Thursday, June 23, 2011

Corn Lodging Follow-Up

The corn block is doing exceptionally well since I set up the woven containment system for each stalk.  In fact, the corn stalks have grown almost 1/2 foot since last weekend and are now up to 36" tall.  
This won't be the end of my worries, though.  When I picked the corn variety "Honey & Cream" from the catalog, it was because the description sounded so good:   

"Nothing beats the old-fashioned flavor of this classic, bicolor corn.  
Succulent and sweet, 7 inch ears form 12 rows of the most flavorful, creamy kernals".  

I had fixated on "old-fashioned flavor" and "flavorful, creamy kernals".   I failed to seriously take into account the rest of the description:  "Robust, 7 foot tall plants ..."  

                                                  7-FOOT TALL PLANTS!!  

What was I thinking?  Obviously, I wasn't.  Most corn varieties for the home garden fall in the 5-6 foot range which would have been a better height for my garden.  With the corn growing in a 16" high raised cinderblock bed, the tops may eventually be unreachable.   ..."where corn grows as high as an elephant's eye"...

So my plan is to add 8 foot stakes at the corners and continue to corral the block of corn inside the twine enclosure to prevent "stalk lodging".  That's when the corn plant is actively growing ears and breaks in the middle of the stalk from strong gusts of wind.  The result from this type of lodging is pretty much total loss of the plant.

I'll be learning more from growing this block of corn than I had ever imagined...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Corn Lodging in the Home Garden

I know a lot of gardeners in the Sacramento Valley have planted corn as part of their vegetable garden mix.  But wind conditions on Sunday were really bad for the young corn stalks just getting going with our late spring heat.  Gusts of dry, northwest winds started up early in the morning with a few strong gusts to 30 mph; sustained winds were between 18-20 mph.  I looked out the kitchen window around 10:00 am and couldn't believe what had happened to the corn.  The stalks were lying almost horizontally in the bed and the wind was continuing to beat them down in erratic waves.

I ran out to see how bad it was.  It was bad.  It could have been worse had I not planted baby pumpkins at the south side of the bed.  They were holding the end stalks up just enough to keep the stalks from lying flat on the ground.  I'd heard of this condition and even seen pictures of it in huge corn acreages, but never thought it would happen in my garden.  It was "corn lodging".

Corn can stand slow wind speeds with the roots acting as guy ropes to anchor the plants against lodging.  But during high wind events, the windward roots are pulled from the soil while the leeward roots start to buckle from the fluctuating changes in the direction of the wind, causing the plants to compress down onto the next row of plants.

When lodging happens in large corn fields a decision is often made to leave the corn alone for a few days while the stalks redevelop a root-system, causing the stalks form into a vertical pattern called "goosenecking".  This may decrease photosynthesis and increase the potential for diseases, but it is usually not a complete loss for the farmer.

Because my block of corn is significantly smaller than in the big farms, I decided to use a method for holding the stalks up throughout the season and help prevent possible lodging as our summer winds blow through the valley.

I don't remember where I had seen this method but I know I'm not the first one to use it for the home garden.  It's a simple weaving of twine down the rows in one direction and through the rows in a perpendicular direction, leaving each corn stalk in its own protective cage of twine.

The corn stalks are now back to almost upright positions.  More twine levels will be added as the stalks continue to grow.

Although I feed the corn with fish emulsion every weekend, I decided to add an additional side-dressing of vegetable fertilizer (5-10-10) to encourage faster root development.  Now I just need to wait and see if the corn recovers and gets back on its way to growing tasty late summer treats.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Will Old Zucchini Seeds Germinate?

A question one of my readers asked, after seeing some of the old seeds I was planting, was if old Zucchini seeds will germinate.  I can now say YES! …and NO.  The Squash ‘Slender Gem’ from 2005 and Zucchini ‘Round Bush’, also from 2005 did not germinate—none ever even broke the surface.  But the Zucchini ‘Revenue’ from 2005 all germinated and have grown to healthy plants in their 4” pots.   My suggestion if you’re wondering about planting seeds 3 years or older is to plant them in 4” pots rather than directly into the garden, in case they don’t germinate.  But also make sure you leave some space in the garden for the plants in case they do germinate.

Seed germination has not been a big issue with this years crops since most of the seedlings came up by the third week of May.  It was the last week of May and the first week of June that has had the most impact on all of the plants.  I lost the ‘Orange Delight’ melon which just did not thrive in the unseasonably cold and damp.  And the melons ‘Hales Best’ and ‘Jenny Lind’ are just hanging on.  I may just plant a fresh crop now that the weather is warming up.

Equally holding on are the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra.  They’re still in the 6-packs with too little root development to transplant to 4” pots.  With a three week minimum rooting period in the 4” pots before transplanting into the gardens, it will likely be mid-July before any of them get transplanted into the gardens. 

Looks like September harvests will be very big this year…