Thursday, April 8, 2010

Open Pollinated Corn - Part 4

How do I get started?

Now that I may have convinced at least some of you that you want to try some open pollinated corn, how does one get started?

First of all, you need space for planting. Corn takes a lot and you need to provide enough plants to get good pollination. I recommend at least 5 rows (rows 20 - 30 inches apart) with 2 plants per foot within the row, rows at least 10 feet long. If you do the calculation you will see that you will need at least 100 seeds. This is the minimum size packet that most seed companies provide. If you are planting small plots like this you will need to plant by hand or use a hand seeder. I recommend the seeds be planted about 1 inch deep in a well prepared seedbed to get good seed to soil contact.

Things get a little complicated if you want to save seed for replanting next year. In that case you want to make sure that you don't get pollination from other varieties. If you are only growing one variety or you are growing varieties which don't overlap pollination, it is not so difficult. But if you are in a community garden and there are other corn varieties nearby you should probably not try to save seed for replanting. If you do save seed in those situations I would use only ears from the middle rows of a plot and away from the edges. You can also do things like planting tall varieties as border rows around a seed plot and removing tassels from the borders if they are a different variety from the seed plot.

Where can we get seed? Fortunately for us there are a number of good possibilities. I have prepared a fact sheet on seed sources with brief variety descriptions which I will be happy to email to anyone who requests it. ( If you wish to do your own research the following links will get you started:

Links to Seed Sources

Sustainable Seeds

Johnny’s Seeds

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Heirloom Seeds

Victory Seeds

Green Haven (Field size bulk seed quantities)

Also, I have ordered some seed which I am willing to share with a few gardeners in Maryland in order to conduct trials of several of these varieties around the state(sorry, Maryland residents only). The conditions are as follows:
I need a brief description of who you are, your gardening experience (It helps to be a Maryland Master Gardener but is not required), and your access to a suitable plot of land at least 10 ft by 10 ft, full sun exposure, reasonably level, well drained and hopefully protected from varmints, particularly deer. Also you will need to agree to plant and maintain the plot according to my guidelines, as well as take notes on growth and maturity stages of the corn, according to a growth stage guide which I will provide. Note that these will be field corn types (dent or gourdseed) or sweet corn. If you are interested in participating in this project please email me at and indicate which type of corn you would like to try. I will do my best to accommodate everyone who wants to participate but I want to get a good representation of the state and I also want to make sure that the plots will be taken care of in a way which will provide useful data. Please indicate your interest by April 20 if you wish to participate. Herbivore Reed

Next: The rich histories of some open pollinated corn varieties

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