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I Live In Brooklyn, Ny, And Have A Terrace With…

Lawrence G Asked

I live in Brooklyn, NY, and have a terrace with a southeast exposure that gets close to 14 hours of sun each day. In the spring I started some corn seeds indoors then transplanted them to a washbasin with a depth of 10 inches and a diameter of 3 feet. As promised on the seed pack’s label 73 days later I reaped almost one dozen ears of the sweetest corn I’ve ever tasted. I immediately planted another crop and as of today the stalks reached a height of 7-8 feet. The ears seem less developed than their predecessors, and I picked one the other day and when I removed the husk I found it underdeveloped in spots and overdeveloped with large kernels in other areas.

I feel fortunate that the earlier crop succeeded but disappointed that the latter one appears to have failed. I water and weed judiciously and will admit to perhaps overcrowding my plants but this still doesn’t account for one crop failing after an earlier one prospered.

I would appreciate any ideas on your part.

The Gardener’s Answer

Hello, Mr. Maglione: When kernels fail to develop or are sporadically developed on an ear of corn this means that they were not fully pollinated. Corn is pollinated solely by wind, which is why commercial growers plant in several shorter rows as opposed to a few longer rows; this allows for optimal pollination. In your situation you can bag pollinate next year’s crop to ensure a full ear of corn. Unfortunately it is too late for your second crop this year. You would think that planting successive crops in the same space they would be pollinated in the same manner but it really just depends on which way the wind blows when pollen shed occurs on the tassel. Not to get too technical but the tassel produces the pollen and as the wind blows it comes into contact with the silk, eventually pollinating each individual kernel. Each strand of silk is attached to a single kernel so this is why we see random kernel development with poor pollination. For next year keep an eye on the tassel and as soon as you notice pollen (yellow/white dust) developing, place a paper bag over the ear and lightly shake. You can do this for a couple of days in a row as long as you see pollen, leaving the bag on for a few hours each time. Pollen is usually shed during the mid-morning hours as long as it is not wet. Look for the pollen in the mid-section of the tassel working its way upward. Good sweet corn is definitely a treat in the summer and well worth growing. I am glad your first crop was a success!

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