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Whole Leaf Tobacco

Hand-Pollination of Corn (Maize)

deluxestogie

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#1
Hand-Pollination of Corn: PART 1 of 2



This season, I have planted 5 different varieties of especially large corn, in a search for a specific variety that would be best suited for making corncob pipes. Since corn is wind-pollinated, the multiple varieties would cross extensively, if no pollination protection measures are taken. With multiple varieties, the only way to produce seed (kernels) that are true to the parent corn plant is to bag both the tassels and the ear shoots, then hand-pollinate them.

[If you grow a large plot of corn for eating, bagging is not a practical approach to avoiding cross-pollination. An example would be "super-sweet" corn planted in proximity (in your yard or the neighbor's) to any other corn variety. "Super-sweet" varieties produce kernels (seed) that are not super-sweet, if they are pollinated by other varieties, since the kernel is the offspring of the cross. The only preventive remedy is providing the recommended separation.

If your goal is simply to assure full ears of corn, then you can just select a mature tassel, cut it off after the dew has dried, and use it to "bless" the silks of each of the forming ears.]


The cob itself would seem to be a genetic product of only the plant on which the ear grows, even if the seed it produces is hybridized. But I'm not certain that the growth of the cob is unaffected by crossing.

If you plan to intentionally cross two different varieties of corn, this bagging method is how you would go about it. But plan on 5 or more years of planting, crossing, perhaps back-crossing, and selfing, to get a stable, new variety that meets your expectations.

The specific bags (one type for the tassel and a different type for the ear shoot) are available at a modest cost. They are designed to be weather resistant, and are sized to best fit this use.



Resources:
The following information is how I'm doing hand-pollination of corn this season.

Ear shoots emerge at one or more leaf axils on the stalk. This happens shortly after the tassel appears. I wait for the tassel to mature and appear somewhat ragged (a sign that it can release pollen). The tassel must not be bagged earlier than this, or it will never produce pollen.

So, once a tassel appears somewhat ragged, and an ear shoot is visible, I carry out these steps during the late afternoon on the day prior to hand-pollinating.


Identify the ear shoot.


Remove the leaf by pulling it downward.


Cut a slot, using the shoot bag.


Cut the tip of the shoot down to a pea-sized core of silks.


Wedge shoot bag in place.


Identify the mature tassel.


Fold the branches upward, and cover with a tassel bag. The bag should be labeled with a Sharpie.
Fold the bag in half lengthwise. Wrap bottom corners around the stalk.



Fold corners together and fix with a paper clip.


Bags will remain in place until the next morning, waiting for all dew and the tassel bag to dry first.

CONTINUED...
 
Last edited:

deluxestogie

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#2
Hand-Pollination of Corn: PART 2 of 2

Danforth Center said:
The day after bagging the tassel, fresh pollen will develop. Pollen grains are viable for
3-4 hours and are usually shed in mid-late morning
, depending on temperature and
humidity. Therefore pollinations are best made before noon. Viable pollen is white to
pale yellow and has a shiny appearance.

http://pgf.danforthcenter.org/uploads/9/2/4/3/92430868/maize_protocol_09-2016.pdf (5 pages)

Carefully bend the top of the stalk downward, and shake.


Corn pollen grains appear as a dry, granular yellow powder.

It would make sense from a genetics standpoint to collect pollen from several tassel bags of the same variety--ideally from 10 or more plants, then mix them together in a clean shoot bag. (The smaller size of the shoot bag makes it easier to sprinkle from than a tassel bag.) This mix is evenly sprinkled onto the waiting, bagged shoots. If you have only a single plant bagged, sprinkle the pollen directly from the tassel bag.


Sprinkle pollen over all of the silks, enough to be barely visible. This tuft of silks emerged overnight.


Cover the ear shoot with the used tassel bag. Anchor the tassel bag around the stalk at the ear shoot.

I will leave the bag on the ear shoot until the ear is dried in the field.

A book dedicated to seed production (of all sorts): Micaela Colley & Jared Zystro. THE SEED GARDEN: THE ART AND PRACTICE OF SEED SAVING (https://www.motherearthnews.com/store/product/the-seed-garden-the-art-and-practice-of-seed-saving) List $29.95.



Bob
 

deluxestogie

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#3
An argument for mixing pollen from multiple plants of a single variety

I am currently growing
  • Boone County KY corn
  • Hickory Cane corn
  • TN Red Cob corn
  • VA White Gourdseed corn
  • McCormack's Blue Giant corn
These heirloom, giant corn varieties are probably open pollinated for their usual seed production. They display enough variations of appearance to suggest that, unlike our nearly homozygous tobacco varieties, these corn varieties are highly heterozygous. That is to say, the plants grown from any single batch of seed for one of these varieties will likely show noticeable variations in their appearance that reflect their genetic heterozygosity (genetic inconsistencies).

