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Enough Corn for Proper Pollination  RSS feed

 
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Due to limited space I was only able to plant corn as shown in the attached image. The yellow circles are corn. Green will be squash. How likely am I to experience poor results due to not planting enough corn?

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when I was a child my dad always planted his corn this way and every plant had at least 1 ear.
 
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If you plant that many plants, you will get corn but you will not want to save seeds. Corn is one of the few plants I grow in my garden where I actually have to grow more than I need just to have good seeds for next year. From what I have read, you need to take samples from at least 100 different ears that were pollinated by at least 200 mature plants to have good genetic viability which I believe is what you are referring to. Here is a link for more details: Corn Inbreeding Depression.

As for how necessary the 200 plants and 100 samples is, I can't say from experience and would love to see someone who saves corn seeds weigh in on how big of a deal inbreeding depression is. Something in me thinks maybe it is a myth created by big ag . . .
 
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Carol Deppe (Of "Breed your own vegetable varieties" fame) talks at length about inbreeding depression, and she actively breeds her own varieties of corn and saves seed.

From her books I understand that even one generation of inbreeding in corn can make a considerable hit on genetic diversity and hence the vigour of the overall crop. Also, it is worth realising that each kernel is fertilised by a different pollen grain. With inadequate pollination you are likely to get cobs that are only partially pollinated and hence look misshapen and uneven. You should still get cobs - but the may be less appealing for the table.

 
Brandon Greer
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Charles Kleff wrote:If you plant that many plants, you will get corn but you will not want to save seeds. Corn is one of the few plants I grow in my garden where I actually have to grow more than I need just to have good seeds for next year. From what I have read, you need to take samples from at least 100 different ears that were pollinated by at least 200 mature plants to have good genetic viability which I believe is what you are referring to. Here is a link for more details: Corn Inbreeding Depression.

As for how necessary the 200 plants and 100 samples is, I can't say from experience and would love to see someone who saves corn seeds weigh in on how big of a deal inbreeding depression is. Something in me thinks maybe it is a myth created by big ag . . .



I was actually just referring to the production of edible corn but only because i had no idea that what you mention was an issue. That is quite enlightening indeed. Thanks for pointing it and thanks for the link!
 
Brandon Greer
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Michael Cox wrote:Carol Deppe (Of "Breed your own vegetable varieties" fame) talks at length about inbreeding depression, and she actively breeds her own varieties of corn and saves seed.

From her books I understand that even one generation of inbreeding in corn can make a considerable hit on genetic diversity and hence the vigour of the overall crop. Also, it is worth realising that each kernel is fertilised by a different pollen grain. With inadequate pollination you are likely to get cobs that are only partially pollinated and hence look misshapen and uneven. You should still get cobs - but the may be less appealing for the table.



This is good stuff. I had no idea! Thanks for the info!
 
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As a spur-of-the-moment decision, I bought 10 corn plants (we were at the store buying tomato starts and my four year old wanted to grow corn--who am I to say no to that?!). Having no idea about growing corn, because *I* wasn't interested in growing corn, I planted 5 of them in his garden bed, and 5 in a bed probably 100+feet away.

I'm not planning on saving seed or anything, but I want to make sure that he actually gets some corn cobs from his plants. Do I need to go and buy more corn plants, or can I get by if I pollinate them by hand?

They're Ambroisia corn starts...
 
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it will pollinate fine from my experience. I often grow corn in patches of 12-30 plants and get fully populated cobs. No need to hand pollinate.
 
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nicole: what about direct sowing some more corn? maybe even from kernels for popcorn-making. i find that these sprout well. they should pollinate your plants and might help to produce bio-matter.

EDIT: ok, i should make some starts for corn myself. We did not have that much luck with the weather the past years.
 
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One of the things we observed last year is that it makes a difference which direction you plant your rows.  If I am not mistaken the rows planted against the wind did not do as well.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Tobias Ber wrote:nicole: what about direct sowing some more corn? maybe even from kernels for popcorn-making. i find that these sprout well. they should pollinate your plants and might help to produce bio-matter.

EDIT: ok, i should make some starts for corn myself. We did not have that much luck with the weather the past years.



We totally gave this a whirl today! I have some 1-2 year old organic popcorn kernals and--since the soil is still pretty warm--I put some soil in some clear plastic cups left over from my wedding (which was almost 11 years ago!) and my son put two kernals in each cup. Since the cups are clear, we'll get to--hopefully!--see the seeds sprout and the roots grow. It'll hopefully be a little science experiment, and we'll get enough corn to pollinate the other stalks.

