The Q&A Archives: Weird Corn

Question: I have had a problem every year with a kernel or 2 of an ear of corn growing at such a rapid rate that the rest of the ear doesn't form properly. A kernel will swell to a huge size and become black and dusty on the inside. I have had the problem only on Silver Queen and any other "white" corn. Can you help me?

Answer: Sounds as though a fungal disease called smut has attacked the ears of corn. Here's the good news about corn smut: it's a fungus that's highly regarded by some individuals and is actually served in some restaurants. Now, here's the bad news: corn smut is a fungus that can survive in the soil 5-7 years. While it is not within the seed, the fungus can survive on the seedcoat. The infection occurs most often when soil temperatures are between 68F and 86F degrees. Here's what you can do: If your soil is infected, don't plant corn, or at least rotate your crop so it's not in soil that's held infected corn for at least 4 years. Plant resistant cultivars like 'Goldie' and 'Blitz'. Plant the seed only 1-inch deep to promote rapid germination. Keep the seedbed moist for the first 4 weeks after planting. If you have the time and patience, pre-sprout your corn seed by placing them between damp papertowels and sealing in a plastic bag. Then carefully plant the spouts. Or, start your seeds in either one-quart or one-half gallon paper milk cartons. When the plants are 8-10 inches tall, cut away the bottom of the container and cut down the length of
two sides of the container. Then dig a hole exactly the same size and depth as the container, and carefully transplant your seedlings. These extra steps will help the corn grow healthy and disease-free.

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