourdseed corn. The resulting corn, even after carefully selecting the best ears to save, still wasn’t quite perfect, so his daddy had taken the best of new corn and planted it intermixed with Hastings’ Prolific (a Georgia variety). The planting was two rows of the first cross and then one row of the Hastings corn, alternated across the field.
The resulting corn had been good for both cornmeal and feed corn, and the ears had been pretty enough to win many ribbons at the fair. Seed from that corn was saved and replanted for many years.
It’s unlikely that my old-timer’s daddy had had formal training in horticulture when he created his own corn, and yet he was successful in breeding a variety of corn that met his own needs.
This story is a good reminder to keep working to save seeds for old family garden crops that come my way, like the Hogseds’ Sweet Potatoes and my friend Becky’s Joanie Beans.
Also, the next time I have a zany garden experiment in mind, I’m going to remind myself that there’s always a chance that something will go exactly right!
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