Dan Sullivan on Growing Red Flint Corn

Not only is our friend Dan Sullivan over at Gathering Together Farm a compost guru, he is also a very passionate seeder of delicious corn, whether it be sweet corn, or grain corn. That’s probably because the two go hand in hand, corn loves to eat compost, and compost loves to feed corn. As corn is a heavy eater, “corn is a great way to see field fertility, it will show you real quick where the weak spots are.” There is so much to learn as beginner farmers and pollinating corn is just one small thing on that list.

When we first met Dan back in March at the PSU Farmers Market, we talked about different crops and just getting started on our small farm in Salem. We ended up on the topic of corn; he seeds quite a large field of organic sweet corn over at GTF (Gathering Together Farm). He was also growing a test seed plot of dent corn that he acquired from Nash Huber of Nash’s Organics in Sequim, WA.  Unsure of the actual name of the corn, he just knew it was a strong 40-day early season dent corn.  Dan being as passionate about growing corn as he is, when we told him that we had some organic heirloom Floriani Red Flint corn, that we acquired from Pie Ranch in Pescadero, CA, his eyed widened and he jump at the chance to help us start growing it. This type of red flint corn is considered to be some of the most delicious polenta corn in the western hemisphere, originally from Italy, with very few people growing it in the United States. One of letUMeat’s dreams in the near future is to be seeding beautiful red flint corn, milling our own corn, and feeding delicious polenta to our eaters.

After getting about six hundred successful plants seeded, the next part is pollinating those plants for a strong seed stock for next year. Since GTF is a pretty big farm and mainly seeds sweet corn for the eaters, our small-scale grain corn project required some extra attention and hand pollination. Normally in large plots the wind naturally takes care of the pollination. In our case we were trying to ensure that we did not cross-pollinate the grain corn with the sweet corn, also ensuring that the two long rows of grain corn were directly pollinated. Although some cross-pollination is likely to occur, it will be very easy to tell if it has occurred.

Pollinating corn is actually quite simple. The best time to pollinate is in the mid morning between 9 and 11 am after the dew has dried.  Once the anthers, the male flowers of the tassel are ready with their yellow pollinating magic dust, and the female silk has emerged from the ear, it is time. This window of opportunity doesn’t last long, only 4-7 days or so to ensure proper pollination. Once the plants are ready to pollinate,  all you have to do is snap the tassels off the stalk and shake the magic pollen dust “like a feather duster” over the freshly emerging silks. Make sure you have direct contact between the pollen and silk, as each strand of silk corresponds to one kernel or potential seed of corn.  That’s it, pretty simple! Learned something new.

The other part of the day’s lesson was to ensure that we did not cross the sweet corn with grain corn. To do this we enlisted the help of our trusty friend the Machete. After a quick sharpening with the file, we were able to have some fun with it along with working out some frustrations, you know the old saying “killing two birds with one stone!” We took the machete to the adjacent parallel three rows or sweet corn and chopped the tassels off in the opposite direction of the grain corn rows. Hopefully that will keep the wind and mother nature from blowing the sweet corn pollen all over the dent and red flint corn silks.

If everything works out as planned, we will have plenty of seed stock ready for next year, for the seeders to seed, so that the feeders can feed the eaters, and the eaters can EAT. letUMeat!!


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