Saturday, July 28, 2012

Its about the Kernel!

Not to state the obvious, but the reason we plant corn kernels, is to get more kernels. And right now, although it may seem like the corn is "done" growing, there's a lot going on. Once the tassel emerges, pollination begins, and each little potential kernel, needs a whole lot of TLC. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's what mother nature has planned right now. 

Well, corn is not doing well. The temperatures have been higher than normal (at least locally) and precipitation has been extremely low.  These are the averages for the entire state of Illinois, our temperatures have been much higher then the state average.  

This week
Ave. Temp

Our corn is turning brown, the soil is cracking, and our corn is looking anything but healthy. The moisture and corn conditions for the state are listed below.   

Topsoil moisture
80%  very short
Subsoil moisture
77% very short
Corn Conditions
36% very poor

These photos were taken July 20th, and although we have a single corn cob growing, there's no evidence of any others. (I'm honestly not sure how many cobs a plant is supposed to produce.) 

This week
This week, last year

The University of Illinois has a wonderful site describing the stages of corn growth. On that page is the following graphic, which if you click on one stage will give you more information. While this is above anything my 5 year old cares about, I've become invested in the corn growing in the field next to us, and wanted to learn about these terms "silked" and "doughed." 

Here's the coolest of what I've learned!

  1. Its typical for a corn plant to have between 21-25 leaves (ours topped out at 21).
  2. Once the full tassel emerges, the "silking" stage begins. 
  3. R1, is the "silking" stages, when the pollen from the tassel makes its way down to the ear (and its the worst time for a corn plant to be stressed due to underwatering...humph.)
  4. Each potential kernel (the part we eat) is the ovule
  5. **Each silky thread is connected to a single kernel, and each  must be fertilized by pollen.** (By far the coolest part of the process if you ask me!)
  6. R2 is the Blistering stage, and each kernel has clear liquid, and embryo is obvious if you dissect the plant at this stage.
  7. R3 is the Milk stage, and the kernels are filled with starchy milky fluid, with the outside being yellow.
  8. R4 is the Dough stage, where the kernels have a pasty dough filling with half of their mature dry weight.
  9. R5 is the Denting stage, where the kernels have, you guessed it, a dent because of the moisture they have lost.
  10. R6 is maturity with the kernels reaching their maximum drying accumulation.   

With the poor condition aside, I'm excited about this process. I also love how the names tell you wants going on in the kernel at that stage. I love it when names actually help you figure out the definition! 

I'm not expert, but it seems to me that the silking stage came very early this year. I'm not sure what that means for yields, but that in combination of little rain, is why you've heard so much about farming (and future food prices) in the news. 

Statistics from Illinois Ag Connection: "Some Illinois Farmers Start Disking Under Corn" July 24, 2012.
University of Iowa: Agronomy. "Corn Development: R1 to R6."

Here are the other posts in our Corn Unit Series:


  1. Is this the same corn that you did the unit on earlier this year? What a difference!

    It's unbelievably dry here, too - we went away for a month and the lawn barely needed mowing when we got home last night. All the tomatoes and flowers are dead- only the pumpkin seems to have survived.

    1. Eddie, Yup...same corn. Much taller, but we're skeptical on how good the crop will be. But we've learned a lot!

      I know, we left for only 4 days the 4th of July weekend, and all the flowers in our containers died! Crazy!



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