Adapting Corn to Your Place: Isolation and Promiscuous Pollination

| 1/24/2018 1:41:00 PM

Photo by Jason Wallace under the  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.A portion of a mosaic made of different colors of maize (corn) kernels depicting DNA. Most kernels were grown in a Cornell research field in the summer of 2012, and they represent some of the natural color variation of maize kernels. 

If we want to grow more than one variety of corn in the same season, which besotted corn-lovers may wish to do, how do we keep them from cross-pollinating? Do we ever want them to cross? It depends what we're after.

By talking to growers who grew the seed, then saving seed each year and replanting it, we see how each variety does where we live. Are we satisfied that each of our varieties has the genetic resilience it needs? We can tell this by how well it does with respect to the weather, local conditions such as soil and topography, air quality, pest and disease control, and the needs and taste preferences of our family and whomever else we are growing for.

We are the ones who decide what we mean by “how well it does.” Does each variety produce strong stalks that don't fall over in our winds, mature within our season's length, get enough sun, etc, and make us swoon with its flavor and aroma? What else is important to us personally in home corn growing? If we are satisfied that each variety does as well as we'd like, we'll want to keep our varieties separate so they don't cross-pollinate.

With corn, each kernel is pollinated separately, so even if a few kernels are cross-pollinated, is that ok with us? Some gardeners welcome that as a whimsy, an experiment, a welcome sign of diversity; others prefer perfectly pure strains. There is no right or wrong here.

Adapting our corn means taking our own desires into account. There is not only room for every shade of opinion, but the community of organic corn gardeners needs every opinio, every shade of grey, every different point of view. This way we get to see the ongoing consequences of each different way of thinking and doing. Genetic diversity in our corn depends on the diversity of mind of the corn gardener and gardening community.

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