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All About ‘Bloody Butcher’ Corn, Part 1: Planting and Pest Control

By Susan Tipton-Fox, The Mushroom Hut @ Fox Farms/Micro Dairy

Tags: corn, heirloom corn, heirloom gardening, pest control, crows, cross pollination, staple crops, North Carolina, Susan Tipton Fox,

When gathering ‘Bloody Butcher’ ears for hanging, make sure the ears are ready. The ears should be full and the silks should be dark and dry. The kernels should already be reddish in color.

We are a sustainable and diversified farm, so we have livestock as well as grow our own produce and berries. Most of the time, when we are looking for a product to use on the farm, we look for something that can serve more than one purpose. We like to stay within our mountain traditions and stick to the “old ways”.

The old ways are now the new ways. Now, it’s called “sustainable living,” but we always called it makin’ do and gettin’ by!

We were looking for an organic product we could grow on the farm and provide food for chickens, goats and pigs. We wanted something that was heirloom and not hybrid so we could save our own seeds to plant and not have to buy seeds each year. I was familiar with field corn, because my family grew that. A lot of the “old” corn varieties, or field corn, gave way to the more popular hybridized “sweet” corn. So, it’s not that this type of corn is new — it’s just that it is being re-introduced.

We found just the product: ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn. I was intrigued with the name itself and, being someone who has to know the story behind things, I started researching. I found out this was one of the corns that was introduced to the settlers around the 1840s by the Native Americans.

We are a “start-to-finish” farm so, we save our seed that we’re going to plant. We got our original heirloom ‘Bloody Butcher’ seed from R.H. Shumway. There are other heirloom seed companies that you can check into. When I’m looking to find heirloom seed, I look for price, shipping and handling cost and the seed review. It really doesn’t matter how cheap a company is if the seed is no good!

After you get your first start, you can save your own seed for the following year.

Planting ‘Bloody Butcher’ Corn

Temperature. Plant the seeds only after the ground has warmed to 60-65 degrees and all danger of frost has passed. Here in the Mountains of Western North Carolina, that is usually around the last week in April.

The weather can be friend or foe to the farmer and this past year it was not a friend. The weather was warm and then turned off unusually cold, and the corn did not germinate and had to be replanted. Then, we had a lot of rain and that caused some seed to rot. So, our harvest was not as much as it has been in past years. This is just a part of farming — that’s why you try to have a back-up plan, or diversify!

Avoiding cross-pollination. A lot of people say they have problems with ‘Bloody Butcher’ seed staying true to its originality if open-pollinated or air-pollinated. What can you do if you are growing other varieties of corn and are afraid they will mix? Whichever variety takes the longest to mature, plant that first.

You can also plant mammoth sunflowers between the two varieties of corn. In about 2-3 weeks, plant the second corn variety. They should be pollinated at different times.

To prevent cross-pollination between corn species, plant mammoth sunflowers between the two varieties of corn. Wait about 2-3 weeks before planting the second corn variety.

Sowing. Some people sow the seed closely to ensure plenty of plants and then, when plants are up about 4 inches, they pull up plants that are too close and re-set them. Other people prefer to sow the seed at least 6 inches apart and if the seed doesn't germinate or crows pull up corn, they replant bare spots.

Transplanting. And still others prefer to start the seeds indoors and then transplant directly into the ground when ground is warm enough. With the way the weather has been, it is good to have extra plants available if the weather turns cold or extremely wet and you lose your first planting.

We start some seeds indoors as well, and if we don’t need them for replanting, we give these seedlings out to our students in our “Growing Bloody Butcher Corn” workshops.

Crow patrol. Depending on the warmth of the soil and daily temperatures, it may take your corn 10-14 days to germinate. At this tender stage, you may find crows and rabbits visiting your corn patch. You can put up scarecrows to help confuse the crows into thinking someone is standing guard. Another method that we Mountain People tend to rely on is shooting a crow and hanging it in the corn field as a “warning”.

When the corn is up 8-10 inches, you can start hoeing out the weeds. If you are not too good with a hoe, it might be best to hand weed around the plants.

Fertilizer. We usually spread goat poop as a soil enhancer or fertilizer in the fall. When the corn is growing, you can side-dress with aged manure if needed. Don’t use fresh, because it can burn the plants.

Pest control. ‘Bloody Butcher’ corn will grow 10-12 feet tall. There’s an old method of using mineral oil in the ears of corn when it starts to “silk”. This will help to keep worms out of the corn. We do not like to use mineral oil because it is a petroleum product, so we substitute with olive oil. (You don’t have to use anything if you don’t want to.)

Read Part 2: Harvesting, Drying, Shelling, and Grinding

Read Part 3: Storing, Packaging, and Selling (with Recipes)

Susan Tipton-Fox is a presenter at the 2016 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Asheville, North Carolina, on April 9-10, 2016. With more than 150 workshops, there is no shortage of informative demonstrations and lectures to educate and entertain. Go to the FAIR's page for more details and reserve your passes. Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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