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Deep corn test

 
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A year or so ago I watched a documentary on Hopi Indian planting practices, in which the narrator was talking about planting corn 12 to 18 inches deep and stated that "No other corn in the world will do this." He put me in immediate rebellion mode and I decided to prove him wrong. :)

This spring I planted some random sweet corn about 8 inches deep. I figured it would take a month or more to come up so I planted it in April...then it rained. And rained. And rained. And I think the seeds rotted. So in early June I planted again.

At this point you have to be aware of one of my more irritating habits (other than taking you-tubers random statements as a personal challenge). I planted the corn where I didn't intend to water, in an area with pretty much straight sand. Which is an oops, but the 2nd planting still came up. The second time I planted in four groups--12 inches deep, 10 inches, 8 inches, 6 inches. Of course that's not exact, but as close as I could come with a ruler. I dumped maybe ten pieces of corn in each hole. And multiple stalks came up in each location. The 12 inch deep stalks (3) are more spindly and haven't really recovered. The 8 inch (6 stalks) and 10 inch (4 stalks) are starting to tassel, but the stalks are under 2 feet tall. Which is OK, since this is just a first test. And considering that they didn't get watered, this isn't only success, it's amazing.

Since I now know at least some of the seeds are strong enough to germinate from that depth, I need to work out the details so I can actually get corn off them. But for now, mission accomplished.
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From the left, 12 inches deep, 10, 8, 6
 
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If you save the seeds next year maybe you can plant them 19" deep....actually only my seeds can be planted 19.52" deep...sorry!

;;;Joking.....

!!Nicely done and the next generation will do better i assume. maybe add some bean, squash and bee balm as weell.

bee well
 
Lauren Ritz
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Ben Gorski wrote:If you save the seeds next year maybe you can plant them 19" deep....actually only my seeds can be planted 19.52" deep...sorry!

;;;Joking.....

!!Nicely done and the next generation will do better i assume. maybe add some bean, squash and bee balm as weell.

bee well

Maybe I can make it to 19.51 inches?

I'm currently doing beans and squash in other areas. Mass plantings will have to wait until I have sufficient seeds. I haven't been able to get bee balm started, so that will have to wait.

If you look closely, there is one stalk in the 10 inch section and one in the 8 inch that are much thicker and sturdier than the rest.
 
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Hi Lauren,  

What would be the advantage of planting so deep?  I suppose it might avoid the need for hilling?  Seems like a lot more work digging the hole.

I could also imagine more moisture that deep, but do the roots go that deep anyway?
 
Lauren Ritz
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Artie Scott wrote:Hi Lauren,  

What would be the advantage of planting so deep?  I suppose it might avoid the need for hilling?  Seems like a lot more work digging the hole.

I could also imagine more moisture that deep, but do the roots go that deep anyway?


Corn is essentially a grass, and in my experience the roots usually don't go down more than a few inches. This is why "lodging," or having the corn fall over, is such a risk in high wind areas.

The primary idea behind planting so deep is that in the deserts (which the Hopi reservations are) the water in the top 12 inches evaporates pretty quickly. Below 12 inches, it's almost always damp. The documentary I watched said they watch the other plants in the spring to know how deep to plant. They don't want to water, so they try to put the roots in an area that will stay moist through most of the growing season. I also live in a desert, and I want to be able to plant and grow with little or no water. This is a step in that direction.
 
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Lauren Ritz wrote:A year or so ago I watched a documentary on Hopi Indian planting practices, in which the narrator was talking about planting corn 12 to 18 inches deep and stated that "No other corn in the world will do this." He put me in immediate rebellion mode and I decided to prove him wrong. :)

This spring I planted some random sweet corn about 8 inches deep... I planted the corn where I didn't intend to water, in an area with pretty much straight sand.



Bahaha- I did exactly the same thing a few years ago. I also planted a bunch of seed from a tasty store bought popcorn mix the same way. My summer was too cold that year and my corn too late (like you, I also had to replant) to get seed.  It seemed like the popcorn came up better than the sweet corn, but I had lots of both growing. I keep meaning to try again - with a deeper planting depth, of course since we now know 8" is possible with any old corn :D
 
Lauren Ritz
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I got 3 stalks at 12 inches, 4 at 10 inches and one of them is strong and tasseling. I figure IF (big if at this point) I can get seeds, then try again next year at 10 inches. Five generations tops before I have a variety that will consistently come up from 12 inches. Artie said that it would be more work, but I'm perfectly willing to do the work if it means I get a yield when I otherwise wouldn't.

