Sunday, February 12, 2017

A heart breaker named Silver Queen

I'm proud for my friends at the Plant Haus 2 who are opening their new store on Valentine's Day directly across Clay Street from their old store. I imagine Trena Cullins and her crew are about worn out, but I know they'll be happy to be in the new building soon.
My sister, son and I have been active sidewalk superintendents as the new store was under construction by the Zubers, noting each phase of the building underway during our morning walks for coffee at Pint & Plow. For a long while there was no sign on the project and we made many guesses about its purpose. We were thankful when the sign went up announcing the new building would be the home of the Plant Haus.
The weather this time of year acts as if it were a character in a play, with its own personality, ambitions, and conflicts; I know it plays a role in our lives whether we notice it or not. I don’t know if you were up early enough on Tuesday to see the thick fog, but as I drove to work before sunrise that morning, the fog was as heavy as I’ve ever seen here. Later that same morning, as the sun rose and the day grew warm, ghosts of mist rose from parking lots and lawns, rising to a brilliantly clear sky. It was quite beautiful. And then the rest of the day was beautiful and pleasant outside.
This lull between the cold weather of January and the remaining few cold snaps of February brings to mind the chores I still have to do in my garden as I get ready for the coming season. If anticipation is truly the best spice, I suppose these waiting days before planting time are some of the most flavorful of the year.
I've only done a little of the work in my garden this year; I cut down the stringy trees along the fence a weekend ago. I still need to build a better fence to keep the dogs out of the garden and till the soil. I'm toying with the idea of building some raised garden beds this year.
Another part of the garden work I haven’t done yet is the planning – and that's the fun part, really. This time of year, when the skies bounce from cold to hot in the slanting sun, there are few joys more precious than a seed catalog, a nice chair, a sunny window, and time to read. I used to read through the seed catalogs that come to my mailbox with great interest, like a hungry man reading a large menu at a roadside diner, and while my imagination lingers on the exotic plants (tennis ball lettuce, for instance). But printed seed catalogs are a thing of the past, and I always return to the plants I’ve known for many years, the ones that are reliable, but I also return to the one plant that breaks my heart season after season.
There are few heartbreakers like Silver Queen Corn.
The trouble with this plant is not its perennial failure in my garden, nor even the fact that it always springs up strongly with verve and grace before its final disappointment. The problem with this variety stems from the first time I ever planted it in my garden: on that first attempt, Silver Queen corn grew well and produced so many beautiful ears of corn we actually gave corn away. We’d call ahead and have the recipient put a pot of water on the stove to boil, so the time from stalk to pot was kept to an absolute minimum, preserving the sugars in the corn before their sad decline to starch.
In that first season, the Silver Queen was royal, gracious, and bountiful. It happened by chance it was also the first time I’d tried corn in our garden, and I came away from the experience thinking corn was easy to grow, and I’d found a new regular to stand alongside our tomatoes, peppers and beans.
A nice stand of corn is pretty in the garden; it makes the plot look like a garden, with the tall green stalks bunched together like a platoon in formation, a nice contrast to the more squat cages of tomatoes and the staked pepper bushes. We even made a rustic scarecrow after we kept seeing birds among the stalks.
The trouble came in the following years. We never again had the same success with the Silver Queen, for a variety of reasons, from poorly prepared soil, to a harsh wind storm that knocked all of the proud plants to the ground. Year after year I have visited Trena Cullins at the Plant Haus, buying the grayish Silver Queen seeds; year after year I have tried to think through the problems we faced the previous season; year after year I have planted the seeds with hope, thinking we will once again have a nice stand of corn in our garden.
One year Ms. Cullins gave me a different type of corn seed to try and I botched that one, too.
Maybe this is the year for success. Maybe my beginner's luck will return. If I just changed this, or that – perhaps tried raised garden beds -- would the Silver Queen reign again?
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who does not like to eat corn, but plants it for his family. Not that they've had any for many years. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 11, 2017.

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