Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society of Michigan, 14: 67-68  (1885)

Summer Meeting, 1884

The first topic of the afternoon was

SWEET CORN, GROWTH, VARIETIES, ETC.,

upon which Prof. Tracy, of Detroit, remarked at some length without notes. Substantially he said:

The failure of the corn crop the past year has brought forcibly to the minds of farmers its comparative value in the farm economy. In the garden also it seems to me we must consider the sweet corn the most valuable vegetable. No where else in the world unless it be in Italy can sweet corn be grown in such perfection as in this country. In England peas hold a similar place to that which sweet corn does here.

Sweet corn differs from field corn in the substitution of sugar for a portion of its starch. It also differs in remaining longer in the tender or milky condition.

There are certain cultural conditions which increase these differences. There is perhaps no other element the production of which has been so carefully studied as that of sugar in the beet, and we find that the conditions best for the sweet corn are the same.

First, location as to climate. We find a line south of which it does not grow to perfection, north of which it will.

Second, character of the soil. We cannot produce beet sugar on prairie lands. We cannot produce beet sugar where field corn grows best, neither can we grow the best sweet corn. It grows best on comparatively light, fine, plain lands. Thus in some sections of Massachusetts whole districts grow it, and New York produces the finest sweet corn on land that will not produce good field corn. The soil must not contain a large amount of vegetable matter.

Third, the soil must not be very rich in potash. Avoid, therefore, rank manures, especially those rich in potash, and use phosphates or well decomposed manures instead. The addition of super-phosphates made almost the difference of another variety. A rapid unchecked growth is important, and this may be sufficiently secured by super-phosphates and manures well decomposed, or, better still, by using light land, rich enough to produce a crop without special manure. There is no other corn so easily influenced by climate as sweet corn. Any variety removed a little distance south and cultivated there two or three seasons, then brought back, would be hardly recognized. Members of the cucurbitaceae family, on the other hand, would be hardly changed—possibly a very little ranker growth and loss of earliness.

The Rattlesnake melon, so largely imported from the south, has twenty varieties. The products of one of these grown for two seasons at Grand Traverse, and five seasons near Detroit, when compared could hardly be distinguished.

Second, importance of soil. Here the reverse is true. No vegetable is so little permanently affected by soil as corn. Of course it affects greatly the individual plant, but it does not affect the tendency of the variety.

Third, mixing. Perhaps no other corn mixes more readily than sweet corn. There are some marked peculiarities about it. Those varieties produced by crossing are about the most difficult things to fix that we have. The crossing of A and B we will call C. The product of C will be the same as C, or very nearly, but following generations will be very variable, and it will be a long time before the type becomes fixed. I know of a variety of corn called the Old Colony which is twenty years old, and which shows in a marked degree the effects of an early cross. This corn has been grown by itself a great many years, and last year I was shown samples which showed clearly the trace of the original stock of Dent corn which was in it. It is possible that it may have been mixed, but I do not think so. The man who grew it says he never saw that corn without its showing some such variation.

The Potter's Excelsior was originated by Mr. Potter of Rhode Island in this manner: He takes a not very fixed variety like the Early Minnesota and plants in alternate rows with one like the Old Asylum of Mass., a very fixed sort. This we will say was done in 1882. He plants the product in 1883, and names that product the Excelsior corn. This comes true for several years, but finally loses its character. I have corn of this variety bred to the individual three years and it still shows variation. Hence we see that the most permanent variation in corn is produced by climate, very little by soil; a great variation by mixing, but which is hard to fix.

Fourth, the occurrence in a variety of some peculiarity which tends to accompany certain qualities. For example, the Early Narragansett was the source of the Early Minnesota. The latter being a selection from the lighter colored ears of the former; and it is interesting to notice that in the Red Narragansett the lighter colored ears are the earliest. I took six or seven ears of it in the order of their color and the crop from them ripened in the same order, the darker in color ripening the latest.

The Narragansett corn is disliked on account of its red cob, which discolors the corn when boiled. This may be obviated by putting the corn directly into hot water, made still hotter by salt, and cooking as rapidly as possible, removing when done.

The varieties with colored cob or grain are stronger and of better quality than the white sorts.

The Black Mexican becomes dark when a little old, and is on that account disliked by market gardeners, as it shows when it gets old.

Sweet corn is hard to germinate. The abundance of sugar seems to check its vitality. I think we have never had more than 90 per cent grow, seldom over 75.