Author Topic: Clever tricks for dealing with low populations of corn ?  (Read 129 times)

Yaz

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Hi!

I'm new to deliberate plant breeding, but have been seed saving for the last 5 years or so, mostly from various curcubits, nightshades, and legumes. I don't worry about purity, mostly saving from "whatever grew best" and enjoying the crosses that occasionally show up.

This year I decided to plant Painted Mountain Flour corn, with the idea that I could 1) make corn flour, and 2) play more with plant breeding with something that crosses more readily by selecting for a white and red version (and, as always, a selection that grows and produces in my climate/heavy soil).

I haven't had much luck with corn in the past, but figured the very early and cold tolerant Painted Mountain was a good bet.  I mentally allocated about a third of my new tilled garden to the project, ordered seeds, and figured i had plenty of space for variability.

Then I did some reasearch on Painted Mountain and realized why my corn always struggles - I've been planting far too closely - 6" apart, 18 " rows (0.75 sq ft/plant). Oops.

With 3 sq ft/corn plant, I can fit about 54 plants in my garden (6 rows of 9), about 1/4 of the 200 recommended to maintain diversity. My seed buying and starting this year was bigger than my garden and I am tired of tilling sod, so expanding the corn patch isn't an option this year.  I am stubborn, so I still want to at least try to save seed and get started this year.

Can anyone give me any suggestions for ways I can approach this? Here's a few things I've thought of:
  • If I halve my seed spacing for the first and last row, I could have about 18 extra plants, and accept lower yield from those rows
  • If I quarter my seed spacing for the first and last row, and consider them "pollen donors" only, i could have 36 extra plants. 
  • I could add closer spaced seeds at the end of each row (maybe add about 12 -24 plants)
  • I could plant at the larger spacing, save seed this year, then next year plant half saved seed, half previous years seed. (or half seed from another supplier).  Then each following year plant half 1 year seed/half 2 year seed). 

Are any of these logical solutions? What would you do?

spacecase0

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Re: Clever tricks for dealing with low populations of corn ?
« Reply #1 on: 2020-05-16, 08:23:39 PM »
closer spacing gets you more plants, and if you are not looking for production, it is likely ok as long as you get them enough water.

the idea of growing seeds 2 years from your original seeds and them mix the first 2 years for year 3 works

also remember to get seeds from each cob for replanting, don't just mix them all together, some cobs might not get replanted that way.
remember that seeds collected from the bottom of the cob will give you shorter season corn, middle of the cob will not change the growing time of the corn, and top of the cob will give you longer season corn.

also, choose seeds that look different if you have a really low population, it will help with the required diversity.

« Last Edit: 2020-05-16, 08:29:17 PM by spacecase0 »

William S.

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Re: Clever tricks for dealing with low populations of corn ?
« Reply #2 on: 2020-05-16, 09:47:51 PM »
I can grow 200 painted mountain plants in 200 square feet no problem. Bed five feet wide (I have long arms) and plant one kernel per square foot. I am sure if you give them plenty of space they'll be huge plants and you can save several years seed and mix it to get the population size.
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian silty clay mollisoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A with 100 to 130 frost free days

Ocimum

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Re: Clever tricks for dealing with low populations of corn ?
« Reply #3 on: 2020-05-17, 06:45:18 AM »
...
remember that seeds collected from the bottom of the cob will give you shorter season corn, middle of the cob will not change the growing time of the corn, and top of the cob will give you longer season corn.
...

I am intrigued: Is it the smaller the seed, the longer to maturity? Because a big seed has a head-start?

Yaz

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Re: Clever tricks for dealing with low populations of corn ?
« Reply #4 on: 2020-05-17, 11:14:12 AM »
That's neat about the place on the cob being related to maturity date - I assume the bottom kernels are pollinated first and therefore pollinated by the first plants to release pollen? Is that the logic?

I made a blood sacrifice to the black fly gods and went and planted the corn this morning. The plan was to plant next weekend but the weather looks good and I realized I wont have time next weekend.

Since you think a mixed year population will probably work, I did 3 rows of full spacing and three rows of half spacing to see what the difference is (~75 seeds),  and really just see if it's worth growing.  The seed is from a large seed company so I suspect it isnt too inbred.  A few weeks ago during a several hour long mind numbing conference call, I sorted the half pound of seed I bought by colour, so planted only white, white and red striped, other colours with red stripes, red kernels, and all the "unique" kernels (mottled, gradient coloured, different shades etc).

I have another 75 seed packet I bought from an independent Canadian grower/ seed company and didnt plant. I will assume the genetics are different, and plant ~ half that seed and half my seed next year (and try to actually have 200+ plants)

I am tempted to go over to my dads and till up his garden, which hasn't been used in a few years, (2020) and do a second planting with a bigger population of mixed leftover seeds there. But there is an almost zero percent chance he will water it, I dont feel like weeding it, the black flies are even worse there, and August is often rain free, so probably a bad idea.
« Last Edit: 2020-05-17, 11:16:11 AM by Yaz »

Ellendra

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Re: Clever tricks for dealing with low populations of corn ?
« Reply #5 on: 2020-05-17, 12:07:51 PM »
You have plenty of space to grow 200+ plants. Just not all at the same time :)

Take your seeds and divide them into batches, with each batch being enough to fit the space. Start with one, and grow each batch separately, one batch per year. When you save seeds, make sure you take a little from each plant. When you run out of your original seed, start mixing in some saved seeds. There are lots of mixing algorithms you can use, but the main idea is that each planting has seeds from plants that didn't all grow from the same batch. That way you get the same diversity as a huge patch, but in smaller bites.
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spacecase0

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Re: Clever tricks for dealing with low populations of corn ?
« Reply #6 on: 2020-05-17, 03:43:43 PM »
I am intrigued: Is it the smaller the seed, the longer to maturity? Because a big seed has a head-start?
it has to do with when it is grows and is pollinated.
the ones at the base are first, so they tend to grow shorter season like they were.
some people say that they also have stronger roots, but I have never tested that.
opposite for the ones at the top of the cob.

so I mark my cobs as to when they silk, then get seeds from the appropriate place to bring my corn back to silking (and tasseling on each plant when it silks) all at the same time.
right now they are about 3 weeks apart for all of it, so it takes more water than it needs to and does not give me a larger harvest of the longer season either.
fixing a corn variety can take a few years.

my suggestion to anyone trying to make a good corn variety with limited space,
especially if you someday plan on living off of it when you get more room someday,
grow 2 types that are very similar but from different sources.
then cross them when you get the additional space.
you will not run into inbreeding depression that way.

I almost lost a variety because I only started with 36 plants,
I grew at least 200 plants and saved seeds from all of them in years after.
took 4 years to fail (or was it 5 ?), but it happened.