Pop goes the gardening adventure

Alan Elliott
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For the life of me, I can't understand why some teens and tweenies don't like to garden. They're OK when they're little, it's just one more chance to play in dirt. But put a few years on them and mucking around with seeds and soil just doesn't have the flash of computer games.
It takes being creative, drawing on the mystery that gardening is. It also helps if it's something the kids like. There's not much point in saying, "Hey, can you help me plant this swiss chard?" But peas, they all like them, so I managed to talk Tessa into giving me a hand putting those in the other day. Come summertime maybe I'll have some luck getting her out to pick them.
Corn is another one with appeal. But I thought I'd try something a little different, as in the popping variety, since that's always a 'pop'ular item.
There's a company in New Brunswick, Speerville Flour Mill, that in recent years has branched out to grow other seeds and grains, including organic popping corn. I thought, gosh, New Brunswick popcorn ... it wouldn't be much of a stretch to give that a try here in Nova Scotia. Just a few hills, for the fun of it. If it doesn't work out it's no great loss, and it's a lot more fun than watching lawn grow.
I suggested to Tessa that we try a little "science experiment."
I had tried growing popcorn before, with modest results. It was a variety unlike what is ordinarily sold in stores. The kernels are smaller, it pops to a whiter colour and is a lot tastier. A friend in Ontario was growing it and gave me a couple of cobs for seed in my garden.
That was another experiment. I figured I had to extend my growing season and plant them as early as possible in the spring. I had some old window frames kicking around with the panes of glass still in them and used them in an adaptation of the cold-frame method. I had some help that time too, since Molly as a little tyke was like a shadow when I did any gardening. I put her to work planting the seeds, then afterward placed the windows over top, supported by blocks of wood, to supply some warmth in the cold spring.
The plants grew well, but the cobs and kernels weren't as big as I'd hoped, so it was nothing to write home about.
This time around, we tried something different. I suggested to Tessa that we start them off indoors. I got a bag of soil and a half-dozen pots.
As I lined pots up on a tray, and Tessa counted out grains of corn from the bag, I gave a Coles Notes version of corn pollination. The tassel on top of the plant, the male flower, pollinates the silk, the female flower, and that's how you get corn kernels. You never plant corn in a single row, or it won't develop right.
"You know how sometimes you get a cob of corn and there's just a couple of kernels here and there?"
"Well that's because it didn't pollinate very well."
We put four seeds to a pot, and I'm hoping that's enough to constitute a "hill." We'll set aside a corner of the garden for them next month. Then we'll see if six hills of three or four plants apiece gives us some results.
So we're in the early stage of taking our tray of pots outside and back in, as temperatures dictate. We'll be watching like a class of elementary school students for those little sprouts to poke through the soil. Then, when the risk of frost is past, and the dirt is nice and warm, it'll be time to plant them in the garden -- and I'm reasonably sure I'll have a helper.
If this works, and Disney doesn't find out, maybe we'll declare a Merry Poppings Day at some future point. But at this stage, the thought of getting poppable popcorn is just a tentative bonus. For now, it's more of a curiosity. If it doesn't work out 100 per cent, we can enjoy discussing and theorizing what went wrong. And that's one of the great joys of gardening, there's always next year.

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