Archive for July, 2010


Several corn mazes dot the countryside; they’re usually in conjunction with a commercial orchard, a pumpkin patch, a winery or other similar outdoor business.  It’s kind of fun to wander around in the stalks, especially if you’re a kid, but it’s always pretty easy to find your way back out.  But it’s a neat way for people who don’t live on farms to experience the beauty of corn close up.

Follow the path to who knows where!


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Summer Sunsets

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Summer Afternoon

The storms and rain have just been unprecedented this summer.  Yesterday afternoon it cleared up, and my wife and I enjoyed a 47 mile bike ride with some friends.  On the way home, the sky in the south grew darker — not ominous, but just an unusually rich, deep blue that signaled storms somewhere in the distance.  It was beautiful against the backdrop of green and gold in the fields.

When I got home I looked at radar and sure enough, storms were pounding areas of Missouri several hundred miles away.  Not a drop of rain fell here which is good — we’ve had way too much already.  When will it dry out?

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More Tassels

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Iowa isn’t just the #1 state for corn, it’s also #1 in soybeans.   A record 10.2 million acres of soybeans were planted in Iowa this year — up 300,000 acres from 2009.  But that’s still less than the non-record 13.3 million acres of corn planted here this year.

Make no mistake, soybeans are an important crop.  Most farmers who plant corn also plant soybeans.  The Iowa Soybean Association is located right here in my hometown of Ankeny.  I know people who work there.  To be sure, beans are no small potatoes around here.

But still…I just can’t fall in love with beans.  They’ll always be second banana to corn.  Corn is and always will be king in Iowa.

Corn is majestic, mysterious, magical.  Beans are, well, just beans.

Everyone knows what happens to the corn:  It fattens livestock, gets processed into syrup (which gets a bad rap, by the way), ground into flour, refined into fuel.  Nobody knows what they do with the soybeans (besides make soy sauce, that is).

People eat sweet corn and popcorn; every kitchen has corn-based foods in the cupboard.  Nobody eats soybeans outright, and when they’re in foods they’re usually disguised as some vague protein ingredient.

Everyone knows what corn looks like, even those who don’t live here.  But some people in Iowa aren’t even sure what soybeans look like; they sometimes confuse it with some other crop; and few know what color the actual beans are (they’re beige, by the way.  How blah!)

Soybeans are what farmers plant when they rotate corn out of the ground, or when it’s too late in the season to plant corn (because beans take less time to mature).


There's just nothing mighty about beans, unless perhaps you are a ladybug.


You can get lost in cornfields; things happen in cornfields — and what happens in the corn stays in the corn!  No one gets lost in beans; no one even ventures into a bean field.  There’s just nothing mighty about beans!

Corn has history.  Thousands of years ago, Mayans cultivated it.  Native Americans showed Pilgrims how to grow it.  To the best of my knowledge, Pilgrims never planted soybeans.

There’s candy corn, decorative corn, stalks displayed in yards in the fall, colorful Indian corn arrangements and cornucopias that adorn dining room tables.  But no one stuffs a “horn-of-plenty” with soybeans.

There are songs about corn and movies about corn.  Can you imagine a bean field whispering “If you build it, they will come,” or Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton tearing through beans in the climax of Twister?

Drugstores still sell goofy postcards from Iowa showing giant ears of corn.  Some people wear big foam corn hats at ballgames.  There are corn mazes, and corn sculptures and corn monuments and corn festivals.  South Dakota has a Corn Palace.  Has anyone ever built a Bean Palace?

I don’t mean to be mean to beans.  They’re a vital crop, and the green fields do make a nice landscape.  But Iowa is and will always be known as the place where the tall corn grows.

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This is a cornflower.  When you grind it up, you get corn FLOUR, which is a key ingredient in muffins, pancakes, tortillas, Doritos and even candy corn.

Just kidding.  It’s a beautiful flower that grows in some ditches, and it gets its name from the days of old when it used to be more prevalent in cornfields themselves.  The use of herbicides has destroyed a lot of its habitat, however, so you don’t see it as much anymore.

It’s not found just in the U.S., and is actually the national flower of Estonia, and one of the national flowers of Germany.  So the story goes, when Queen Louise of Prussia was fleeing Berlin (due to Napoleon’s advancing forces) she hid her children in a field of cornflowers and kept them quiet by weaving little wreaths from the plant.  In France, cornflowers are a symbol for veterans, much like poppies in the U.S.

And supposedly John F. Kennedy Jr. wore a cornflower at his wedding, as the flowers were a favorite of his father.  (That is, if you can believe Wikipedia.)

Other names for the cornflower are “blue bottles” and “bachelor-buttons,” the latter name stemming from the fact in the old days, bachelors wore the flower when they went courting.

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The corn wants to be here so bad it even grows where it’s not supposed to, such as in soybean fields.  This is called “volunteer” corn; it sprouts from seed left in the field from last year’s crop.  Most farmers eventually spray it to get rid of it.

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