To give some insight into why disease resistance is such an important trait for me, here are photos showing how various corns handle Southern Rust (Puccinia polysora) infestations. Bear in mind that almost all temperate varieties are moderately to highly susceptible to the pathogen.
The cover crop of cereal rye that I sowed last autumn has broken dormancy and is now growing rapidly. I was surprised that I obtained a stand this thick considering how late I sowed.
There are many benefits to sowing cover crops: scavenging leftover nutrients, reducing runoff and erosion, suppressing weeds, and providing some organic matter (especially if one waits longer to terminate).
Cereal rye is my favorite species to use because of how cold tolerant and vigorous it is, but I’d like to branch out one year and interplant mixes of rye, kale / collards, clover, and hairy vetch.
I’m shooting for a mid-April termination this year. Still trying to decide on the best method.
Just to show what type of results I obtained with my seed in testing, here are some pictures. You should have equal or higher germination rates in the field barring waterlogging, bugs, critters, etc.
As a species, the vast majority of corn is a tropical plant. The types grown in the higher latitudes of Argentina-Chile, the US-Canada, Europe, and Asia are a small and very peculiar fraction of the overall genepool in that they will grow and yield regularly under long days. In contrast, most tropical corn grows abnormally tall, sheds pollen very late, and frequently makes no grain when moved out of low latitudes. A local landrace or variety may grow to 6 feet tall and bloom after 65 days in Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Thailand, or Nigeria. The same populations moved to Tennessee, New Zealand, France, or South Korea may hit 15 feet and bloom in 110 days. The main difference: longer days. (Temperature plays a role too but less so than daylength.)
As one might imagine, such rank growth and late blooming makes it quite difficult to grow and preserve tropical corn outside of tropical latitudes. This is where my interests come in.
Despite the moderate to extreme growth changes that tropical corn shows under long days, the actual number of genes controlling this behavior is surprisingly small. Temperate zone corns (and a few tropical-subtropical landraces) carry different versions of these genes that don’t react as strongly to changing light duration. Some have no reaction.
What farmer-breeders of the past did was gradually eliminate the highly sensitive gene variants that prevented corn plants from ripening a crop on time – or blooming at all. After many generations, only the moderate (South), weak (Corn Belt), and insensitive (New England, northern Plains) genetic variants were present in adapted corn. Modern breeders have substantially sped up the process by mass selecting only the least daylength sensitive plants within a population. 5 – 6 generations are usually all that one needs to breed a long day adapted strain from a sensitive original.
The downsides of this mass selection approach are: 1) reduced genetic diversity and 2) potential lack of variation in the original corn. It makes sense that if one only saves – say – the earliest 5% of their plants for seed, then the great majority don’t actually get to pass down any of their genetics. This “bottleneck” can lead to a loss of useful traits that may be rare in the starting batch of plants. Furthermore, some corn populations have little or no variation in them for blooming habit. A breeder can’t select for something that isn’t present or expressed. 😉
The next approach – and my preferred choice – is to crossbreed daylength insensitive, adapted types with sensitive, exotic types. This gives a 50-50 mix, and a breeder can reselect faster bloomers as early as the second generation. Granted, said person has now eliminated 50% of the exotic genetics that he / she wanted to adapt in the first place. The solution? Cross back to the foreign corn and select again. This cuts the unwanted type’s genetics by half each time, while keeping the long day adaptation from the “donor” corn. So, the crosses go: 1/2 local –> 1/4 local –> 1/8 –> 1/16 –> 1/32 and so on. Eventually, one will have a “conversion” that is functionally identical to the pure variety…but without all the abnormal behavior. One can use backcrossing like this to convert all kinds of plants (and animals) to any number of traits.
Now, after the torrent of text above, let me show some pictures that demonstrate what substituting a (relatively) low number of gene variants can change.
Big difference, right? 🙂 In 2021, I’m gonna (try to) breed these two populations together so that I can cut the non-Amazon genetics down to 1/32 (96.9%). And I’ll be using landraces different from those that went into Cargill Coroico for more thorough sampling of the breed. Ideally, I’d want to backcross up to 127/128 (>99%) Amazonian genetics. The hypothetical end result would give growers representation from the Interlocked corn’s full range.
I’m working on converted populations like this for many different sources: Andean, Mexican highland, mesoamerican-Caribbean lowland, and South American lowland floury.
We’ll see what happens.
One last corn for now: Tuxpeño. This is sort of like the Black Angus of Mexican corn: reliable, productive, and widely grown. Midwestern Dent corns trace a very significant portion of their genetics back to this breed (even moreso Southern Dents), and it has contributed significantly to tropical lowland maize improvement in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Venezuela, and Mexico.
This particular population is a long day converted mixture tracing back to E. E. Gerrish’s work at Cargill, Inc. in the 1970s. As with the other populations of his that I’m offering, he crossed Tuxpeño and earliness donors in such a way to give 15/16 tropical and 1/16 US genetics. Last year I crossed his population (Cargill Mexican Dent) with a different long day-adapted, 100% tropical strain, and that F1 hybrid is what I’m making available in 2021. Final genetics come out to 31/32 tropical and 1/32 temperate.