If I don't get any seeds this year, I have three different varieties of popcorn (two yellow, one white--I prefer the white) that I'm going to use to try again.
 
Ben Gorski
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I have lots of corn/squash/bean varieties if you are interested i can send you some if you'd Lauren like pm me your address
 
Artie Scott
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Interesting, thanks Lauren. Makes perfect sense for windy desert. Great experiment!  
 
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I do not understand the deep planting depth either.

I can understand planting it deep just to show it can be done, I have that kind of personality myself, but in terms of practaclity, deep depth planting would seem to really rob the person growing it of valuable corn. Eight inches is a lot of wasted feed! If you take 8 inches of stalk, especially where it is the biggest in diameter on the plant, then calculate that loss over an acre, that is a lot of wasted feed cows, sheep, horses, etc will not get.

And the lodging explanation does not make sense to me either because corn lodges on the stalk primarily, just below where the heavy cobs hang, and where the stalk is kind of slender. I live on a big hill where the wind absolutely howls, and the soil is thin to boot (only four inches to bedrock in some places), and yet we have never experienced vast amounts of uprooting. We will get a lot of lodging, but it is further up on the stalk.

Then there is the corn stalk itself. It self waters, but not from the root, but from the shape of the leaves. If you look at them closely, they curl inward, like a long funnel. That is so as moisture droplets form on the leaves, which could be rainfall, but also in the form of condensation; those water droplets get funneled down the leaves and into the stalk where it is taken up. That is why corn does really well compared to other crops in times of drought.

I knew a few years ago corn got a lot of bad press, but in my opinion it was really unfounded. It really gave people a bad feeling for corn, when corn is actually a truly amazing plant. The tonnage per acre it provides (24 tons), the ability to feed humans, and then also livestock with the same stalk, the ability to grow in a variety of regions, and even its ability to grow in only four inches of soil. Then with its ability to grow in drought situations, and ability to be processed with a minimal of tools, its really a crop that homesteaders never consider, and should! You can do so much with just a small plot of corn, and yet I watch homesteaders go bankrupt buyin hay, and haying equipment when so much more tonnage per acre can be gleaned from a-mazing corn. (Pun Intended)


 
Lauren Ritz
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Travis, I see your points but when my corn falls over it usually takes the whole rootball with it or bends right at ground level, so I think it really depends on conditions.

In an area with a lot of atmospheric moisture I can see that what you're referring to with the structure of the plant would be a definite help. However, in my conditions (low humidity, no dew or mist, no summer rain) the corn is one of those plants that keels over at the first sign of drought. Maybe that's the fault of the seed, I don't know. But if our corn doesn't get watered regularly we don't get a crop. We've always grown corn, but if it's not going to grow without a great deal of water I'm going to have to figure out alternate growing patterns. Right now our major water user is the garden, and I have to reduce that dependence.

If deep corn works, that's one more crop we can try in the dry garden, where it doesn't get watered during the summer. If it doesn't work and I can't find other processes that do, we're going to have to go to crops that are less water hungry.

(Although something else just occurred to me--the problems with the corn started just about the time we switched from overhead sprinklers to drip, so the structure might be contributing. Thanks!)
 
Travis Johnson
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I understand now...

Yeah that is a very important test, and now I understand why you were so excited when you saw that it might work. I do hope it works for you then, because I really like corn.

But there it could also be the variety of corn too. For instance, it is so damp here, that we cannot grow the same type of wheat that they grow in the mid-west. The wheat grown here is a heritage variety that can take the moisture. So region is huge on what is grown in terms of variety.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Travis Johnson wrote:But there it could also be the variety of corn too. For instance, it is so damp here, that we cannot grow the same type of wheat that they grow in the mid-west. The wheat grown here is a heritage variety that can take the moisture. So region is huge on what is grown in terms of variety.


Yes. I had two varieties of sweet corn, so I just used a mix. I don't really have enough room to breed my own variety of corn, but I want to do that eventually. We've been keeping seeds forever.
 
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Lauren Ritz wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:But there it could also be the variety of corn too. For instance, it is so damp here, that we cannot grow the same type of wheat that they grow in the mid-west. The wheat grown here is a heritage variety that can take the moisture. So region is huge on what is grown in terms of variety.


Yes. I had two varieties of sweet corn, so I just used a mix. I don't really have enough room to breed my own variety of corn, but I want to do that eventually. We've been keeping seeds forever.



And sweet corn is different from Field Corn. Sweet corn is a lot more fussy on emergence that is for sure. That is why I am wondering if your bigger stalks just germinated faster, or if they are just more prone to deep depth sowing. If it is the latter, than it would be worth saving the seed. But really the only way to really see is to put the corn in rows. For every stalk that was robust, save, and then plant that again the following year, and pick the best stalks from that years growth. It is like sheep breeding, but with corn!