My son's garden bed really isn't that big, and probably can't handle 15 stalks (below is his garden bed)


I'm thinking I'll plant most of the corn in my other garden bed, where 10 of his stalks are planted already, and then use them to hand pollinate the ones in his garden bed. Hopefully that will work!

I find it really funny that I had no inclination to grow corn, and the only place I had room for it was my squash garden bed. Now I just need to add some green beans and I'll have a Three Sister's garden bed! Not what I intended this year, lol!, but it'll be a fun experiment!
 
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Getting some corn is probably important to the kid. I’d plant another little plot from seed. It’s not usually grown from transplants. If they happened to have been in pots a little too long or if they were stressed from transplanting them, they could end up really stunted. They don’t sell corn transplants here, so maybe it works better than I expect, but I don’t like to see kids get disappointed
 
Tobias Ber
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what about making paperpots for the corn starts? You could transplant the whole pots, once they have germinated. I think this would work well in a weedy, roughly cleared area.
 
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I've never heard of corn starts or transplants before. I've always heard of it as direct seeded.
 
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I had heard of the 100 number, what I had heard is that at a minimum I should aim for 100 plants.  If it is 200 plants, I could believe that too.

This is just a comment on probably a slightly larger scale.  This could read "funny", because I am a geek (I have 2 engineering degrees, and analyze everything to death).  I am not looking to produce food at this point (I am the only person in the household that eats corn), this is intended to produce seed.

I am doing a three sisters inspired thing.  I have a raised bed that is 15x22, and within that I will plant 8 columns and 10 rows of corn on 18 inch centers.  A particular corn (Stowell's Evergreen).  I had 2 major sources of seed; one originally from Manitoba and at least 1 year old.  The other major source was from Nova Scotia, and is likely last year's crop.  Both sets of corn seeds (kernels) looked the same to me.  I had also found a third source, via Amazon.  These kernels looked different to me, less white/more yellow.  And fewer seeds.  They ended up spending too long soaking in water, and started to grow a mold.  I meant to give them a 5 minute soak in 100 proof, but something happened and it was over 30 minutes.

All of the first source were potted into 3 inch biodegradable pots with 2 kernels per pot.  All of the second source were potted similarly, as were the third set.  The second set is slightly bigger.  Most of those first 2 sets, produced 2 germinating corn plants per plot.  Planting day is tomorrow, and I will have to kill one in each pot (death by scissors).  Out of mid 70 pots, only two are still not showing a germinating plant or two.  I am hardening off 72 pots (another 4 or 5 will come "later".  72 - 2 with none, we have 21 with a single plant and 49 with 2 plants.  This is the first time for me, but on this basis, I would have been better off to just use a single kernel per pot, It would have gotten me over the 100 threshold I thought I had (my bed has room for 96 plants on this design).

In the outer row/column corn plants, I am planning to plant 4 pole bean plants at 6 inches out around each corn plant.  At the moment, I have a few 2x6-16 foot boards, so I may be able to put a board in place to give me something to lean on, and put beans around corn plants that are "second in".  I have some commercial "Cleome" mix flowers (which might be related to the fourth sister of the indigenous heritage method).  I was kind of thinking they needed to go further in.

Squash (or their cousin the gourd) will go on the outside of 1.x sides.  Two sides are 3.5 feet off a 5 foot tall board fence.  Will the deer see a double fence?  I'll play that by ear.  What's on the other side of the fence is lawn (so this planting is outside of the lawn).  I am planning a double fence on the field side, to try and keep deer out.

I'm on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, and get wind.  I have some windbreak, which is losing effectiveness because upwind neighbours keep looking for the view and cut down the aspens.  In summer, winds from the WNW are probably dominant.  We can get winds from the SW, but the house interferes with those.  And we do get retrograde windy days from the east or NE.  But for pollinating, what is needed  is where the wind comes from when the flowers are out.  And the weather office can't even get daily lows (yesterday was a 10C error in prediction on daily low), I am going to trust them on wind direction when flowers are out?    (I know the math of weather prediction is difficult, I am going to start trying to do it myself.)