Tuxpeño is – put bluntly – a no frills workhorse. It’s not very pretty or novel, but it’s very reliable and a good fit for a proper field corn. The female used in the pedigree came from seed that pushed through a record heat wave back in 2012 (106’F in the shade), and it had good yield. The male has less of a problem with stalk rot and northern leaf blight, which helps cover for the female’s shortcomings vs. these diseases.
I’ll have seed to sell of this population in 2021.
Days to mid-bloom is roughly 58 down here, with another 45 for fully ripened grain. Plant height averages 6 feet. Roots and stalks are good. Resistance against southern leaf blight and southern rust is medium to high, much superior to heirloom Midwestern and Southern dents. Northern leaf blight resistance is fair but insufficient for severe outbreaks. Grain color ranges from white to yellow to orange. Grain texture includes dent, hard dent, semi-flint, and flint. I eventually want to convert this population into an orange dent, but feel free to select in a different direction if you so choose.
I hand-pollinated this corn for optimal purity, but I can’t rule out a few rogue contaminants. I used 300 female plants and 100 males.
Here is my favorite breed of corn: Amazon Interlocked. It goes by different names depending on the country, but it’s all the same or very similar: Piricinco in Peru, Entrelaçado in Brazil, and Pojoso in Bolivia. Coroico was the first name assigned to the group, because it was initially discovered near the Bolivian city of Coroico by the first wave of corn researchers in the 1940s. Coroico thus became a generalized name for the complex, though not technically correct. Amazon Interlocked corn grows over a wide geographic range from Loreto, Peru down to Santa Cruz, Bolivia and as far eastward as Mato Grosso, Brazil. With one exception, this is the only lineage of corn native to the southern Amazon Basin and one that traces back millennia. In many ways, it is a distinct branch on the phylogenetic tree of maize, at least in my opinion.
This particular population was developed in the 1970s by E. E. Gerrish of Cargill, Inc. as part of the same series as his Cargill Cusco. He bred 5 landraces and 1 composite of Entrelaçado from Brazil with an early Russian flint variety that contributed long day adaptation. The end result had 15/16 Brazilian Amazon genetics and 1/16 Russian flint. Gerrish released his work gratis to the public domain in 1981.
So, why am I so fond of this corn? Well, chiefly, it’s the only floury variety that doesn’t rot profusely down here (most other soft corns hail from cool + dry or hot + dry climates). That alone makes Amazon Interlocked genetics worth using. It’s not high yielding, probably because the Tupí, Carib, and Macro-Jê peoples relied more on Cassava, sweet potatoes, and meat for food (less human selection for high production). It can be rather fussy but certainly not the worst corn that I’ve grown. One has to remember that this complex was never exposed to pre-Colombian state-sponsored improvement (Cusco, Nal-Tel, Tepecintle, etc.) nor to modern crop betterment.
It’s worth noting that Brazilian Interlocked corn differs in several ways from Bolivian and – especially – Peruvian landraces: it doesn’t have nearly the frequency of bronze-brown aleurone colors found in western relatives, nor the tendency to produce multiple layers of aleurone tissue. The frequency of interlocked grain rows is also less. I suspect these differences are due to Entrelaçado having mixed some with a related corn from the Guaraní people (Avatí Morotí), one that lacks these traits. I also ponder if Mr. Gerrish intentionally removed certain colors and traits as he was developing his long day-adapted conversion. (Ex. One of the parental Brazilian landraces had blue kernels, yet the trait is completely absent in his population.)
Even though the name isn’t correct for the corn it describes, this long day adapted conversion is called Cargill Coroico. That is the name one should use in order to prevent confusion.
I have seed to sell this year. Woo hoo.
Cargill Coroico is variable in height (5 – 8 feet), maturity (50 – 65 days to bloom), color, and grain texture. Although mainly a flour corn, one could easily breed a flint or semi-floury (morocho) strain from this seed, as hard kernels segregate out frequently. Cargill Coroico is fairly resistant to northern leaf blight, highly susceptible to southern rust, and not very tolerant of drought and thick sowing. I used 680 plants for seed and hand-pollinated all of them for maximum varietal purity.
This was the staple breed used by the Incan Empire in their heyday, and it continues to be the chief commercial corn grown in Peru’s highlands. Andean corn is notoriously fussy, but it has some useful traits, especially its cold tolerance and resistance to common rust (Puccinia sorghi).
This particular population isn’t of pure Andean constitution; rather, it carries roughly 5% (3/64) Corn Belt Dent genetics so that under long days it will bloom in a timely manner, make grain, and not grow profusely tall.
