Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Do You Make Of This?

I have a question for those of you who know about growing corn...

(yes, I know it's December now, and fully winter here in the ol' Western hemisphere. And the corn growing season is done, here in Florida, too...I think??...but we had this prodigal plant make it till now because of our warm temps...don't be hatin'...I need your advice!)

This is an ear of a South American type of corn planted from a seed I got from a rare seed company some time back. It was definately planted at the wrong time this year, just before the weather turned cooler. I think Jack only had planted three seeds, and one of the resulting stalks just kept on going despite the dips in temps.

It turned out to be a beautiful black purple, and even the husks stain my fingers purple...the color is deep and gorgeous. I do have some questions...I know there's somebody out here who'll have some answers :)

1. I may have picked this too early. How can I tell? The tassells had turned brown, so I guessed at it, but I don't know how to tell.

2. Why are so many of the kernels missing? There was only one other corn plant that survived, and it looked pretty puny. Does this have something to do with it? Or could it have been soil infertility? The soil was top dressed with composted manure, but underneath the soil was hard sand.

3. The few developed kernels seem to be fairly big. Why did they develop, and others did not? I did not notice any sign of insect damage either outside or inside the husk.

4. If we grew more of this, how would we best select and preserve the seeds for future plantings? Do we husk them and let them dry, and if so, at what stage and how would they be stored?

There's the closeup of the developed kernels (aren't they gorgeous?) and the ones that never made it.

5. These husks as well as the cob and kernels have a rich coloration that comes off on my hands when handling them. How would I make a dye of any or all of these, and is there a particular mordant I'd have to use to keep it from fading or running?

6. Last but not least, we heard that in some South American countries people make traditional drinks with their purple corn. Have any of you tried anything like that? Can the cobs be boiled and the liquid used as a sweetener, if they are sweet? These are genetically pure seeds and I wouldn't have the same hesitation using all parts of them as I might with some of the other corns.
As always, thanks for sharing your insights! We'd rather learn from the collective wisdom than try to muddle about a few more seasons.


Annette said...

What a beautiful color! I cannot wait to read what information you find.

fullfreezer said...

I don't know if I can answer all your questions but here goes. If you are harvesting for seed or grinding, you should wait until the husks are dry before harvesting. As for the spotty kernels, that is due to poor pollination. Corn is wind pollinated- each kernel developes at the end of one silk. If you only had a plant or two or three, there was probably not adequate pollen floating around (depending on wind direction, speed, rain, etc) to get every silk.
But it is beautiful!!

Meadowlark said...

And I know nothing, but I just left a comment so I could follow the responses... I'm really interested even though I don't grow corn.

Thanks for sharing... would love to see some yarn dyed with this!

tina f. said...

Wow! That's pretty cool! The only question I can answer (and I'm just guessing myself) is the reason there aren't a lot of kernels I BELIEVE has to do with pollination--not enough. I'll be interested to see what other people have to say too.

Jason Archambault said...

Hi Robyyn,
I have heard, not sure how true, but the tassel is made up of many strands, it is my understanding that each strand attaches to a different kernel of corn. If that piece of tassel does not get pollinated, the kernel does not develop.

As for why so many did not get pollinated, I am speculating of course, but I would assume you would have had better luck with many plants, as the wind tends to blow the top out of the corn that pollinates the strands in every direction, not always down onto the strands of the same plant, but if you would have had more plants close together, I think more might have gotten pollinated. Again, just a theory, I am pretty new to gardening myself. It is a nice color though.


Robbyn said...

Annette, Judy, Meadowlark, Tina, and Jason...

oops, don't know where my initial reply in comments went but I came back here and it's not here. Thank you each for your insights...I think you're right and there weren't enough to pollinate. We'll try to plan better by consulting our extension office about Florida planting times and next time get enough of these beautiful bad boys into the ground to have a nice crop, barring adventurous marauding raccoons and the like. Thanks for your enthusiasm and advice :)

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

The poor pollination answers are correct - you could save all those kernels and plant those and increase your seeds that way. Corn needs to be in blocks not a single row, so depending on how many kernels you get, plant them in a block of sorts and then when the silks are ready, walk through them and help by shaking the stalks to get the pollen to fall down on the silks.

Gorgeous corn!

No idea on the dye :)

Sadge said...

Since others have answered your pollination problems, I thought I'd chime in regarding your purple corn drink question. Called chicha morada in Peru, it's a non-fermented spiced and sweetened beverage made by boiling purple corn and the cobs, then strained and served cold. It looks and tastes kind of like purple cinnamon-flavored Kool-Aid - quite good, actually.

Barb J. said...

Yes, everyone else is right. Each silk tassel attaches to one kernel. Missing kernels are due to that particular silk not being pollinated. That's why you have to grow a decent amount of corn together, especially open-pollinated heirloom varieties. You should also try to grow them in blocks, as opposed to long narrow lines, for better pollination. They should be harvested when the tassels turn limp and brown.