Garden: The Corn is Green
The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. This week, Brian Cruey offers tips on that summer specialty, corn: how best to grow your own or pick from the farm stand.
It’s harvest time. Tomatoes are starting to turn, green beans are weighing on the vine and it’s almost to the point where you can’t even give away your cucumbers anymore. Farmer’s markets are in full swing and one of the things everyone is looking for is farm fresh sweet corn — maybe you’ve even tried growing some yourself. Corn itself is very interesting. There’s not quite another crop like it in the typical vegetable garden. To celebrate this summer staple, here are some things that you might not know about corn:
Corn should be planted in blocks
Because it’s wind pollinated, corn should be planted in rows of four or more. This will give the plants ample opportunity, on all sides, to get exposure to the sperm germ coming from the male flower.
Corn silks are actually flower styles — the male flower is the tassel, or top, of the corn and produces pollen. From there the pollen grains (or sperm germ) fall onto the silks of the young ears of corn that are growing on the plant. Each silk is connected to an individual flower inside the husk. Pollen is carried by the silk via the style to the pistil’s ovaries where pollination occurs. These individual pistils, once pollinated, develop into kernels — every individual kernel on an ear of corn goes through this process.
Sweet to Starchy
With corn, freshness really matters. The quicker you can get it from the stalk to the pot or the grill, the better. Once picked, the sugars in corn start to break down and turn into starch. A lot of the corn you see in supermarkets has been engineered to be SUPER sugary so that this process takes longer to allow for transportation. That’s why “local,” “fresh,” or “picked today” are buzzwords you want to pay attention to at farm stands.
Each ear of corn has about 800 kernels.
Farmers grow corn on every continent except one—Antarctica.
A bushel of corn weighhs 56 lbs. and consists of more than 72,800 kernels of corn.
From just one of those bushels, you can sweeten 325 cans of Coke, get two pounds of oil for margarine, or get enough starch for one ton of paper.
Corn is America’s largest crop and accounts for more than 90 percent of the total value and production of feed grains.