Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Million Dollar View

Tassels emerging
Geographically speaking, cornfields aren’t considered a highly desirable view to the general public.   Travellers whiz obliviously past acres and acres of this certifiable national treasure, eager to get on to more exciting vistas.  Realtors could attest to the number of homebuyers seeking views of mountains, oceans, lakes and metropolitan skylines, but cornfields?  Not even on the radar.  Even homegrown tourism commercials confirm this theory.  A catchy phrase like “Visit Illinois!” is followed by video clips of hiking trails, theme parks, waterfalls and of course, The City.  The majestic crop that covers most of our state, however, has been conspiratorially left out. 

Neither the farmers nor the corn care, though.  They don’t stage protests or launch lawsuits for the acclaim they deserve.  They’re content to live quietly, fueling the cars and people that go revving around in search of that million-dollar view. 

Maybe it’s because I’m a farmer’s daughter.  Maybe it’s because I grew up eating sweet corn like cookies.  Maybe it’s because green is my favorite color.  Who knows?  But I love cornfields.  I love the potential they hold when they’re empty, the hope exuded as they sprout, the lushness of the deep green ribbon-leaves as they soak up the July sun, and the rustle of golden stalks on a windy day in October. 

But to truly appreciate this crop, one must understand it.  Growing corn is a complicated, chancy venture.  Having invested huge sums of money, time, and labor into this agricultural gamble, farmers monitor crop development closely.   

When people go into a vegetative state, that’s not good.  Plants in a vegetative state: completely different story.  It means they’re focusing all of their resources on growing.  “As opposed to what?” one might ask.  “Aren’t they always growing?”  When corn reaches a certain level of development, it turns its attention towards romantic ventures.  This is known as the reproductive state.

The ear tosses out her golden hair (silks)

Corn growth is classified within these two states.  The vegetative states are measured by the number of leaf collars visible.  But once the male tassel emerges, Al Green starts crooning and the stalk starts setting the mood.  The first reproductive state is silking, which occurs a few days after the tassels appear.  Translucent, feminine strands of seduction emerge from the cornhusk, waiting expectantly for the tassel to notice them.  They are receptive to pollen for 10-14 days, but the tassel is not as easily turned on.  If it is too hot, or too cold, too wet or too dry, the tassel will not release its pollen.  Most people assume that planting and harvest are the most anxious times for farmers, and they are.  But pollination’s crucial time and elemental requirements cause many rural blood pressures to rise as well.  Without successful pollination, their yield will be poor. 

After silking, comes the blister stage, in which the ear will be loaded with white kernels resembling - you guessed it - blisters!  Then comes my favorite phase: the milk stage.  Kernels, plump with a milky liquid, develop their characteristic golden hue.  This is the stage at which sweet corn is harvested.  Frosted with melting butter and sprinkled with salt, those milky kernels make a tasty July delicacy.  Sweet corn’s developmental stages end here, on my dinner plate.

For field corn, though, the adventure continues for three more phases.  Field corn is sometimes referred to as yellow gold.  It is used to make ethanol, animal feed and corn starch, oil and syrup, just as you would suppose.  But did you know that it is also used to make soap, paint, linoleum, pharmaceuticals, insulation and batteries?  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Corn is an incredibly valuable plant.

In its dough phase, the inner liquid thickens to a pasty consistency.  Then, as fall approaches, the fields enter the dent stage.  The drying kernels now exhibit their characteristic dimple.  Physiological maturity - corn’s final stage - arrives when an abscission layer has formed at the base of the ear.  This essentially loosens the ear and prepares it to be released from the stalk.  Farmers wait for kernels to dry to approximately 20% moisture before revving up their combines.  When the moisture meter hits the magic number, the harvesters roll out, reaping thousands of bushels of yellow gold.  In this country girl’s opinion, that’s a million dollar view.    


Casa Mariposa said...

This is an interesting post because of its perspective. With the exception of cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don't eat corn and avoid all food products made with corn syrup. I do, however, find fields of corn attractive. I don't think I'd do well as a farmer. Knowing my financial survival was dependent on the weather would give me an ulcer. Mother Nature is too uncooperative.

Casa Mariposa said...

I stand corrected: hot cheese grits with a pile of bacon are a staple winter comfort food. And last I checked grits were still made with corn. :o)

Design to Grow said...

Tammy...I've never had hot cheese grits...time to schedule a vacation to the south!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...