But even then, you get good and bad years with corn.


 
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I had one guy stop in from out of state, and just go on and on how my corn looked so good. He said he had never seen stalks so tall, and with two cobs per stalk with such huge kernels. He then asked if he could have some. Well what the heck, with talk like that, have all you want guy. He grabbed a pile of cobs and off he went just a grinning...

I probably should have told the guy it was field corn...

He never did come back. :-)




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Corn
 
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As with most things permaculture and plant related, depth of planting depends.  Generally, if there is adequate moisture, the sweet spot at about 1.5 inches.  In my experience, any deeper just causes the corn plant to expend energy that otherwise would be given to launching the plant toward a healthy life cycle.  They emerge from the soil later and never really catch up to the plants that emerged first.  However, if the soil isn't moist and you are dependent upon rain (not irrigation), you may need to go 2 inches or deeper.

If you plant corn too shallow, the nodal roots will develop above the soil surface, which is less than optimum.  Again, the plant will have to expend energy to get those roots to reach out/down and grab the soil (the way a peanut plant sends out nodal roots)  You want the nodal roots to emerge right at soil level or slightly below so that they can immediately contribute to the health and flourishing of the plant.  Every day that the plant is struggling to emerge from the soil, or struggling to establish its nodal roots, is a wasted day where the plant's energy will not be given to making grain.

So too deep or too shallow will dramatically effect yield.  I've seen videos that show the difference that even a quarter of an inch can effect yield.  Crazy, huh.  

As you conclude your test, please measure (weigh?) the harvest from the plants.  How is the yield on those plants that were planted much deeper?  Which plants yielded the most corn at the end of the season?  I'd love to see pictures of the size of the ears grown by the various plants that were sewn at various depths.

Thanks for sharing this with us.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Marco Banks wrote:So too deep or too shallow will dramatically effect yield.  I've seen videos that show the difference that even a quarter of an inch can effect yield.  Crazy, huh.  

As you conclude your test, please measure (weigh?) the harvest from the plants.  How is the yield on those plants that were planted much deeper?  Which plants yielded the most corn at the end of the season?  I'd love to see pictures of the size of the ears grown by the various plants that were sewn at various depths.

Thanks for sharing this with us.


They actually emerged pretty quickly, about a week for the first shoots to show. I was surprised by that. And the 6 inch group wasn't the first to emerge, which is probably due to other factors even if I don't know what those factors are. I'm really not expecting a "yield" this year, but next year I'll have a better idea of what I'm doing.
 
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Great field trial Lauren.

Did you follow the hopi methods for deep planting (plant a fish or piece of a carcass to act as fertilizer for the corn?) I have found that deep planting of corn works quite well when I follow the "plant the fish, then plant the corn above it" instructions of the elders.

I've never tried deep planting without following that rule of planting corn, I am interested in how your field trial turns out.

I'm trying to gather as many of the native species of corn as I can for a field trial of all the different Native American Corn Species (blues, blacks, reds and multicolored) mostly because I  just want to see how each performs on my farm.

Most of the Corns I want to try are flint corns but there is a blue and a red dent corn that I also hope to give a trial too.

Thanks for this post and please keep us up to date on your results.

Redhawk
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Did you follow the hopi methods for deep planting (plant a fish or piece of a carcass to act as fertilizer for the corn?) I have found that deep planting of corn works quite well when I follow the "plant the fish, then plant the corn above it" instructions of the elders.

I've never tried deep planting without following that rule of planting corn, I am interested in how your field trial turns out.

Redhawk


No, I just planted. Since this project was started to prove a point (can regular corn come up from 12 inches?), I just dumped the seeds in the holes and covered them over. No fertilizer, and my soil is primarily sand. Now that I've proven the possibility, next year I'll be moving on to more structured experiments to figure out the best ways to make it produce a harvest. The plants actually look pretty good, just short.
 
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I've heard of deep planting to protect the corn frost damage. Only necessary where the season is short, like the high desert.

There's a lot of diversity in corn, and you're automatically selecting against the genes that can't handle the conditions. If you employ lots of varieties, you can expect rapid improvement and adaptation. Then you're landracing. Also, you're likely to find the traits you want in "indian" corn, though it's usually field or popcorn, so you'd have to breed sweet genes back in, if you want sweet.
 
Lauren Ritz
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I'm doing landraces on watermelon and dry beans, but not corn yet (at least not deliberately). That's a project for later.
 
