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In Your Garden: Going crazy about corn

It used to be, you put the pan on the stove and got the water boiling before you went to the garden to pick sweet corn. The sugar in traditional corn was that short lived. And, when you planted corn, the only concern was selecting varieties with different numbers of days to maturity so they would not all ripen at the same time. No longer. Now seed comes in 4 different types: traditional, sugar enhanced, synergistic and supersweet. While you still plant it in blocks, you can’t just mix the types willy nilly. And if you want pop corn or the ornamental types for decoration, well, you might need to find another garden.

There have been many advances in corn breeding in the past few decades, not from genetic engineering, but from natural mutations in field corn. Plant breeders have been working on developing corn in which the sugar producing gene takes the place of the starch producing one. These new varieties have an unusually sweet flavor and stay sweet longer after harvest. This is great for market farmers. The problem for the home gardener is that the wrong kind of pollen can reintroduce genes resulting in tough starchy kernels. Remember, corn is pollinated by the wind. The solution is isolation.

If you like the taste of traditional corn, like Golden Bantam or Silver Queen, you can still plant by maturity date, however, it must be isolated from the new types.  Sugar enhanced must be isolated from both traditional and supersweet pollen as does the Synergistic varieties. The supersweet has to be all by itself, with no chance of cross pollination by any of the others. To add to the problem, all sweet corn must be isolated from field corn. Even at 100 feet, stray pollen can drift in and cause a few starchy kernels per ear. This type of isolation is impossible in most home gardens. So, what is Bunkey to do as he likes both supersweet and synergistic corn and Petunia wants the ornamental ears for Thanksgiving decorations?

There are several options; first, he can plant only one type of the new varieties, or he can stagger planting times.  Or, he can select varieties with different numbers to maturity so that the different varieties won’t be releasing pollen at the time. The aim is 14 days between maturation dates. As for the ornamental ears that Petunia likes, he can either plant that corn in a distant neighbor’s garden or, better yet, just buy some this fall. If she wants pop corn, the Boy scouts sell cans of that every year as a money maker. She can do a good deed at the same time as helping her poor husband out of a hair-tearing problem as to where to plant the darn stuff.

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