Volume I, Issue VII Mid March 2006
The Story of Painted Mountain Corn
Photographed by Mary Hensley
When my husband and I took over Landreth in 2003, one of my first tasks was to clean out the inventory. I will never forget when it came time to look at the corn. Darlene, the organizer of Landreth’s inventory for many years, showed me all of the corn varieties and the ornamental corn. Then she said, “Oh, by the way, we also have this special corn. It is only grown by one man who lives in Montana . We have to call this man and he will send us some. It is called Painted Mountain Corn”
With that, she grabbed a dirty old plastic bag from an old cardboard box. The bag was filled with, at most, ½ pound of corn kernels. She poured some of the corn kernels into my hand, and what I saw took my breath away. I was holding the most beautiful jewel-toned corn kernels. I had never seen anything like these corn kernels. They were ruby, indigo, royal blue, orange, pink, coral and gold. I was filled with questions which Darlene, in her innocence, could not answer, so a few days later I began the quest to learn more about Painted Mountain Corn and that solitary man in Montana, Dave Christensen, who grew this beautiful corn. Quite frankly, this research has been some of the most interesting of my career.
Photographed by Mary Hensley
Dave Christensen is a 61 year old Montana mountain man, father of two, grandfather of eight, and by profession a tanner of Indian buckskin. As a young man he was educated in agriculture with a specialty in animal husbandry, but he focused on genetics and took every course that he could find on genetics. I have never met Dave face-to-face, but I have now had several conversations with him by phone and by email. From these conversations and from the way he conducts his business, I have learned that Dave is a deeply Christian man of the earth, who lives and practices what he believes each day of his life. He lives in the Montana mountain country and grows corn at plots above 5,000 feet where, to quote him, “there is frost every month of the year”.
At the age of 30, he began a project to save the indigenous corn varieties that have “evolved in America ’s desert highlands for 5,000 years”. The purpose of this project was to develop varieties of corn for people throughout the world struggling on marginal land. For 31 years now he has bred these native varieties to produce “the most stress-hardy corn in the world”, Painted Mountain Corn. Among the varieties he has used are the corns brought by the Mandan Indians to the northern Great Plains approximately 350 years ago, further from the equator than corn had ever been grown. George F. Will, who became interested in these varieties, wrote that they “would germinate and grow at lower temperatures than other corn…and that they would tolerate intense summer heat and drought.” According to research by Frank Kutka and Dave Christensen, the Mandan Maize varieties quickly spread to the Rockies and to Canada beginning in the 1860's. The homesteaders and natives depended on these varieties until the 1930’s. Dave rescued these frontier corns and incorporated them into the Painted Mountain gene pool before they went into extinction. The Mandan varieties descending from Mandan corn are a primary genetic contributor to Painted Mountain Corn.
In 2002, the North Koreans, working through an international missionary group, obtained nearly 2 metric tons of Painted Mountain Corn from Dave Christensen and invited him along with others to observe the growing conditions and results. Christensen traveled to Ryunggang Province in North Korea, one of the most remote parts of that country. Ryunggang Province is a plain located at 4,000 feet and surrounded by 9,000 foot mountains. It is the hardest hit province in North Korea in terms of food needs. An international survey of children under the age of 2 found that 46% were stunted, 26% were underweight and 10% showed signs of wasting.
The success of Painted Mountain Corn in Ryunggang was stunning. The Painted Mountain Corn produced, over 3 times as much as the local barley, the only other grain that would grow there. Painted Mountain Corn contained 13% protein compared to an average of 8% for other corn. Painted Mountain Corn also contained a much softer starch which made it easily digestible after a much shorter cooking time. The Painted Mountain Corn had incredibly high levels of anthocyanin antioxidants and lysine and Vitamin A
Painted MountainCorn Husk Painted Mountain Corn Husk
For those of us who are domestic gardeners growing on small plots, the experience of growing Painted Mountain Corn is an extraordinary one. This is easily the most beautiful corn plant you will ever grow. The stalks and husks come in many shades of green, pink, red, burgundy or purple. The kernels are brilliantly jewel-toned. PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS: Our plants rarely grew more than 5 feet tall, but John Gillenwater who grew Painted Mountain in West Virginia during a very wet summer reported stalks that grew 6-8 feet. Painted Mountain is grown primarily as a grain. Cobs dry on the plant, then can be shelled and boiled until soft or ground into corn flour for breads. If you wish you can pick some cobs early and boil or roast them as corn on the cob. The cobs can be roasted for a brief time or boiled for a brief time and eaten fresh. Painted Mountain Corn should not be cooked as long as other corn. The kernels are not as sweet as the sugar-enhanced varieties, but the flavor is rich. The kernels can be dried and ground into cornmeal as well.
For Our Patio/Container Gardeners and Our Gardening Children
Just because you do not have an 8 foot by 8 foot square to grow Painted Mountain Corn does not mean that you should not try to grow it. Try growing three stalks in a container by planting three kernels 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart in a triangle formation in a half barrel sized container. Plant some Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumbers as companion plants in the same container. The Mexican Sour Gherkins will climb up the corn stalks and cascade over the sides of the barrel. You may not get many kernels on your corn cobs, but the stalks will provide you with much ornamental pleasure and you will get plenty of Mexican Sour Gherkins. You can plant a ring of parsley around the edge of the barrel to finish off the little container garden.
Dave Christensen continues to work on his beloved Painted Mountain Corn. His experimental crops are grown on 6 individual acres managed by 6 different farmers. He hand pollinates 2000 plants himself which, he says, “is all one person can do”. Dave's project, called Seed We Need, has been spreading this hardy variety to people in struggling climates on every continent in the world. Dave has had amazing spiritual motivation guiding him to work with the colors in Painted Mountain Corn. Recent scientific research has discovered that the pigments ( anthocyanins) have wonderful antioxidant qualities. Antioxidants protect from cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, diabetes, inflammation and aging of cells. The antioxidants in Painted Mountain Corn are particularly important for indigenous grain-eating people who do not get fresh fruits and vegetables during the long winters. As we all look for ways to enrich our diet, maybe it is worth trying some of Dave’s Painted Mountain Corn.
I will never stop being amazed by the selfless dedication of gardeners like Dave Christensen. Sometimes I sneak back into the warehouse and take a scoop of the Painted Mountain Corn into my hands just to look at it. It is hard to believe that something so intensely beautiful could be so good for you and could do so much good for this world. Thank you, Dave.
The Landreth Seed Family
Barb, Gordy, Fred, Lisa, Shirley, & Peter
How You Can Help Us
This is our Landreth Newsletter. From September through December, we will publish the newsletter monthly. From January through August, we will publish the newsletter biweekly. In each newsletter, we will try to cover topics of interest to our general gardeners, our patio gardeners and our gardening children. We will let you know about upcoming events and our favorite products. If you have questions or topics you would like to see us cover, please email us with your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are a small family run business. We need to get the word out about Landreth. Please think of us, when you are purchasing seeds or buying gifts for gardeners this year. Our notecards, garden tools, watering cans and children’s tools make lovely presents. Our notecards are especially good for those little presents to teachers, helpers, etc. If you like our seeds and other products please go to DavesGarden website www.davesgarden.com and give them some feedback on us in theGarden Watchdog. This feedback really helps us.
Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter. We hope you enjoyed it, and we ask you to tell your friends about Landreth, www.landrethseeds.com . We need YOU to help get the word out about US.
Come and visit us at the following 2006 shows
Friends of the National Arboretum
GardenFair and Plant Sale , Washington , DC
April 28 th – 29 th
Baltimore Flowermart, Baltimore , MD
May 5 th – 6 th