Gene Logsdon and Friends

The Biggest Ear of Corn This Year?

In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 19, 2011 at 6:33 am

From GENE LOGSDON

You would think that one of the easiest facts to find on search engines would be records for the longest ear of corn in the world. But apparently not enough people care about such statistics anymore. Diligent search on Google and Yahoo produced a lot of facts and falsehoods about corn but not any specific measurements as to the longest ear. The first thing that comes up under that heading turns out to be about a fake ear, and other references mysteriously omit measurements. One website professes to sell seed from a white sweet corn it calls “Two Foot Long Corn” but there is no data included on just how long the ears really grow. Since it is simplicity itself to lay a yardstick alongside an ear of corn and take a picture of it to show its length, as I do above, why didn’t they do it? There are local corn varieties in Mexico “over a foot long” and some strains of skinny flint corn produce foot long ears even in the U.S. But dent corn, the kind commonly grown, rarely gets beyond a foot in length, and today’s hybrid yellow dent corns generally run no more than 8 inches in length.

In the absence of any info to the contrary so far, I am going to draw myself up in grandiose hauteur and declare that I grew the longest ear of dent corn in the world this year. It is Reid’s Yellow Dent open-pollinated corn and if it is not the longest ear, I bet it is the biggest. Other years, I have grown ears nearly as long as this 15 incher, but this is the first time there were 20 rows of kernels on such ears instead of 16 or 18 rows. Actually length is not the best indicator of how much corn there is on a cob. I have had ears with 24 rows of kernels and a length of 11 inches that actually contained more corn by weight that the longer ears with 18 rows of kernels.

Bragging about the size of corn ears is rather pointless because, as all corn growers know, bigger yields are obtained with denser plantings— 25,000 to 30,000 plants per acre with an average but consistent ear size of only 7 inches in length. To get big ears from my open-pollinated corn, I like to have the plants at least a foot apart in rows about 36 inches apart, but even then most of the ears vary from nubbins to ten inches long and yield about 110 bushels per acre, not the 200 bushels that hybrid corns today can make on good soil with good weather conditions.

But it is great fun trying to grow big ears of corn. First of all, if one is harvesting by hand as I do, the bigger the ears, the more efficient husking can be. You can shuck out a foot long ear faster than two six inch ears. (My crazy dream is that someday much of the corn used for human food— flour, meal, bread, pastries, tortillas, parched corn, popcorn, fritters, breakfast cereals etc. — will be grown in small plots for home consumption.) The ancient Mayans started out with corn ears that were hardly two inches long and over the course of centuries, native Americans developed the kind of corn we have today simply by selecting the biggest ears each year for replanting. Who’s to say how big ears of corn can get without screwing up the genetic code like Monsanto and Syngenta are doing? When I started 35 years ago, my biggest ears rarely exceeded a foot in length. Now foot long ears are fairly common and a 14 incher not so unusual. Of course the ears all shrink a little as they dry, so the 16 inchers will end up somewhere between 13 and 14 inches long. But that is still awesome.

What if a variety of dent corn could be developed that consistently produced very large ears on every stalk?  My biggest ears easily contain a pound of kernels each. Even at a plant population of 25,000, lower than commercial plant populations used today, that would mean a record-breaking yield of over 400 bushels per acre. Because it is open-pollinated corn, the farmer could save his own seed, thereby saving a bunch more money. Think of the conniption fits commercial seed corn growers would throw, if farmers started planting with their own seed.

My corn this year made a bumper crop on the same land that last year produced poorly. The only difference was ample rain this year and hardly any last year. I often wonder how often someone’s hotshot fertilizer or seed variety, or pesticide gets the credit for what rain does.

The other lesson was about weeds. My grandson and I did a fairly good job of keeping the corn (about half an acre) free of weeds until it was a foot tall. Then the rains came steadily and so did the weedy grasses. The corn looked like it was growing in a hay field. But it stayed above the weeds, and if anything the weeds helped the cause by insuring that there was no erosion. Are we sure that a “weed-free” corn field is the best way to go? I wonder. After harvest, I can pasture the stalks and the grasses into winter.
~~

  1. I read a recent study that suggested intercropping Kentucky Bluegrass with corn in a no-till field doesn’t negatively impact yields.