The breeding work started with E. E. Gerrish at Cargill, Inc. back in the ’70s. He initially crossed early Minnesota dent corn onto a Cusco variety, and then mated back to Cusco 3 times, adding additional varieties in each step until he used 7 total. From there, Mr. Gerrish gradually reselected the population until it had a maturity and growth habit suitable for Iowa, while maintaining 15 / 16 of the original Cusco DNA by pedigree.
The University of Guelph in Canada took Gerrish’s population and selected it further for fast maturity, narrowing down the genepool in the process. Dr. Frank Kutka mated this early version with 7 additional Cusco or mixed Andean populations. I crossed his (Cusco del Norte) with a selection that I made from Gerrish’s original, and this seed is the result.
Cusco is…a handful in Tennessee, so why keep the stuff around? Because I saw first hand how well it takes cold nights. Back in 2014 we had a cold snap in the middle of May that lasted a week. Days in the mid-60s’F and nights around 40’F. My corn was just beginning to emerge when the cold hit. Everything turned yellow and sickly…except Cusco, which stayed green and healthy throughout. High elevation Andean corns have the capacity to grow at temperatures below the base 50’F typically stated as corn’s bottom limit. This means that it will put on more growth with less heat than mesic and heat-loving varieties.
Cusco probably isn’t the best candidate for a garden stalwart, but it would contribute quite a bit to the genepools of breeders and growers in cool places. Cusco gives high heterosis with Northern Flint (Dr. Kutka, personal communication) and seems like a great complement for folks who use that type.
I’m selling Cusco this year, though I don’t have nearly as much seed as my other offerings.
Maturity is roughly 55 days to bloom here, plus another 50 days to ripen the grain. Height is 5 – 6 feet. I used 200 plants for seed.
**Note** If you live in a wet area: I suggest that you pick the ears when the husks have completely died and then shuck and dry the ears in the sun or indoors with adequate air flow. Don’t let them field dry, or you may have spoilage. Flinty Cusco ears are less prone than floury ones.
Many folks (myself included) have really taken a liking to orange flint corn, with Cateto being both the flagship example and the ancestral source of other orange types (Cuban, European, Creole, and Nalo Orange itself). I grew Cateto for years, because I very much like the taste, color, and texture of its hominy. Apparently, grits and cornmeal made from Cateto are popular too. I’ve always had one major gripe with it, however: low yields. I use Cateto – both Brazilian and Sulino – for my breeding projects, and I will continue to do so in the future. For production, however, Nalo Orange is clearly superior and will be my new stalwart orange corn going forward.
I sowed ~1500 seeds of Nalo last June and wound up harvesting 400 or so ears from the earliest plants (one pile seen here). Maturity was somewhere between Bloody Butcher and White Hickory King, with a narrower blooming range between plants than I expected. There is still quite a bit of variability for kernel texture and intensity of orange owing to the two parental genepools, but overall I’m satisfied with the population as it is now. Same for disease resistance: not uniformly high but respectable.
One of the original Hawaiian breeders – Jay Bost – has been stewarding, improving, and producing Nalo Orange on the islands for years now. He says that the variety has proven itself in Hawaii at multiple locations under organic farming conditions. It also seems happy here with the chemical fertilizers that I use.
This is one of the corns for sale in 2021. Hopefully you’ll like it as much as I do. 🙂
***Note*** There was a little contamination from some nearby yellow dent and white flour corn due to me not planting the blocks far enough apart time-wise. A great thing about dark orange corn: mixing with anything else seems to dilute the color moderately to strongly, which makes identifying outcrosses relatively easy. My block of Nalo was 14 rows deep, and I didn’t harvest from the outermost 2 rows. I did my best to cull any yellow, cream, or white kernels while shelling the ears, and I eliminated 3/4 of them. Still, there will be some outcrossed kernels in the seed, and – as such – I don’t feel comfortable charging full price. About 10% of the ears showed minor to high levels of unwanted mixing, so I’ll knock off 10% from the originally planned price.
Pardon the “extras” in the cast. Managing weeds in a corn breeding nursery with so many varieties can be…challenging, especially when one has half an acre to handle solo. I can only mow so much. <:-)
Anyways, the corn: it’s called Nalo Orange. I didn’t breed this one, but I helped spur its development by a smidgen. It grew out of a cooperative effort between the University of Hawaii and Dr. Frank Kutka, meant to develop a high carotenoid (vitamin A) population for the lowland tropics. Though bred in Hawaii, Nalo seems happy here in East Tennessee. I’m working with Dr. Kutka in adapting the population for higher latitudes than mine so that more northerly farmers and gardeners can grow Nalo Orange too.
You can read more about this corn’s origins here:
Well, I finally took the plunge and purchased a domain for my initial stab at selling goods online and sharing all my farming / breeding shenanigans. I have the blog…now I gotta figure out what to do with it. <:-)
Bear with me, everybody. After all, y’all are here for the posts and the seed, not a captivatingly beautiful website . 😉 I’ll gradually fill in the blank spaces and polish the design as my schedule allows. Stay tuned!