Monday, July 29, 2013

Have you seen corn look like this?

Dried up, no kernels: Some of the ears of corn I've seen lately look like something from drought country. But it's definitely not drought country around here. And except for a couple of inches at the top, the rest of the ear is delicious -- fat, juicy, sweet corn.

So what's causing that odd dry tip? I called Darrell Blackwelder, the director of N.C. Cooperative Extension in Rowan County, to ask.

There are some stories floating around that the ends of the ears aren't getting pollinated because the heavy rains knock off pollen. But that didn't make sense to me: Each silk on an ear of corn represents a kernel of corn. And while corn may not release pollen when it's wet, the pollen is quite sticky and doesn't usually get knocked off by rain.

Blackwelder confirmed all that. Instead, he pointed out that corn ears pollinate from bottom to top. So what I'm seeing is simply corn that is pooped: There's so much rain that it's leaching out the nutrients, particularly nitrogen and potassium, and washing them into the soil. By the time the corn finishes filling out the top of the ear, it's running out of nutrients.

"Corn is a grass and it takes a lot of fertilizer," Blackwelder says. "So much water will just flush it right through."

The real irony: Other than those weird tips, we're having a great year for corn. Drive out into the country, around any corn fields and admire: Tall stalks, lots of green leaves, and corn that is fat and tasty. A lot of other crops are struggling through all this rain, but Blackwelder suggests this is the year to grab a bunch of corn and freeze it. Just trim those weird tops off first.