  2. Gene–you have talked about your wonderful dent corn for years! How about raffling off an ear so one of your loyal readers could use it for seed and try to beat the Logsdon world record?

    Having corn envy here…

    • Deb, I always hesitate to brag about my corn, because everyone then wants some seed. I don’t mind sharing, but the time consumed is just too much, too overwhelming. If I didn’t have anything else to do, I’d probably even go into the business of selling the stuff, but I don’t like that idea either because becoming the salesman evokes suspicion. If anyone wants to do a raffle, I will gladly supply the ear of corn.
      Jeff: I get damage from birds eating off the end of ears when the kernels are in milk stage. I get deer damage, eating young ears and knocking down stalks. I get crow damage when the corn sprouts. But I don’t get much ear worm damage that I see. Coons are not critical. Of course, the sweet corn is another story. My guess is that my field corn is not bothered badly because there are ten trillion acres of corn all aorund me for wildlife to gorge on. Gene

  3. I’m not as envious about the size of your corn as I am on how clean and full it is. I always have a lot of ear worm damage on most of my dent and/or flint corn (at least the ones the coon don’t eat). Maybe you can share a secret or two on protecting those ears.

  4. second the motion for a raffle.

  5. Men boasting about their big ears somehow strikes me funny.

  6. There used to be a garden seed catalog that had novelty type seeds such as tobbacco and cotton for sale. One had a varieties of corn it claimed was from mexico and shower it with about 6 ears on the stalk. I wonder whatever became of that variety of corn? I have been looking for the Farming magazine you write for but can no longer find its website? Are they still in business?

    • tim, Farming is still very much in business. The address is Farming magazine, PO box 85, Mt. Hope, Ohio 44660.

  7. 24-inch kernel-row with selection or breeding; that’s as long as either has gotten. It’s in the literature. Perhaps longer with the selection anecdote, but that was hearsay. You can get it heavy with fasciation.

  8. Gene, With my open pollinated corn this year I had beautiful big ears of corn with weeds waist high on new ground and little ears on worn out ground with few weeds. It seems to me that open pollinated corn can stand quite a bit of weed pressure as long as the soil is sufficiently fertile. Of course I have to keep the weeds out long enough for the corn to get a good start but once it gets a good start and has fertile soil the weeds seem not to affect it so much. Nevertheless I try and keep the weeds down as much as possible.

  9. Tim, it’s called “Six Shooter Corn”. If you do a search for it with that name, you should be able to find a supplier. It does produce more ears but they’re a lot smaller than most ears of corn these days and nowhere near Gene’s monsters. I bought some to try for stock feed, but haven’t been able to plant it this year (and I’m sorry, I can’t remember where I got it).

  10. Thanks to all that replied. The farming magazine website is gone from where it was .Thats what had me wondering. I have wanted to try an open pollinated call henry moore which is supposed to be high in lysine. But some info says its a white hominy type of corn which makes me think there is another nutrient that is deficient then that yellow corn has, so I would be back to square one but is something to think about in the future.

  11. Beth, Henry Moore is a yellow corn. I have some of it here from E & R Seed and it’s as yellow.

  12. Great! Some of the info i found online said it wasnt! Thats perfect then. THanks

  13. tim farming magazine is at http://www.farmingmagazine.net/ I get their electronic edition and it is still going strong.

  14. I’ve been growing Henry Moore for 3 seasons now and love it. I’ll have to break out the tape measure, but I think I’ve got a few ears which may beat Gene’s record. The stalks are massive (up to 14′), the ears are massive, and so are the kernels, which make excellent hominy! Purchased my initial bag from Leonard Borries in teutopolis, IL (mail order, very reasonable prices!).

  15. Gene,

    I’ve been a longtime reader of yours throughout my grad school years. I’m getting started as a professional plant breeder now… muahahahahaa!