Below are photos from today of the buttress roots of 3 of my Boone County KY corn (from BigBonner). Other varieties that I'm growing also display such variations in their buttress roots. They vary in color, number, thickness and general conformation.







High heterozygosity within a variety means that most individual plants differ in minor ways from their neighbors. Propagating seed from a single, selfed plant would certainly lead to eventual drifting from the characteristics of the variety. The remedy is to maintain the diversity of the gene pool by obtaining pollen from multiple specimens (of a single variety), mixing it, then distributing the mixed pollen to each ear shoot that is bagged for seed propagation. A good home effort would be to bag the tassels of 10 plants of each variety, then share that mixed pollen to 10 or 20 ear shoots for seed production. At a commercial scale, bagging the tassels of 100 corn plants might be a more sound starting point.

Given my limited grow of each variety (12 plants each, x 5 varieties), I will aim for 3 or 4 bagged tassels for each variety, and distribute mixed pollen (for each single variety) to a half-dozen ear shoots. [My team of undergraduate research assistants has gone on strike.] Now, the seed from 6 giant ears x 5 varieties would easily replace my entire lawn. So I'll likely shell all the seed of a variety into a common container, mix it well, then save a handful from it as a random sample for propagating that variety.

An ear of corn produces seed that is counted in the low hundreds. So the pollen mixing (within the variety), together with the mixing and random selection of seed to be saved represents a mathematically meaningful effort at maintaining the heterozygosity of a corn variety.

Contrast this to a tobacco variety, which begins with nearly zero heterozygosity, and produces 1/4 million seeds per plant, from which a home grower may select maybe 20 or 100 plants. Mixing the seed of say 10 plants gives us 2.5 million seeds from which to select 100 seeds--0.004% of the seed selected for replanting. The math indicates that such an effort is just not meaningful. This is versus selecting maybe 1 to 10% of our corn seed for replanting.

What I'm saying here is that with species of plants that produce relatively few seeds (10s to 100s) per plant, and already have high heterozygosity, making the effort to maintain that variation when producing seed is meaningful, whereas for species of plants that produce many orders of magnitude more seed (10,000s to 1,000,000s) per plant, AND already have very low to zero heterozygosity, such an effort will make little if any impact.

Bob
 

SmokesAhoy

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#4
That'll save some time and effort thanks. I had been thinking of running a grow where I let 20 or so of a variety pollinate with each other.
 

deluxestogie

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#6
I'll get another photo of the ladder when the corn stops growing.

One thing I can say about these giant corn varieties is that if you've ever considered using corn leaves for rolling tobacco or rolling tamales, these are the varieties to grow.

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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#7
This is pretty much as tall as these varieties are going to get. (The Virginia White Gourdseed, on the far right, has not yet finished growing.)



The brown bag halfway up the stalk beside the ladder came off of the tallest tassel this morning. Fortunately, the stalk was able to bend enough for me to reach the top. Clearly, my stepladder is no match for bigbonner's Boone County Corn.

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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#8
End of Season



Missing in the class photo are two ears of VA White Gourdseed and two ears of Hickory Cane, both of which contributed to a recent batch of hominy.

With regard to cobs fat enough for a decent corncob pipe, it's still too early to know. Once the ears have fully dried, and have been shelled of their kernels, I'll have a better idea. Even then, the bare cobs will need to continue drying for as much as a year. Right now, they feel heavy. When the cobs are ready, they will feel very light.

A reasonable corncob for a pipe needs to accommodate a 3/4" tobacco hole. Spackling the exterior of a cob with plaster of Paris (as Missouri Meerschaum does) will permit the use of cobs with marginally adequate thickness. My preference would be a naked cob.

Judging from appearances, KY Boone County and TN Red Cob seem to produce the fattest cobs. Although the VA White Gourdseed seems the fattest, my experience with shelling two of its ears suggests that it is the extraordinary length of the kernels of this variety that lend it the appearance of having a fat cob. The shelled cobs were surprisingly narrow.

McCormack's Blue Giant didn't have a fair chance, since it was grown in a different bed, and was the victim of intrusive roots from a nearby, huge maple tree. It's stalks barely reached 5 feet tall, yet should have been twice that height.

Below, I've shown the hand-pollinated seed that I have saved. My timing for performing the pollination, then bagging the ear shoots for the season was ideal for McCormack's Blue Giant, but way too early for all the others except VA Gourdseed, even though I did the McCormack's several weeks earlier than the others.





