Chicken Scratchin’s: Sweet corn harvest produces mixed emotions on the farm

The corn is ready.

These simple words bring delight and fear to the farm. Although our farm is very small and our crops are nominal, we want to run and hide when we hear those words. Everyone on the farm enjoys the bountiful harvest, but only those with thumbs fear the corn.

It all starts in the spring. The garden is tilled, the rows are hoed, and the seeds are planted. Water is supplied throughout the 100 or so days and then a forest of delicious ears appear, if you are lucky. Pretty soon the corn worms come and take a share, the raccoon decides that he loves your corn and even the wind and hail need to sample the corn.

When we make it to day 95 or so we begin the sampling. Ears of corn are shucked and the kernels are too small now, but in a few days it will be ready. We eat a few roasting ears slathered in butter and our minds are able to block out what lies ahead because of the delicious flavor bouncing off our taste buds.

A few days later we innocently pull the wagon to the garden and begin picking beans, tomatoes, okra, squash, cantaloupes, peppers and cucumbers. Then it hits us. The corn must be picked today! As if all of the other picking isn’t enough we have to pick the corn, too.

Over the years we have learned that we can come up with all kinds of procrastinating excuses when an overflowing wheelbarrow leaves the garden, so we try to make ourselves deal with it right then. The food is much fresher and we think it tastes better.

We assemble our corn processing line at the picnic table, complete with our black Labrador waiting for his sample. He loves fresh corn on the cob. Our chickens cluck their dissatisfaction at being left out of the corn party. They too love the corn. We are the ones that get to pick it, shuck it, cut off the ends, remove the silks and haul it to the house. We are the ones that fear the corn.

After we clean the corn we dump the husks and bad pieces in the chicken pen. This is the equivalent of Christmas morning to a chicken. All year they await the day corn falls from the sky into their pen. They love scratching through the husks and stealing kernels from each other.  This pile will keep them scratching for days.

The dog is so excited. He begs for more even though he has had his fair share. He has a sweet tooth and sweet corn is a real treat to him. He has been known to help himself to our red tomatoes by picking them off of the plant or stealing them out of our basket.  Fortunately for us he hasn’t figured out where the corn comes from.

We head to the house with our trays of cleaned corn and begin the pots of water boiling. After several minutes of blanching the ears are cooled in ice water and either frozen whole or stripped from the cob. This process takes a long time for us because we also have to sample more ears. The bags are filled and the freezer is stocked.

Several hours of hard work on an August evening turn into a delicious taste of summer come December, when we take a bag of corn from its safe storage in the freezer. Lucky for us, chickens and dogs do not have thumbs.


williams_jan_1Jan Williams is a farm girl, but was raised in a town. She has finally gotten back to where she thinks she belongs – in the country. She occasionally shares some of her rural experiences with a side of Chicken Scratchin’s. She lives in Osage County, Kansas, with a husband, a dog, two cats and six chickens.

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