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Corn patch flat on ground from rain-soaked soil -- HELP?!  RSS feed

 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 398
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
23
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This may not be the ideal place for this topic, but I'm not sure where else to put it. (And my garden is and always will be, non-GMO and organic.) This is a bit long-winded but I wanted to give some background first so you could get a better idea what I am facing.

I read that native Americans planted corn -- not in neat little rows spaced a foot between stalks and a couple feet between rows, but several seeds at once in DEEP (as in 8 to 12 inches deep) holes. Usually a squash and some beans were tossed in or in other holes around the corn at the same time. The idea was that the corn stalk would support the growing beans and the squash would shade and keep roots moist.

I tried this scheme a few times, but because humidity is such a problem here, the squash on the ground kept rotting and I had to eliminate it from the equation. Then the beans would wind round the cornstalks so tightly that they would smother them, and that was out as well. I'm thinking this would be a better way to grow in the dessert areas than areas like ours with abundant rainfall and hot, HUMID summers.

Then I thought maybe giving up on this method entirely was kind of like throwing the baby out with the bath water -- plus I remembered all those years of conventional corn patches being flattened (and me out there with string and stakes for hours tying it back up!!!) -- and felt inclined to avoid that again. I wondered if retaining the practice of deep cluster-planting, but without the beans and squash in the equation, might keep my corn upright. So...

As an experiment, I pulled weeds off a section of my garden (no-till) where, for several years, I had been making a large compost pile to raise the soil level in that spot. It was a truly tiny experiment because the bed was only about 6' x 8', but it seemed like a good enough test. Anyway, I poked 10" deep holes in the ground at 6" intervals both ways over the entire area using a long digging bar, and dropped 6 seeds into each hole. Then waited. And waited. And waited...

Finally after about 10 days, young corn plants emerged. They had a long way to go reaching the soil surface, but when they got there, they looked strong and sturdy. After a few weeks of steady growth, the entire patch resembled a giant lawn -- with no space between the corn except those bare intervals left over from the original spacing -- maybe 4 inches between groups of stalks by this time. All the stalks were thick and strong, and being so close together, they held each other up. It did fantastically all summer -- though it was hot and very dry that year -- and I got a huge number of ears from it. (Actually more in that tiny test plot than I'd gotten in a 20' x 30' "field" of corn grown conventionally for several years.) And not a single earworm or gap in the ears over the entire plot! I was sold!

So, then this year, at the end of May, I decided to increase the size of the plot and put it in the center of the garden where we have more sun. So, I hoed off the grass over a rectangle approximately 12' x 15', poked holes in the ground and planted several seeds per/hole like before, and voila' 7' stalks by July 1st and so densely clustered at the bottom that you could barely see light through when squatting down to look. AND, there were no weeds to remove after the plants reached a height of about 2 feet tall because the shade was too intense for weed growth. It was a BEAUTIFUL thing!!!

Then... we began getting Midwestern Monsoons! At first, the corn just grew and grew with all the wonderful rainfall. Then the ground got saturated. Then the ground became a pudding-like slurry. Yesterday, I looked out at my beautiful corn patch and found the entire thing neatly flattened from NW to SE -- looking like a perfectly thatched roof -- except on the ground. Aaaarrrrgghh!!! So, now to my question...

Given that the roots are so deeply buried (though the ground is pudding, as I mentioned) and the stalks so close together... is it likely that it will stand back up by itself? These aren't long rows but a huge, dense mass. The stalks are not broken or bent -- they just fell over like dominoes. I'm thinking that the corn on the top would have to rise out of the way of all that below it first or the weight of the whole thing would keep the bottom stalks down. I am willing to go out there with my stakes and string for the sake of all those beautiful stalks, but I sure don't want to. (I am an ardent gardener, but I quail in my rubber boots at the thought of all those hours of pulling up one stalk at a time and tying it all upright again. So much easier to let Nature do it if she can.) We do at least have sun in the forecast for the next week or so, if that makes a difference. Any thoughts or helpful advice?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2569
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I expect them to stand themselves back up... More or less.

 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 398
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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I hope you are right. How long does it usually take? I just went out to look and they aren't moving.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2569
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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The soil's gotta dry out enough that the roots have something to grab onto... So 2-3 days, to a week.

One of the most startling things that ever happened to me occurred regarding this very topic. I was growing a small experimental patch of corn in someone's garden, and they were taking care of it, so I only checked on it about once a month... I still remember how shocked I was on one trip when the whole corn patch was full a strings, and stakes, and sawhorses. The grower was attempting to keep the corn upright. That sort of thing would never have entered my mind... For the sake of full disclosure, the variety of corn that they were growing for me is what I think of as a corn vine. So it tends to lay down and grow along the ground instead of growing upright.

One corn vine plant growing among other varieties:


Here's what one of my corn patches looked like a week after the corn got blown down because we had a wind storm while I was irrigating. It was hard to walk through and pick, but it mostly stood back up.

 
elle sagenev
Posts: 1282
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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I thought corn was supposed to grow flat #WyomingWinds

 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 398
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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Just for the record, here is what I am dealing with. You can see how closely it was planted and how completely it fell. What I worry about is that the weight of the mass will hold it to the ground -- since these aren't in nice wide rows. (And with all the damp, I am afraid of rot before it rises.) The close-up of the roots shows that they are pretty well rooted and stems mostly unbroken/bent. Do you still think it stands a chance without help from me?




 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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The photos didn't load on my computer...

Corn has been getting blown down and still managed to produce a crop since it was domesticated. I suppose that teosinte has been doing it for millions of years before that.