    I would very much like to try breeding perennial corn. It does have some perennial relatives– namely, some perennial teosinte species, and eastern gamagrass. Teosinte is a tropical plant so even if you breed the perenniality into corn from teosinte, it wouldn’t do any good in the corn belt. But! Eastern gamagrass is a hardy North American prairie native, and people have successfully crossed it with corn (by crossing it with teosinte first).

    In fact I found here some guys who used EGG to produce some commercial-type corn hybrids… which seems to have performed exceptionally. (http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?seq_no_115=151330 Who says the USDA *never* does anything worthwhile? : D) If one were to select the perennial offspring of these crosses instead of the annuals, I think you could really be onto something. Plant them in a polyculture like Wes Jackson is doing with his perennial wheat & bundleflower work to avert disease. (In fact I think the largest problem with a perennial corn breeding project will be drumming up the donations to do it, without siphoning resources away from Wes Jackson.)

    I hope it works. I shall thoroughly enjoy watching the seed-&-chemical-life-support companies scramble as their sales go “Pffft!” Thanks for your inspiration Mr. Logsdon.

    • I was just at the Land Institute about a month ago, and one of the breeders I talked to said the primary reason they haven’t started serious work on perennial corn is because their budget is already stretched with the programs they’re working on.

      I also want to make a brief argument that might get me in trouble around here but that I feel needs to be mentioned–
      There’s a lot of hullabaloo around ‘conventional’ plant breeding, a lot of negative stigma in the minds of many people when it comes to companies like Monsanto. I don’t want to praise them unduly, and I think many of the things they’re doing in the corn and bean and chemical realms are certainly leading agriculture further down a very destructive path, but the real problem (I think) is not with breeders, who typically have a very astute understanding of good farming practices, but with the economic and social system that more or less forces farmers to have relatively large incomes or not farm at all.
      I, for one, think its actually pretty cool that we have the ability to alter the genetic code of plants-I mean, after all, isn’t that really just a super-direct form of what any seed saver wants to do? I doubt that anyone has the foresight to predict the implications or consequences of some of the more bizarre genetic changes the industry has made, but the technique inherently is a really great innovation that allows more conservative breeders simply to skip the years and years of rouging and population purification that make traditional breeding techniques very slow.
      I’m all for being cautious with this technique, but can’t we at least agree that there’s a potential for it to be a really positive thing, if used correctly?

      Let me clarify that what I’m after is not an exalting of Monsanto and the other global ag companies, simply a de-polarization of the issue and a meaningful, thoughtful conversation between the two sides. I’ve personally experienced both extremes, and I think there are positive aspects of both camps.

      • Also, I think its important for people to understand that for maybe every 10,000 genetic crosses a breeder makes, he might be lucky to find a marketable variety. There’s a lot of careful consideration that goes into the business. And many impassioned young people have a very poor concept of what goes into the process of developing varieties of any widely marketed seed stock.

  16. I was wondering if you could tell me how you save the corn seed without them going mouldy? Maybe it is our climate but we have grown open-pollinated corn and had problems storing them.

    • joanna, leave corn in the field on the stalk or in the shock well into fall. Late October. The ears I want to save for seed I hang by the husks on a wire in the garage like I was hanging clothes out to dry on a line so they get plenty of air all around. Otherwise, store in a crib with slatted walls so air can get into the pile. The crib should never be more than four feet wide so that air can penetrate to the middle of the pile from both sides. I lay down a little roll of fence wire on the crib floor before I start filling the crib too. Don’t store ears in an inclosed bin or barrel because even if seemingly dry, the ears might mold without air circulation. By spring the ears should be dry enough to put into a barrel. Gene

      • Thanks for your reply Gene, that is useful. Just wondering though do you have frosts in October? Just trying to gauge your weather patterns to ours here in Latvia, where the seasons can be incredibly short. One year we had a frost on 1st September for more usually in October, but then we’ve had snow in October too before now.

        Despite our short season and in part due to our good summers we still manage to get good corn growing, so would be nice to get good seed too.