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I suspect sweet corn will be the least adaptable to deep planting because the seed has relatively low quantities of carbohydrates for the embryo to tap during the early growth phase, before it pokes above the surface and starts photosynthesis. Flour, flint and dent varieties all have bigger kernels when dry because there is a lot of starch energy stored up for the germinating process, whereas sweet corn shrivels up when dry because most of what is in the kernel is soluble sugars. Hopi corn adapted to deep planting in sand is likely to have comparatively high concentrations of endosperm energy to power that elongated shoot growth with no other inputs until it sees the sun.

This will be a fun breeding exercise to watch!
 
Travis Johnson
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I feel I owe you an apology for being semi-critical of what you were doing, and not fully understanding the reasons behind it.

BUT, as I thought about your situation this afternoon, and how interesting it is, I think it would be worth seeing if you could get a SARE Grant to do more research on this. IT COULD have major implications on farming corn where you live. A SARE Grant may get you the extra funding you need to get a really good study done on this. Just a thought of mine, in case you never considered it?

SARE: Sustainable Agriculture Research Grant (For those that did not know what I was talking about)
 
Lauren Ritz
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Travis Johnson wrote:I feel I owe you an apology for being semi-critical of what you were doing, and not fully understanding the reasons behind it.


No apology needed. Disagreements and contrary opinions are fully allowed, expected and encouraged. :)

Travis Johnson wrote:BUT, as I thought about your situation this afternoon, and how interesting it is, I think it would be worth seeing if you could get a SARE Grant to do more research on this. IT COULD have major implications on farming corn where you live. A SARE Grant may get you the extra funding you need to get a really good study done on this. Just a thought of mine, in case you never considered it?

SARE: Sustainable Agriculture Research Grant (For those that did not know what I was talking about)


That is an interesting idea. At the moment I'm stuck on a third of an acre in a subdivision so it probably wouldn't be feasible. I'm not sure where they grow corn around here, but I know they do. I'll keep it in mind for the future.
 
Travis Johnson
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Lauren Ritz wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:I feel I owe you an apology for being semi-critical of what you were doing, and not fully understanding the reasons behind it.


No apology needed. Disagreements and contrary opinions are fully allowed, expected and encouraged. :)



I sure wish that was my ex-wife's theory, but then again, if it was, I might still be married to her. (Insert shudder, then another shudder again here)

All joking aside, thanks for be understanding. If i ever get to Utah, your cup of coffee is on me.
 
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You encouraged me to plant deep. I went 3" on a couple dozen seeds today. I like the theory behind it.  If it does well i may go to 4" in spring.
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Great field trial Lauren.

Did you follow the hopi methods for deep planting (plant a fish or piece of a carcass to act as fertilizer for the corn?) I have found that deep planting of corn works quite well when I follow the "plant the fish, then plant the corn above it" instructions of the elders.

I've never tried deep planting without following that rule of planting corn, I am interested in how your field trial turns out.

I'm trying to gather as many of the native species of corn as I can for a field trial of all the different Native American Corn Species (blues, blacks, reds and multicolored) mostly because I  just want to see how each performs on my farm.

Most of the Corns I want to try are flint corns but there is a blue and a red dent corn that I also hope to give a trial too.

Thanks for this post and please keep us up to date on your results.

Redhawk



We never planted deep because here we do not have too, we do not have to irrigate any crops here, including potatoes, but we used to fertilize with fish on a large scale.

They had a specially designed implement we would drag behind our tractor that would take the fish guts off a processing plant down in Rockland, and inject it right into the ground. I am not sure how deep it was but I would say at least a foot deep. They did that because of the smell, and so injecting it into the ground kept the smell down immensely. That stopped of course, when they shut down fishing which closed the fish processing plants. Back then, we crop rotated between potatoes and corn every year (corn one year and potatoes the next), using cover crops in between. We only used the fish gut fertilizer for corn though obviously because of its specific needs.

In a way we still do this today, but a lot differently, and for different reasons.

Today we use the byproduct off a seaweed processing plant that turns seaweed into food grade carrigeaian. That seaweed has a lot of minor minerals in it, but mostly it is used to increase the PH in the soil. It doubles as a weak fertilizer, but mostly we use it instead of lime. We used to get it for free, but now we must pay $1.90 a ton which is nonsense because they were paying $17 a ton to dump it in a landfill. It is good stuff, but boy it smells! That is because it is not injected into the soil, but rather spread over the surface with tradional manure spreaders. It however, can be used for any crop: from veggies to corn to poatoes to even grass.

It is just kind of funny because here in New England, we are still fertilizing our crops with produce from the sea.

 
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