Friday, April 30, 2010

Talk of corn

Recently, on one of my online vegetable growing discussion groups there was talk of corn and the Three Sisters (not the mountains in Oregon).
Three sisters is a traditional American Indian planting of corn, beans and squash together. The beans climb the corn and the squash wanders through the corn patch, insulating the soil and helping conserve water.
Last year I planted Hickory King dent corn (the tallest corn—reaching 15ft.), scarlet runner beans, and Australian butter squash. I enjoyed growing cornmeal corn, and the butter squash, which is a variety fairly new to the seed catalogues, was delicious, and stored well. The scarlet runner bean goes on my list of “veggies more people should be growing”.

I thought this exchange on the discussion group was interesting and worth sharing. I like hearing individual success stories/methods and this one, with a few of it’s responses, is informative.

Here it is:

Yes, you can use the SFG (Kazi’s note- this is the Square Foot gardening method — a popular and successful backyard gardening method that works well for people with unworkable soil) of closer planting in heavily amended soil (lots of compost). I generally plant my corn on 7" x 7" spacing in a patch, not rows. If you step carefully, you can get to the interior of the patch while the corn is young ... but it is dense enough to keep most weeds from sprouting ;-)

This does make it a problem for adding pole beans to the corn, tho ... so I plant bush beans around the outer edge of the corn patch, and plant watermelon or cantaloupe and let the vines run through the corn patch. There will be a significantly cooler environment under the corn stalks.

I also weave a soaker hose through the patch when it is knee high ... at that time, I hill the corn, side dress with compost, lay the soaker hose, and mulch with grass clippings. Until tasselling, this is generally the last 'hands on' care the corn needs.

At tasselling, I go out in the early morning when the wind is at it's lowest and brush through the patch to make sure the pollen falls into the corn, and not blown away on the wind.

The next time I do anything for the corn is to apply SevinDust to keep the corn borer caterpiller out of the ears when the kernels are starting to fill in. I only apply it once.

The last time I do anything to the corn, is HARVEST! Woohoo!

a response:

If Sevin dust gets on the tassels, it can kill bees that are gathering pollen.

You can also control earworm without affecting bees, by using a dropper to put a drop or two of mineral oil on the silk where it emerges from the husk, just as it is drying out after pollination. This will suffocate any earworms inside.

and another:

Hilling means mounding up the soil.
Because corn stands tall, it is quite vulnerable to going down in a wind, especially in soft loamy or sandy soils. Hilling the corn helps support it better. It also helps drainage in poorly draining soils.

and one more:

Pollination is easy with corn. When the tassles form, pollen will begin to shed. The silks should be light green and fresh looking. When they get dry and start turning brown, it's too late.

It can be as easy as walking the row knocking each stalk with your elbow, so it spreads pollen on adjacent plants. Or you can be more purposeful and bend the tassel over the silk of adjacent plants and shake it. If you have low sun (early morning) and the sun is behind your tassel, you can see the pollen in the air.

And early morning is the best time. If it gets hot and dry, pollen will die.

For small patches or windless seasons, I would always help out the corn as an insurance policy. Many of the big corn growers of the Midwest don't trust to luck either. They hire helicopters to fly up and down the rows, just above the corn.

thanks to those who share their knowledge.

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