I don't know of any neighbors within a half mile that have a garden, upwind or other.  So, I should be okay for foreign pollen sources.  The long dimension is in the prevailing wind direction.  A person should expect less pollination ability in the outer rows that are upwind.  Unless mother nature has prevailing winds through half of the pollination cycle, and then retrograde winds through the other part.

I am far enough downwind of my wind break, that I should have a fair amount of turbulence, which should help in pollinating the corn.  Turbulence being "vortexes", sort of like a tornado on a small scale, with various kinds of orientations.

My expectation is that pollination will be better to the east in the plot, partly because my plot is stretched to the east.

My corn plants are maybe 3 inches tall.  Hardly the 1 foot (2 foot?) that many writeups want before the beans are planted.  I can wait a while to plant the beans (and the squash plants in biodegradable pots as well).

I only started experimenting with planting last year, so the deer don't know (for sure) that there are young tender plants to eat in the spring here.  And my protective fence is a few weeks away.  So, I could plant 72 corn plants tomorrow, and wake up the day after to find deer prints in my raised bed and no corn plants.

Most of this summer revolves around planting tree seeds and putting in a second fence to try and get deer to think that other places are better to go to.  Deer being mule deer and moose.

Best of luck with your garden plantings!
 
Gordon Haverland
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With respect to "transplants".

I planted my corn into biodegradable pots (made from peat I believe).  They have a single hole in the bottom.  If I get around to figuring out how to make pots out of peat (or, I see that there are pots made out of manure and fibre now), I probably should go that route.  It is less expensive.

When I plant out my raised bed tomorrow, I will place the pot (with the corn plant inside) at a location, and then fill with "soil" around the pot.

If you try to remove the "pot", the roots get disturbed, and this can bother the plants for a while.

I don't know that any of the corn plants for my pots, have put a "taproot" through the bottom of the pot, or if any lateral roots have come through the sides.  When I go to plant my corn tomorrow, I will see what is happening.

I don't believe I will find taproots coming out the bottom, but it is a possibility.  In which case, what I do will be regarded as a disturbance by the plant, and it will need to recover from that.

There are advances in "pots" where there are holes on the side as well as the bottom.  And typically for seed germination purposes, these holes have "air" on the "outside".  A root could grow into the "hole" and find there is no soil there.  And what happens is that the root "self-prunes".  The thinking, is that if you now "re-pot" the plant, the self-pruned roots will start again.

A problem results if you have to "de-pot" the plant in order to re-pot it.  The roots get disturbed.  Which is where biodegradable pots help.

Not all the answers, but maybe some more answers?
 
Gordon Haverland
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I think I need another post-script. 

A long time ago, there was a knowledgebase about what it took to grow anything from seed.  Some of the knowledgebase is useful, but inaccurate.  And some is wrong.

You do not need "soil" to grow things.  You do not need a "physical medium" to grow things.

At first, what was regarded as important seems to be the mineral component of soil (sand, clay, silt).  Colour was thought to be important.  It might be slightly useful.

In conventional farming where I am, farmers do "loosen" (airate) the soil, and then for large areas plant the same kind of seed.  Soil is alive.  It has bacterial and fungal components.  Both of those components have zero ability to withstand UV, and sunburn.

The "soil" I have been using is mostly peat moss and/or other organic matter (composted tree chips is another).  I am producing a "soil" of vanishingly small "mineral" content, and is mostly empty space (air, and room for water).  If you were to walk on it, it would squish to nothing.

Where I live, was underneath a glacial lake for a long time.  The soil is mostly clay.  Not too far above the highest elevation of my farm, the soils become gravel.  So, my farm was just a little submerged, for a long time.

The land I have was probably "broken" just after WW-II, so at most it has been "used" for at most 70 years.  It would seem that it was originally seeded to pasture after being broken.  And when my family bought it, that original pasture was still there.  And while I worked up the land  when I was in high school and it was largely reeeded to pasture, nothing has happened since then.

None of which seems to be directly useful for northern India and similar.

But it does provide more context.
 
Gordon Haverland
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I've spent an hour looking into some of the science (more theory based, as opposed to phenomenological) of pollinating corn.  A rule of thumb is that to minimize cross pollinating, you want at least 400 yards of separation.  A recent study looking at 10 years of data from Germany, is finding significant pollen transport at 1km.  Smallest plant spacing I've seen is 10 inches (someone's garden), and I ran across a study in France where they had a 20x20 array of plants (at 0.8m separation) of blue corn in a yellow corn field.  The blue/yellow study did not mention edge effects, I've no idea how well that has been studied so far.  I gather in the past, gene flow studies in Europe have assumed an exponential law for pollen dispersal, that German study found that a power law was a much better fit.