My bias is that I do as little in the garden as I can get away with and still harvest something... So I don't spray for bugs, I don't right fallen corn, I don't weed very much. I'm kind of a brute force type of guy, so if I were try to right corn, I'd be as likely to bust it off as not. So for me, righting the corn would likely do more damage than not. Your mileage might vary... Wish someone would chime in that's done corn-righting...
 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 398
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
The photos didn't load on my computer...

Corn has been getting blown down and still managed to produce a crop since it was domesticated. I suppose that teosinte has been doing it for millions of years before that.

My bias is that I do as little in the garden as I can get away with and still harvest something... So I don't spray for bugs, I don't right fallen corn, I don't weed very much. I'm kind of a brute force type of guy, so if I were try to right corn, I'd be as likely to bust it off as not. So for me, righting the corn would likely do more damage than not. Your mileage might vary... Wish someone would chime in that's done corn-righting...


Sorry, they are on my facebook page. I figured out that you can go to it by right-clicking on any one of the images and selecting "view image". That takes you to an album showing the corn (and incidentally, the rest of my garden if you care to wade through about 50 shots). At least it saves time trying to load them here. And if you do look through them you will see that I also seldom weed I also spend little time laying things out perfectly; let things grow where they pop up and re-use buckets, bathtubs, coffee pots, old dresser drawers (seed flats) or whatever else works (like that bed head board helping to hold up the corn!). Unless they really start taking over, I leave bugs alone too. (And, even then, I NEVER use chemicals!!!) I don't mind sharing.


As for corn getting knocked down for its whole evolution, I imagine you're right -- it is a grass, after all. And since evolution favors success stories, that little problem must not badly effect its overall ability to survive and reproduce. Except... that teosinte, with its significantly smaller "ears" would not be as top heavy, and it would naturally form in wide, dense swaths. Density would likely contribute strength to keep it upright except under really extreme conditions. (Particularly with all those intertwined lateral branches -- which teosinte, unlike most modern corn, has).

I'm thinking that modern corn -- an entirely human-directed plant, which does not exist in the wild -- has been engineered primarily for ease and abundance of harvest, rather than to perpetuate itself. That makes it slightly different in that it is in OUR best interests to optimize its growing conditions, and not in the plants' interest to massively reproduce (an expensive waste of nutrients). When you think about it, nature only needs every organism to reproduce itself in order to be successful. That means, in a field of say, 1000 stalks of corn, if only about a dozen ears were harvested, nature would be content. It would be enough to reproduce the next years' field and the species would go on.

We however, are another story -- we would NOT be content with that yield. To "better" ends, we pull and prod and poke our plants to make them give us every last ounce of reproductive potential. So... upright, strong plants, producing tassels at the top (optimum placement for the pollen to drop down for fertilization); then upright, strong plants to keep developing ears high and dry -- away from mold-inducing wet ground, insects, rodents, etc. and we have a yield that satisfies us. With lodging, much of the potential for harvest will be lost by having plants in awkward positions to reproduce or to develop and ripen already fertilized fruits to the point of harvest. So, while some yield may be possible with the crop on the ground, most will be lost. (I'm speaking of severe cases with corn flat on the ground, not the slightly bent stalks or occasional flattened stalk.)

I guess what it comes down to is how much work I want to put into my plot for a good yield as opposed to letting nature -- who won't mind a poor yield -- deal with it. Since I opted for a good yield when I planted it, I think I will try to save that potential and stand it back up. Otherwise, it would likely be more time-effective to rip it out completely and put in a second crop. Fortunately, where I live that is an option. In fact, I may put in another plot in another of my gardens lower down on a south-facing slope AND try to fix this one. It might be an interesting experiment to see which produces best considering the lodging of one just prior to tassels forming, and the time of year for planting/harvesting on the second crop. Not that it is a scientific comparison with so many variables between them, but a fun thing to observe non-the-less. And for me, that is half the point of gardening.
 
jimmy gallop
Posts: 196
Location: east and dfw texas
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my corn does this about every year
dependent on severity what I do
I don"t think standing them up works very good but sometimes I try
I went about corn the exact same as you and had similar results
what I tried last was planting poll beans on fence ( grew 6 ft tall) on the south side of my corn ,because that"s the direction the wind always blows it over right . wrong .this year It still blew it down just different direction but not as bad.
guess I"ll try surrounding it next year.
I plant mine 12 inches apart both ways and from 2 to 4 inches deep row 70 ft long and 10 rows wide
I do think they need to be further apart but have had good success with it

Went back and looked at pic"s!
when its over and the corn it through dig up the roots and see if it is as deep as you planted
sometimes some of mine are and some times not have no Idea why.
 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 398
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
23
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jimmy gallop wrote:
when its over and the corn it through dig up the roots and see if it is as deep as you planted
sometimes some of mine are and some times not have no Idea why.


That's a good idea -- I'll do that. I use a 6' digging bar to poke the holes in -- and usually I can gauge by how much dirt sticks to the bar or how damp it looks whether I have poked it down the right depth -- but who knows whether the dirt falls back in or a kernel lodges part way down? If it looks like a big discrepancy between what I think I'm doing and what actually seems to happen, I may try making a grid of furrows instead so I can be sure of the depth. Either way, I will post the results for anyone interested. Isn't gardening fun?!


Oh... forgot to mention that some of the stalks are actually rising a little bit on their own. I find that absolutely incredible! Tomorrow, I will take a few more photos so you can see. If it keeps going, I will try to document it with photos every day (or maybe every 2 days if it seems slow). I think this may be useful for future reference and for others with this problem.
 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 398
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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I went out and took a few more photos -- I swear it is lifting. Can you go look at the two sets of photos I have on facebook albums and see if you think so too? Or is it just my imagination? https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10207377434416943&l=7b5d5665ff
 
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