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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Corn Confidential (page 2 of 4)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Giving Nature a Hand

If you find you're still getting too many skips, you can try a breeder's trick--hand-pollination. Breeders hand-pollinate corn in order to keep strains pure or make crosses. Because they want to prevent natural pollination they have to bag both the ear and the tassels before the silks and pollen come out. They collect the pollen and carefully sprinkle it on the silks of selected stalks, then place the bag back over the ear.

But in the home garden you don't want to prevent wind pollination; you want to augment it. There's no need to stop cross-pollination (unless there's field corn or popcorn coming into tassel at the same time within one mile of your patch). You just want to make sure all the silks get their fair share of pollen.

The trickiest part is choosing the right time. That means keeping an eye on the tassels and ears. After the tassel has emerged and begun to spread open, the scaly spikelets open up and small yellow anthers emerge and begin releasing golden pollen grains, 1/250 of an inch in diameter. You'll want to start pollinating as soon as you see them.

Go out in the morning after the dew has burned off and grab the tassel. Bend it over gently without breaking it and shake it over the emerging ear. Or break off a tassel from a plant in the middle of the patch and shake it over those on the outside. The object is to get a grain of pollen on every silk.

Some corn experts say you'll get better pollination if you first cut the silks back to an even length so they're brushlike and bristly rather than ragged. The tassels will keep manufacturing fresh pollen for about a week, so you can repeat the pollinating daily.

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