Most pollen is produced from mid to late morning.  A single plant produces between 5 and 50 million pollen grains.  One paper said the duration of pollinating in corn was 1 week, and another study said they observed it was 2  weeks.  Variety dependent?  The release of pollen by corn is not due to steady state wind effects, or directly attributed to turbulence.  It also involves the elasticity of the corn plant.  Typically a plant starts releasing pollen before its own "flowers" are receptive to pollen.

There are lots of descriptions out there on how to hand pollinate corn, all slightly different.  I've no idea if one variation is better than the rest.  But if you do hand pollination, the suggestion was every day for a week.  But if a plant is receptive for more than a week, shouldn't the hand pollinating duration by more than 1 week?  I seen nothing written about hand pollinating if it is windy.  I think the best time to hand pollinate is this late morning time, but there are lots of people who work during the day and have to do their hand pollinating in the late afternoon and/or early evening.

Corn plants do fall over.  One person had "righted" a particular plant 3 times.  Some people are adding soil (mounding) after planting to mitigate this.
 
Gordon Haverland
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Some followup.

I am being slow today, and haven't "planted" as many pots as I had hoped.  So far, none of the pots in about 1/3 of my planting have roots protruding through the bottom of the 3 inch peat pots I am using.  Which means, that the only change the corn has seen, is light/wind/humidity changes between the heated/illuminated seed box and the field.  I am reducing pot populations to 1 before planting (they could be 2).  One pot so far has been planted with an apparent population of 0 (nobody germinated).  I started planting cleome (flower) seeds at about the midpoint of 4 corn plants, in the third row.  It's likely I won't have enough cleome seed to do the entire plot.

According to a corn group in Iowa, Iowa grows the most corn.  The corn typically planted in Iowa is a general field corn used for many things.  It is bred and managed to just produce a single ear of corn.  That ear of corn can have 1200 kernels, the average is 800-1000 (?).

The plant (probably) produces between 5 and 50 million pollen, and it needs about 1000 to pollinate a plant.  This is partly why so many people are allergic to grass pollen, they produce way more pollen than get to the target.  Yes, I am calling corn a kind of grass here.

For people not concerned with high purity, corn pollen drops quite quickly (it seems to be considered "large").  But the work from Germany mentioned in an earlier post said that pollen could travel more than 1km (the maximum found in that study was about 4.5km)..  If you are growing seed, being able to restrict genetic drift (especially with corn) is important.  I had run across a paper which was looking at using netting  or plants to reduce pollen counts so as to plant different kinds of corn closer.  The netting worked better, but the feeling was the sorghum (grass) that was also tested (it grows taller than corn) was a more profitable choice.

I am currently wading through a paper on pollen emission/concentration as a function of microclimate variables.  This is from a small field in Maryland, USA.  Small to me, possibly not small in Maryland.

Or rather, I was reading the paper, and now that break time is over, it is time to go plant some more corn pots. 

 
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i may be crazy--and i've never grown an ear of corn in my life--but don't corn plants have male parts above (anthers I think is the word)  and female parts below, and are completely capable of fertilizing....themselves?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Michael Sohocki wrote:i may be crazy--and i've never grown an ear of corn in my life--but don't corn plants have male parts above (anthers I think is the word)  and female parts below, and are completely capable of fertilizing....themselves?



Maybe it has something to do with their inbreeding problems? I honestly don't know, but am curious, too!

And, as an update on our corn planting, we made a Three Sister's style garden bed, with much thanks to Dr Bryant RedHawk for his advice on how to get a garden bed made in just a few days (here's the thread)

Here's the garden bed, complete with ducks hopefully NOT eating the corn seeds



I also planted two rows in the closest garden bed in this picture (in between all those dandelions, which will hopefully be a nice ground cover for them). This bed is just a few feet upwind from the new garden bed. Hopefully something will sprout and give my son some corn!
DSCF0267.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSCF0267.JPG]
 
Anne Miller
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Michael Sohocki wrote:i may be crazy--and i've never grown an ear of corn in my life--but don't corn plants have male parts above (anthers I think is the word)  and female parts below, and are completely capable of fertilizing....themselves?



