02 03 A Vintage Farmwife: Corn is a Many Splendored Thing 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Corn is a Many Splendored Thing


As you know if you have visited this little blog of mine very many times, we own and operate a grain farm. We raise white corn for Frito Lay, yellow corn for general use, and soybeans that are sold for seed beans to other farmers. It is a good life, but like all business owners, we experience a good deal of stress.

Perhaps the most anxiety ridden part is that we are not in control of the majority of it. Brad and our sons make well researched and well- thought out decisions as to planting and harvesting and work their tails off to make them happen. But, of course, Mother Nature is in charge of the weather and our success and profits depend on her.

After the drought in 2012 and too much rain in 2013, we have rejoiced in the timely rains and cooler temps of the summer of 2014.  The seeds were all in the ground in record time and the rains have been nearly perfect. We are so very thankful to God from whom all blessings flow!

I thought it might be fun to educate you, my dear readers, on the miracle that is corn. It may just appear to be a lowly plant, but each stalk is its own little food factory.

The plant goes through many changes in the 150 days our hybrids are in the ground. The life cycle goes something like this.....

Day one: Plant the seed.

Sounds like an easy thing, right? It isn't. When to plant is a big deal, and the guys don't just pick a random day to begin. The soil temperature needs to be at least 55 degrees at a two inch soil depth. Our planters are set to put the seed from 2 inches to 2 1/4 inches deep.

Brad spends at least half a day making sure all the gizmos on the planter are properly calibrated. He also fine tunes the seed population. We plant between 32,000 and 35,000 kernels per acre. Each bag of seed corn contains 80,000 kernels and costs between $200-$240.

I avoid numbers, but you can do the math. It is expensive.

A big topic of conversation around here is about seed emergence.

If the planter isn't set correctly and the seed is planted too deeply, it won't emerge properly if rains come right away, creating a crust on the surface. If it isn't planted deeply enough, it won't create a proper root structure and yields will be hurt quite a bit or it will blow over when we have summer winds. It might not even come up at all if their isn't enough moisture in the soil- just like grass in your lawn or seeds in your garden.

We have the equipment to plant 200 acres a day if there are no breakdowns or other disruptions ......if everyone puts in at least a 16 hour day. These long days continue until every acre is planted. Usually , the field work starts and stops several times depending on spring rainfalls and how long it takes the ground to dry sufficiently between them.

It generally takes us the better part of 4-6 weeks to plant the corn and soybeans.

Day two, three, four and five.

The corn kernels sit in the dark for 3 days absorbing moisture from the soil. Suddenly, they break through the seed coat with a little tiny root and a tiny little sprout. The sprout becomes the part above ground and the root becomes the, well, the root. It is amazing to see the field turn from brown to a shadowy green to row after row after row of uniformly spaced and uniformly sized corn plants.

It makes a farmer proud!

For the next few weeks, God continues doing his thing with sunlight and soil and the plants grow rapidly- you can practically watch it grow. Some people swear they can hear it grow.

A short window of opportunity exists before the plants are too tall to drive through, so if any other fertilizer applications are needed, the guys don't dilly dally. They get it done.

Knee high by the 4th of July is no longer considered acceptable. That is so 1950's!

About 65-75 days later (depending on the weather conditions).

Once it gets to be about 8 foot tall, the stalk begins to shoot tassels out the top of the plant and two to three ears appear from the middle. The tassels are golden brown and are filled with millions and millions of pieces of pollen dust. This dust is the "male" part of the plant.

At just the right time, the pollen explodes from miniature bulbs on the tassel and falls down on the corn silk.

The silks, which come out of the baby corn cobs, resemble hair, but they are very moist. When the pollen hits it, it mysteriously travels down into the interior part of the cob where it is wrapped up by the leaves of the husks.

The cob is lined with potential kernel spots. When the pollen gets to the spot where the silk is connected to the cob, the miracle of fertilization occurs, and the formation of the kernel is underway. This can take about 5 days. When this is happening, the countryside smells delicious, just like a gigantic sweet corn patch.

A few things can disrupt corn pollination, including too much heat, not enough rain, and hot dry wind. Japanese beetles can also cause major issues because those pests don't just eat your roses and tree leaves, they also eat corn silks.

No silk. No pollination. No kernel. No food.

Once successful pollination occurs, the corn plant really shifts into high gear to get the kernels to maturity. Gobs of energy is used as the plant instinctively aims to produce the most kernels and the largest kernels possible.  Sugars are pulled from the stalk as the plant makes every effort possible to reproduce itself.

Stress is not good for humans and it is not good for corn. Our plants have had a stess-free summer and we have potential high yields to prove it.

This amazing cycle is almost complete for this year. The crop is basically made and we are just waiting for the kernels to dry and shrink down to about  24% moisture. The stalks will dry up and turn from green to golden.

The guys are starting to prepare for harvest where we will all reap what has been sown.

Brad helped me with the details for this post and I am so glad he did. We both enjoyed the reminder of the miracles of life all around us. Nothing just randomly happens. God is in charge of it all, and we humbly appreciate the opportunity to play our part in His plan to care for the world He created and loves.

If you have any questions about any of this, ask away! I know just the people to ask for the answers.


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