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Hand Pollinating Heirloom Corn in the Little Organic Family Garden

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It’s been fun to watch some of the heirloom corn we planted grow into tall stalks this summer.  Since this was the old-fashioned variety, not even hybridized and certainly not transgenic (we’ll just have corn genes with our corn, thank you very much), it required some special care.  We needed to brush up on hand pollinating our heirloom corn.
I pulled out the trusty Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening to find directions for hand pollination. The pollen from tassels on the highest point of the plant must reach the silks (purple on this heirloom corn) in order to help the corn kernels inside the plant to fully develop.  The Rodale directions told me to shake pollen off the tassels into a container, mix all the pollen together and then sprinkle it on the silks.  The first couple of plants that seemed to be developing I simply shook to drop the pollen onto the silks below.  They seemed to have moderately well developed kernels.
By the time the next couple of plants were growing corn, I got busy and forgot to help pollinate them. Sure enough, they had very few kernels to eat, even though the corn cobs had grown large.  We still picked and cooked them for fun.  Next time we try growing corn, we’ll need to watch more closely for hand pollination time.  The directions had said to ideally hand pollinated each plant more than once.  So, who knows how fabulous our corn would be if we had done all of that?
If you choose to hybridize your corn, you could try a detassling technique to add pollen from a different variety of corn onto the silks.  Or you might find some simple hybrid varieties. This is not the same as transgenic or genetically modified corn used commercially today.


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