Rural Reflections: Of tassel ears, cool temps and Concord grapes

Farm Forum

The forecast for frost has been lifted for this week, but the cool days and nights remain a big concern as crops are slowly ripening in the field. According to the Syngenta Agronomy Blog, when corn reaches maturity, the black layer forms at the tip of the kernel and dry matter accumulation is complete. Depending on the hybrid, grain moisture ranges from 30 to 35 percent. After that, field drydown begins.

Ideally, farmers prefer for the ears to dry while still in the field. As time for combining gets near, some ears will be shucked out by hand, and the kernals will be checked to see the moisture level. Having to send crops through the drying process can be costly, especially in a year where commodity prices are down significantly. It takes about 15 to 20 Growing Degree Units to lose one percent kernel moisture.

When choosing seed, many look at how the corn ear will dry at the end of the season. The type of hybrid will have a big impact as well as the climatic conditions. The blog notes that hybrid characteristics that influence rate of drydown are pericarp (seed coat) thickness and permeability, husk cover, cob size, kernel size and density. Environmental factors including air temperature, moisture, relative humidity and air movement have the greatest effect. Cool days and cooler nights are not helping that process this year.

Typically, from mid-September to mid-October – in this area, with longer day lengths, favorable weather and average daytime temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees – it will take about one to two days to lose one percent moisture. By comparison, from mid-October through mid-November – with daytime temperatures commonly around 50 to 60 degrees – it can take four to six days or longer.

Taking a closer look

On the edge of one of our fields up north, I noticed some of the corn tassels appeared to have 3 or 4-inch cobs on them. Some were barely formed while other appeared to have rows of corn. When I talked to one of the agronomists at last week’s plot tours, I was told that the resulting growth generally comes from some type of damage during the growing cycle. I was told it could be deer or coons bothering the young sprouts or maybe some implement getting too close. The aberrations are generally seen on the edges of fields.

According to some of the agronomy websites, the damage occurs during the normal growth and development cycle. Every now and then, the development alters and the mainly female hormonal aspects create these kernels, which are unprotected. Without their protective husk they are open to the elements and birds, so the kernels are usually not viable.

Garden gnomes

As experts tell us, we can’t do anything about the weather except enjoy it when we can. The bounty on some of the apple trees and grape vines indicate to some that we’re in for a hard winter. The branches on our apple tree are dipping down to the ground, making picking the fruit an easy chore.

I had help with some garden jobs last weekend. Our two grandsons were eager to pick the Concord grapes from my trellis. I was surprised at the amount of clusters they found. In 20 minutes, they filled a small box with bunches the size of their fists and grapes the size of peas.

At ages 7 and 9, the boys were just the right size to reach in and clip the bundles from the branches. I really have to concentrate on getting the vines into an orderly shape before next year.

It was tempting to try to make wine from the fruit, but that will have to wait for another year. The grandsons offered to dump the grapes in the Jacuzzi tub and stomp them. We compromised, and I gave them a pot with the grapes and a potato masher to make the juice for the jelly. If the harvest is good again next year, I promised I’d let them try their feet on some, only not in the bathtub. As they went about making forts for the weekend, kitchen magic turned the pounds of fruit into 15 pints of grape jelly, just waiting to be matched with some peanut butter for sandwiches.