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.

8 comments:

  1. It sure was a windy day for sure! Sorry about the corn but I think it will be fine with your care!

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  2. Did your corn recover completely? Has the twine been sufficient to protect it? This is the first year in many years that I've planted corn and a couple of our fierce Southern thunderstorms has done a number on it. Unfortunately mine isn't just laying down, many of the stalks are broken. However if something like you've done is successful in protecting it I may try again next year.

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  3. I so sorry that you lost your corn crop this year, RoseHawke. It looks like you had both root lodging (when the stalk is blown down) and stalk lodging (where the stalk is broken, usually at the site of the ears). Some of the fierce winds-and hail-that accompany thunderstorms are just too destructive to a block of corn. The twine weave has worked very successfully to keep my corn block standing. I'll update the details in the next blog. Please do try growing corn again next year. Nothing beats the taste of fresh corn right out of the garden! Laure :-)

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  4. Wow! I've never tried corn but there is an abundance of growers here so it's not hard to find fresh picked corn - on virtually every corner this time of year. Looks like hard work so I'm happy to let someone else do that for now. Maybe some day.

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  5. Sorry it's been so long since getting back to you. We did end up getting a couple dozen ears from this year's crop, unfortunately many weren't filled out very well since they were damaged and blown over in the middle of tasseling. Didn't affect the taste any though. However I do want to try again next year and I thank you once more for the idea!

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  6. RoseHawke, I'm glad you were able to harvest at least some ears. I had similar problems with the ears not filling out and finally picked them all when I realized the mice were eating an ear every night. I boiled them up immediately and shared them with Mom. The taste was devine! Mom said it reminded her of the corn her family raised on their farm in North Dakota over 80 years ago. I'll definitely try growing the corn again, but have talked to a neighbor about letting me use some of her garden to grow a bigger block. It think the lack of ear development may have had to do with the block being too small to give uniform pollination. Keep me posted next year when you start your new crop! :-)

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