The tassel is the male part and the silk is the female part.  If you only have one corn plant then maybe it can fertilize itself ... just not reliable enough.




From Bonnie Plants:

Corn needs plenty of space for two reasons — it is a heavy feeder, and it is primarily pollinated by wind. As grains of pollen are shed by the tassels that grow from the plants’ tops, they must find their way to the delicate strands of silk that emerge from newly formed ears. To make sure silks are nicely showered with pollen, grow corn in blocks of short rows rather than in a long, single row. In a small garden, 15 plants set 1 foot apart can be grown in a 3 x 5-foot bed.

 
Gordon Haverland
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Apparently there are reasons to self pollinate.  I found a paper which looks at self-pollination versus open pollination, I've got no time to try and decipher it.

Effects of open- and self-pollination treatments on genetic estimations in maize diallel experiment
Fatih Kahriman, Cem Ömer Egesel, Eren Zorlu
http://revistas.inia.es/index.php/sjar/article/view/7388/2511
 
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In my garden, most corn pollen falls approximately straight down, most of the time. Therefore, at my place, corn tends towards self pollination. For example, I accidentally planted a seed for colored kernels in my white popcorn patch. The top cob is from the stray seed. The bottom cob is what got contaminated. It is obvious which kernels received pollen from the colored cob, because pollen that carries the "color" gene shows up in the kernels that were pollinated by it.

I haven't counted the kernels, but what's that? Only about 5% visible cross-pollination at 3 feet separation? Then double that to 10%, since 1/2 of the pollen from the colored plant is for white kernels.





corn-pollination-3-feet.jpg
[Thumbnail for corn-pollination-3-feet.jpg]
Observing corn pollination.
 
Steve Farmer
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Your multicoloured cob is expressing the mixed genes from the parents of the plant the cob grew on, not the pollinator of that cob.

To see the results of the most recent cross pollination you would have to plant the seeds off that cob.
 
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Corn should always be planted in AT LEAST two rows side-by-side.  Better yet, at least 3 rows side by side.  If you want a continual harvest throughout the summer, you've got to plant new seeds every 2 weeks or so, but, again, plant it in at least two side-by-side rows to get good pollination.


The diagram in the OP is perfect.
 
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Steve Farmer wrote:Your multicoloured cob is expressing the mixed genes from the parents of the plant the cob grew on, not the pollinator of that cob.

To see the results of the most recent cross pollination you would have to plant the seeds off that cob.



And here's where a little knowledge can be, well, maybe not dangerous but at least inadequate to provide accurate answers.

When I was in uni, we did an experiment growing out different coloured corn seeds and calulating the amount of cross pollination based on the colour ratios of the kernels on the resulting cobs.  It does't work for most plants, but in corn the layer of cells responsible for the colour of the kernel is produced by cells of the seed itself, not cells of the maternal plant, so it does indeed express the mixed genes of the parents.

Here's a couple of links -

Breeding for Grain Quality Traits: The challenges of measuring phenotypes and identifying genotypes.

Plant Breeding and Predicting Offspring Traits - kernel color lesson

I'm sure Carol Deppe talked about this in her plant breeding book too.

On a slightly related note, I once attended a lecture by Steve Jones where he talked a little about his research work on the genetics of stripe patterns on the shells of the local snails.  It turned out, if I remember correctly, that the patterns on the shells represented the genetics of the *grandparents* of the snails who carried the shells.  Took him ages to figure it out.  I still feel a little guilty about that day as it was only a few weeks after my son was born and I turned up at the lecture hall with him in my arms, only to discover that the only available seats were right at the top/back of the hall and the exits were at the front, so I'd have to race down past everyone if he started crying.  Steve, who despite being an expert in human genetics had never had any kids of his own, took it all in his stride and every time he came up with lines about stretching our DNA out to the moon, he'd refer to 'our young friend at the back' and I'd have to hold him up to illustrate.  He even came up for a chat later about the latest discoveries about the importance of telomeres, but he got distracted cooing at the baby part way through and I was forced to admit that I hadn't read all the article about it in the latest Scientific American magazine 'cos I kept getting distracted too.  It's important to keep genetics practical, not just theoretical!
 
Burra Maluca
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Back to the original question...

I was once given ten seeds of Robin's Egg corn.  I ended up with four plants from those ten seeds, which I then planted in a small patch.  This was the result.



Obviously not perfect pollination, but not bad considering!

 
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