Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Corn Smut

Now growing corn in Virginia is hardly newsworthy in the Country where it is the main crop.  However, after two previously unfruitful attempts, that included not getting a stalk never mind a cob, we were pleased to see two healthy rows of corn complete with cobs.  I initially spent some time watching over them, as one does with a new born, but a freshening cow and a plethora of new rescue horses drew me away; watching paint dry might be more rewarding than watching corn ripening, but it is a close call!  So imagine my disappointment on returning to the corn rows, expecting to see bounteous fruits ready for picking, only to see some of these:

Aghast, I call on our chief researcher (Jorg) to identify the offending horror, and find out what new blight has descended on our veggie plot.  This year the rain has been the main offender, as many of the bugs of previous years seem to be in limited numbers, and rain it seems unleashed this fungus on the corn.  Huitlacoche, pronounced WEET-LA-KO-CHEE is well know in Mexico, and by corn growers all over North America.  The latter have been trying to eradicate it, without success, for many years.  The Mexicans, however, love it, and the article in the link under my photo gives a number of good nutritional reasons to try it.  It also transpires that a crop of "corn smut" sells way over the price of regular corn!

Well, Jorg and I have always been willing to try new dishes, and as huitlacoche is supposed to be packed with lysine a nourishing meal of corn smut is on the cards.  We'll let you know how it goes, but that evil looking corn cob might just have a saving grace.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Phoebe and Bessie
Mother and daughter doing well.  I have to say that each birth brings with it a different crop of fears for me.  Last year I worried for days that a calf's eyes didn't seem right, and was worried that she was blind!  There has been the inevitable "slow to feed calf", with some bottle feds over the years.  This time I agonized over Phoebe's stiff gait and apparent "bandiness".  Now if you had been ejected onto the ground head first, then expected to stand up and walk around, all in the space of a few hours, you might find yourself a little stiff, even after three or four days!  In the end both stiffness and bandiness have gone as you might expect (although just occasionally there are joint problems in new calves) and Phoebe is a normal week old calf.  Our cow vet, Dr Lincoln Rodgers, is to be thanked for his patience in answering our interminable questions.  We may have got over the initial "Two pregnant cows, and no experience" phase, but we still have a lot to learn!

Trophic Levels

Possibly a confusing post title. and yawn inducing grimace for those of you without a science background!  Simply put, every time we convert energy (in this case by consuming plant or animal life) we lose efficiency.  We happen to be vegetarians, for ethical reasons, and so our animals will live out their life spans and return to the soil; where their nutrients will once again be part of the process that has gone on for millions of years.  Now this isn't a sermon on "veg is better than meat", we leave each and all to decide how they wish to approach that question, but Trophic conversion is important from a sustainability issue, given ever increasing populations, countries aspiring to first world status, and looming climate changes.

Understanding the trade-offs in water usage, protein and other nutritional factors, cultivation, and the use of pesticides, between different crops and food chain elements, is more than an esoteric discussion for scientists.  As farmers, even on a small scale, it is essential to understand the impact that lifestyle has on food production and, in our "designer-led" society where appearance seems to matter so much more than substance, what pitfalls that might lead us to in the future.