  17. Joanna, Latvia!!! Oh wow. Yes we get frost sometimes in sept. usually starting about Sept. 20. We grow 110-120 day corn. This year we didn’t get planted until June 10, a month late, but it didn’t frost until Nov. so we were okay. After the corn is dented, as you know, I’m sure, frost doesn’t hurt it much. Gene

  18. I was glad to find your posts of peoples views e.t.c.
    I live in Tennessee USA. On a flat topped Mountain called the Cumberland Plateau
    We have late frosts in spring but have 120 days of growing weather for corn, sometimes
    however sometimes 90 days is pushing it due to rain frost etc.
    I have for years enjoyed trying to develop a larger corn and have had good success.
    I have hunted far and wide for bigger corn, but I never knew the secrets of getting
    the most out of my crosses or mixes.
    I just recently read an article in the Small Farmers Journal entitled ” The Road to Better Corn is Open” It explains Genetic topics that I never knew or understood that are not Manipulation of Genes but how to get the best results with your crosses.
    The Seedtime Co-operative sends out a newsletter to all who are interested about the research that is going on today dealing with the right crosses of Open pollinated corn for the greatist advantage. Write to” Luke Eby 170 Blue Heron Drive Delano, Tennessee 37325-7723 USA. It is free.
    I saw a picture in a magazine of a man and woman standing side by side with a corn field behind them and the corn was 15 feet tall and the ears were huge. I tried to find out who they were but never did, I think they were in North Dakota. Twice in my life I dreamed that I found some grains of corn as big as nickles and 24 inch ears and it was several pastel colors.

    I was coming through North Carolina and stopped beside a highway at a Grist mill and the man gave me several ears of corn that were some White and Some Red. He instructed me to not plant without using about the same number of white grains as red.
    so I went to the back of my farm and plowed up a good place and planted this seed, and My neighbor had never planted anything back there, but that year he planted Hybred yellow corn right up to the fence and it crossed with most all of my corn. The man who gave me the corn was Dave Winchester.

    Then another time I was at the farmers Co-op in Morristown Tn and a man was there trying to sell a pick up load of ear corn. They wouldnt buy it due to the huge amount they had on hand.
    They were the largest diameter ears I had ever seen and 8 to 11 inches long . I tried to buy just a bushell but he was mad and wouldn’t sell it anyway but the whole load.
    if I had it to do over I would have bought it all.

    I am looking for Thompsons Prolific Yellow.

    Henry Hoover
    alloutdoorz@yahoo.com

    • Henry, very interesting and I thank you for passing on your experience. How big an ear of corn can get is one of my favorite daydreams. I wonder if there is a limit?

  19. Amen brother ,
    The seasonal rains tend to bring nasty amounts of weeds,and the work that comes with it.I quess that in the end its worth it.A good test kit is worth its weight in gold.I have found to stay natural, is not as hard as seems

  20. I have a frilend in East Tennessee who gardens for profit and he has a HILL for a garden
    I am serious there is no flat land on his property except the little flats that he has cut into the hill all up and down it.
    He has huge tanks at the top of the hill and a drip irrigation system set up on all the terraces.k
    He pumps water into the tanks from an empoundment at the bottom that he lined with black plastic. He takes produce to the local markets year round.
    He has his soill tested somewhere in Arkansas or Missouri. They stress the importance or
    balance in soil nutrients. He says he has used this for years and produces more with less
    additional soil nutrients. It is however quiet expensive and that has deterred me from sending my soil samples there but I may try it this year.

    I have joined the” SEEDTIME” Seed Co-opeerative address is 170Bllue Heron Dr. Delano, TN 37325
    They are doing a lot with open Pollinated Corn seed and teaching people like myself how to make their own crosses and F1 crosses. I am really excited about this. I know that those of us dwho are interested can develop our own corn that will suit our needs better than any we
    can buy on the market, and dwithout the expense of the hybred seed every year that dont suit all our needs.

    I too have dreamed of developing my own corn that would produce lots of bushels per acre
    with large ears stalks that stand goodd against wind and a corn that makes bood bread and grits , and has high protein levels along with other nutrilents, and now with what I am learning from the SEEDTIME Cooperative I can see that is nearrer to a reality than dwhere I was before.

    Hope you all have a Healthy and Productive year.
    Henry Hoover

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