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February 2, 2018
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

There is so much about life that can be learned from gardening. Not just the physical work, but the application of life's processes. I was struck by this recently when reading about the parable of corn seeds.

It seems there was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn, the story goes. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

"How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering the same competition as yours each year?" the reporter asked.

"Why, sir," said the farmer, "Didn't you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn."

So it is with life. There is a lot to learn. Those who want to live meaningfully and well, must help enrich the lives of others. The value of life is measured by the lives we touch. Those who chose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each of us is bound up with the welfare of all. The law of life, a principle of success, because none of us truly win until we all win!

When I was a teenager, my friends earned money by de-tasseling corn for Purdue University. That was how we bought our back-to-school clothes. We weren't old enough to work regular jobs. Growing corn became a necessity in our lives, and not just to eat.

Corn is a "New World Crop" which is a crop native to North and South America before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and not found anywhere else in the world at that time. Corn comes from a word meaning grain, relating to kernel. When the American Indians helped the European settlers plant maize, later called corn, corn pertained to all kinds of grains and edible seeds that constitute the food of man and horses, such as wheat, rye, barley and maize. So, the saying goes, "All maize is corn, but not all corn is maize."

We live in a state that is the top producing state of sweet corn that is delivered to all fresh produce markets in the United States, according to the University of Florida Extension. For northerners, sweet corn was a sign of summer; Florida has crops fall, winter and spring. The main crops are grown in the Everglades region, South Florida with Palm Beach County leading the way. Sweet corn can be planted in the winter there. In southern Florida, we plant between October through March.

It may be an easy crop to grow, but some have difficulty in getting a good ear of corn to grow. We forget the need for pollination. Growing one stalk of corn doesn't work. I was told I needed to have a square patch of 16 stalks, four on each side of a square, to have successful pollination. IFAS recommends two or three rows, 24 to 36 inches apart, with seeds planted 1-2 inches deep, spaced 12-18 inches apart. Plant only one variety of seed and away from other corn plantings to prevent cross-pollination with other varieties. Stay true to one variety.

If there are only one or two rows of corn, relying on the wind for pollination may not yield a plentiful harvest, or misshapen cobs with scattered kernels. You can hand pollinate. Each plant has both male and female flowers. The branched tassels found at the peak of the stalk are the male part, the silky tassels are the female parts where you will find the ears of corn that develop. Pollen on the tassel must connect with the silks to be successful. To hand pollinate, cut the entire tassel off the plant and shake it like a wand over the silks, being sure you are thorough.

Corn reaches a height of 6-8 feet high. Remember this when you plan your space for gardening.

Also, remember the shade it will throw on your other plants in your garden.

The historical "Three Sisters" is the best example of companion planting. American Indians taught us this.

Plant corn and establish a stalk. Then plant green beans to grow up the stalks; beans are nitrogen fixers into the soil, and corn needs a lot of nitrogen. They don't immediately provide it, but future crops will benefit from it. The third sister, squash, is low and spreading, providing a shady mulch to keep out weeds and helps to retain the water. The shade helps confuse the adult squash borer, a major squash pest.

There are many varieties of sweet corn, different colors and sugar content. Some varieties of yellow or white that do well here are "Silver Queen" (white), "How Sweet it is" (white), "Sweet Ice" (white), "Sweet Riser" (yellow) and "Early Sunglow "(yellow). Other recommendations are yellow "Summer Sweet" or "Winstar," white "Boreal" and "Vail," bi-color varieties like "Big Time" and "Fantastic."

You need at least 6-8 hours of sun each day. Keep away from salty water. Water early in the morning, don't let water sit on the plants at nighttime. When this advice is given, I wonder what the natural rainfall late in the day does to them. Forming ears critically need this water during pollination and the time for growing the plumpness of the ear.

Out maneuvering the pests and diseases are a real challenge to professional growers as well as the home gardeners. Identifying the problem is the first line of attack (know your enemy). Your local

Extension is a big help here. Don't use harmful chemicals that keep the ears from being healthy to humans.

It's a-mazing to grow maize.

Still, thank a tree.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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