The two photos above were taken at the Garland Community Garden corn patch. The photo on the left shows two newly-formed ears of Aztec Black corn on one stalk. The photo on the right shows the male tassel at the top of the stalk. Initially the ears of corn appear to be all silken hairs coming out of a tightly curled leaf. The silk is important, as it is the female part of the plant that receives the pollen from the male tassel. When folks want to combine desirable characteristics from other varieties of corn they will take the male pollen filled tassel from one type of corn and dust it over the female silk of another ear of corn. There is a little more to creating hybrid corn, and scientists have a much more precise scientific protocol they follow to control the process, but this is basically the way it is done. – Garland Community Garden June 8, 2017
It’s a fact. Many of the corn stalks at the Garland Community Garden have ears of corn. So far the Black Aztec is the most productive with ears. Almost all the stalks on its three rows have two ears of corn. (I'll count the total today if it stops raining.) This is outstanding since corn growing as closely together as we have it in the garden usually only produces one ear of corn per stalk. At the most corn produces two ears per stalk. (I suppose some super GMO corn might produce more but non-GMO sweet corn typically is limited to 2 ears per stalk.)
CORN ATTRACTS BUMBLEBEES
Corn, according to most “experts” that I read, is pollinated almost entirely by wind. I guess the swarm of bumble bees and other native bees down at the Garland Community Garden didn’t get that memo. This afternoon they were thick on the tassels of our Aztec Black and Oaxacan Green corn and they were doing what is called the bumblebee "buzz pollination.” They hang onto the plant and vibrate to loosen the pollen in the tassel pod. I love to watch them doing that. I didn't see any ears on our Bantam which is planted in a patch in front of the Aztec and Oaxacan Green but it was planted a week after and to tell the whole truth, I was in a hurry and didn't check real closely.
I snapped off a couple of tassels and shook them on the silk of the new ears of corn, dusting both ears on each stalk--just in case the bees missed some. If you've ever eaten an ear of corn that is missing kernels, that usually means the corn didn't get adequately pollinated. Corn grows with one ear higher up on the stalk and this is the one that usually gets sufficiently pollinated. (I know most of you know this so bear with me but a few might not.) The second ear, located farther down the stalk is somewhat in the position of mammals who get the "hind teat."
An Intelligent and Uninvited Guest in the Corn Patch
The seeming intelligence of insects is amazing! When I was snapping off a tassel to pollinate the ears of corn, I noticed a little critter, about half an inch long, on one of the stems of the tassel. It looked like a small moth or a skipper with closed wings. I wanted to take a photo of it with my phone and then try to identify it later on the Internet. As I turned the tassel, the little creature kept moving to the underside of the stem where I could not see him. It was comical. I never could get a photo of it. It kept moving to the underside of the stem. So, after giving up in my efforts, and being the generous garden goddess that I am, I deemed it should live and didn't squash it. However, the generosity of my current kind heart may not extend to next year.*
What will we do with this weird corn we are growing? (If it completes its life cycle and becomes a healthy ear of corn)
The Aztec Black and the Oaxacan Green will be ground into corn meal and used to make taco chips for our November 4 Fall Harvest at the Garden when we'll be harvesting the sweet potatoes and the loofahs. If you've seen blue taco chips, they are made from Aztec Black corn meal. The Oaxacan Green is usually a cultural local tortilla made in Oaxaca. We might have tortillas or we may toast them into chips.
The Bantam Sweet corn we will share some with Good Sam's and use the rest for seed to share with the community as seeds for next year.
Teosinte (The ancestor of Corn)
We also have an entire patch of Teosinte down at the garden. Teosinte is the common name for a group of four annual and perennial species of the genus Zea native to Mexico and Central America. While the maize and teosinte plants share a similarly robust growth form, their female inflorescences or ears are strikingly different. The teosinte ear possesses only about 5 to 12 kernels, each sealed tightly in a stony casing. However, it is noteworthy that the ancients still pounded these seeds into meal and made bread from it. The best estimate is that maize was domesticated between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Susan Metz, one of our many community friends of the garden, donated the seed for this patch. Susan has all kinds of degrees in horticultural and agricultural science and has been involved in agricultural research her entire life. Thus she has access to all kinds of exotic seeds that she shares with us.
Teosinte takes about 120 days to mature. By the time we got all the Bermuda grass out of this plot and the Teosinte seed planted, the Aztec Black, Oaxacan Green and the Bantam were already about 6 inches high. (Thus this plot is behind the other corn plots as the maturity cycle for all our other corn is about 90 days).
Corn or Maize has been traced back to Teosinte. Horticulturists are doing many different experiments these days with teosinte and other species of corn creating hybrid plants, as teosinte is especially disease resistant. I plan to learn more about hybrids over the winter with my reading. I'm still holding a somewhat of a paranoid stance toward participating in the development of hybrids, as their seed in the next generation are so iffy. In fact, except as part of some experiment, I wouldn’t even bother to save seeds from hybrids and plant them. If you’ve ever saved seed from produce purchased at the grocery store and then not have any good results (poor produce, or sometimes none at all)—most likely it’s because the seed you saved was from a hybrid.
We will share some of the Teosinte (Tay O sin Tay) seed with school kids and also we plan to grind some into corn meal for our Garden Harvest Festival November 4 that we'll make taco chips out of. Imagine the experience of eating the same food that people ate almost 10,000 years ago!
*Suppressing Competition for the Corn
I did a little research yesterday when I got home from the garden. I am a little concerned that the insect I saw on the corn tassel might have been a baby Helicoverpa zea. In its larval stage this moth is known as the corn earworm. We’ll see what transpires with the corn. If this is indeed a corn pest and it destroys most of our corn crop, then next year we will take definite action. If it only eats a small part of our crop we will likely live with it.
If it is determined that we won't have any corn to eat otherwise, we will order a box of nematodes next year. The going price for the gardener is $36 for 1,600 square feet.
Entomopathogenic nematodes, which are available commercially, provide good suppression of developing larvae if they are applied to corn silk; this has application for home garden production of corn if not commercial production (Purcell et al. 1992). Soil surface and subsurface applications of nematodes also can affect earworm populations because larvae drop to the soil to pupate (Cabanillas and Raulston 1996). This approach may have application for commercial crop protection, but larvae must complete their development before they are killed, so some crop damage ensues.