VA White Gourdseed is missing from the saved seed, because two weeks before harvesting it, the bag vanished (wind? deer?), and there were three well developed ears where I remembered the bag having been placed. So, I have saved no seed for VA White Gourdseed. (The one fat ear in the class photo is likely the hand-pollinated, bagged one.)

There is an explanation for the puny size of the hand-pollinated ears. It has to do with how the silks mature and the kernels develop over time. Pollination that occurs early (with respect to a specific variety) produces kernels at the base of the ear. Development progresses up the ear. Pollination that occurs late produces kernels at the tip of the ear. If hand-pollination is performed, and then the ear is isolated from further pollination, only the silks active at that time will result in kernels.

Apparently, McCormack's Blue Giant (and probably VA White Gourdseed) mature all their silk over a very short span of time, whereas the others seem to mature their various level silks over a prolonged time span, perhaps weeks. So I have three seed ears with kernels only at the base of the cob, and one (probably two) with full cobs of kernels.

Corn seed, if stored dry and cool, should last two years. Perhaps longer if dry and frozen.

Bob
 

SmokesAhoy

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#9
I think I read that ear size and # of rows happen by v5 or v6, and is a function of fertilizer and appropriate spacing for the variety and maybe heat but it's been a while and I might not be remembering right. I do know that heavy fertilization around that time does help though.
 

deluxestogie

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#12
"...the V5 or V6 stages of development (five to six visible leaf collars)..."

That's the missing info. They (you) are talking about visible leaf collars. I had no idea what "V" was intended to mean. Now I do.

The article is interesting. It talks about the determination of potential kernels per row (ear length) and potential rows per ear. In a perfect world, all of those kernels-in-waiting (ovules) would be pollinated. But their silk emergence occurs in a sequence, starting with the base of the ear, and progressing to the tip. And this is what causes hand-pollination to work well or not so well.

With regard to stress as a factor, within the very same bed, some ears are truly huge, and some are diminutive. So I don't think stress is at play here.

These giant varieties seem to grow along a course that is outside the normal schedule of time and dimensions. They are freaks.

Bob
 
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#15
I've heard of Boone County Kentucky. And I'm a westerner. Why have I heard of Boone County? (Other than Daniel Boone that is.)

Wes H.
 

deluxestogie

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#16


The fattest corn stalks this season were some of the VA White Gourdseed stalks. The pith of a cornstalk is soft, but the outside seems like it might form the basis for a pipe--a cornstalk pipe.



I suspect that it might need to be coated within the bowl, using a thin layer of clay, which would slowly kiln from a dry clay to a fired clay, with careful smoking.

The buttress roots suggest some curious possibilities.

I'll wait for these stalk segments to fully dry, then make a decision about whether or not they would be worth the effort to try making them into pipes.

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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#17
Cleaning Up: the forgotten cost

Labor is always a cost. How heavy could 48 dried cornstalks be?

With pruners in hand, I clipped the longest stalks, so that each of my two piles of dried stalks would be only 7 feet long. All that I could carry was half the stalks at a time, lugging them 40 yards to a brush pile. So, 2 trips for the deceptively heavy stalks, then another trip to pick up all the 3 foot long corn leaves that had fallen.

Yet to be done is digging out 48 corn roots--well 40, since I pick-axed 8 of them out of the ground yesterday, in my fool's quest for the perfect buttress root pipe. Corn roots are really shallow, but I challenge anyone to pull the root of a 14 foot corn stalk out of the ground bare handed. The ground is rock hard--very dry conditions for the past few weeks. We should be getting a good drenching from Hurricane Nate, after it whacks New Orleans. So I'll wait for softer dirt, then dig them up.

What does it cost to just buy a friggin' corncob pipe?

Bob
 
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#18
Bob:

These are all facts that give businessmen all around the world pause. Why grow tobacco when there is such great labor involved? In the economics world, the phrase is "economies of scale."

Whoever is growing and producing corn-cob pipes, is doing it on a large-scale in order to recoup the labor, materials, and indirect costs associated with making a finished product. This is known as "the break-even curve." All businesses have one. Those businesses whom have done a poor job of break-even analysis, quickly perish.

(I never told you I am also a degreed Accountant.)

Wes H.
 

deluxestogie

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#19
Businesses pay for labor in money. We pay for our growing endeavors with apportioning our finite time. If you're comfortable allocating money to purchase a product, then growing that same product is a psychological decision. A hobby is only a hobby if you could otherwise enjoy the same benefits, without doing it yourself. If you have to do it yourself, it's not a hobby.

The delight of growing 14-foot corn just isn't the same thing as buying corn or buying a corncob pipe. And yes, it's time intentionally spent.

Bob
 
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