Plant Corn Early to Evade GMO Contamination

Reader Contribution by Ilene White Freedman
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Enjoying your organic corn harvest about now? Corn is usually a July or August crop. At House in the Woods Farm, we plant our corn early. We harvested our corn in late June and were offering it to CSA customers for Independence Day weekend.

We grow our own organic corn because we want organic corn. I wouldn’t want all my efforts at organic corn tainted by a genetically modified variety. It’s an issue for those of us surrounded by GMO feed corn crops in particular. Cross-pollination with feed corn will take the sweet right out of your sweet corn.

We are beating the likelihood of GMO cross-pollination by being the early corn. It is a simple solution to a complicated problem. Be the early corn! Corn is wind-pollinated and our corn is blowing in the wind way before feed corn, commercial corn, and in particular GMO corn breeds. So they aren’t as likely to tango with our corn, when we arrive at the dance early. It is a clever way to evade cross-pollination. And as a bonus, you get a wonderful, juicy cob of corn, just in time for Independence Day.


How do we plant corn early?

We start our seeds in trays under cover of our hoophouse and then transplant to outside rows. It seems like a ludicrous thing to do for acres of corn, but that’s not what we’re growing. Planting out corn seedlings like any other row crop has benefits when growing on a small, diversified farm scale. We start the seedlings in trays about the second week of April and plant them out in early May. Our seedlings have a jump start ahead of weeds since they are transplanted a few inches tall. The weeds have some catching up to do, providing a much needed head start for a typically weedy crop. In a cool year we protect the transplants in the field with row cover for a couple weeks.

What variety works well?

We love the hybrid variety we tested this year! It is called Luscious. For organic production, we need protection from the worms that can sneak into corn. Luscious features a closed husk that keeps bugs out. I wonder if our early season was too early for the worm too. Luscious is particularly cold tolerant, which is ideal for early planting soil conditions. We also tested an heirloom variety called Painted Corn, a blend of a sweet corn and an Indian corn so it blushes pink in some kernels. This corn variety wasn’t as successful as Luscious for us. In fact, I believe we had some cross-pollination of the Painted Corn into the Luscious. It took some of the sweetness out of the occasional Luscious ear and I saw hint of the blushing color. It was a reminder to plant only one variety at a time, due to that same cross-pollination tendency.

I might try planting a batch of trays every two weeks for a few weeks to have three harvests of fresh corn. Starting early will allow me that luxury of time. But I will still make sure that my corn is ahead of the neighboring crops so that I can be the early corn.

I wrote more about how we plant corn in another blog and another about preserving corn.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and House in the Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to House in the Woods.

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