Corn is the crop which I’ve been breeding for longer than anything else. I started corn breeding in either 2010 or 2011 (can’t remember which year for sure) with “Virginia White Gourdseed”. It had a lot of variability in it, and similar to what I’ve often experienced with corn seed that I bring in, many of the plants didn’t even make it to maturity. Germination was spotty. Many seedlings died at less than a foot tall. Of the ones that made it, many ears had too much mold, rot and earworm damage to be useful. Luckily I had interplanted squash because the corn patch ended up very sparse, but here and there were some really good looking ears that made me realize I wanted to propagate them, and led me down the path of plant breeding.
There was a decent amount of variability in the original seed, but I ended up crossing three more varieties into it during the course of the 2010s. At first, it was because I was concerned about low genetic diversity and inbreeding depression because I only had saved from around 50 ears the first year, that was all there were that were of a quality enough that I wanted to propagate them. So I decided to add similar varieties into the mix to add diversity and have more to select from. I added in some “Cherokee Gourdseed”, “Tennessee Red Cob”, and “Red and White Texas Gourdseed”. I’ve been selecting for yield, gourdseed form (long, thin kernels), mold resistance, and ease of hand processing (a few still cling more tightly, but by now the vast majority of the kernels come off the cobs easily). The difference in mold resistance especially has been huge. Where I am in the Ozarks (Ozark County, MO), mold is a huge issue, especially with anything that needs to dry down. At this point, while many ears still get worm damage at the tip, very few have any bad kernels farther down (except this past season when extreme conditions of drought followed by heavy storms hit). This is very different than during the first few years. I’ve inadvertently been selecting for thicker, tighter husks. I’ve been calling it “Ozark Gourdseed” because it’s different enough now from the original varieties but has the gourdseed type form.
The plants grow tall. It varies each year and even from plant to plant, but the average is probably around 12 feet tall. From planting at the beginning of May, they usually are ready to harvest around the 1st of September. I don’t use much irrigation but do some especially focused around the squash plants that I tend to interplant and are less drought tolerant than the corn. There is still a decent amount of diversity in the mix, more than a uniform variety but less than a Lofthouse type landrace. The majority of the ears are white, but there is a decent amount of red in the mix as well. Some of the cobs are red too.
I’ve given the seed to a number of people in different places but only heard back from a few that actually grew it, and I don’t know if anyone else has saved their seeds and propagated it. It has worked well in other Ozark locations. I have friends in Minnesota and Michigan that tried growing it but it didn’t work there because the summer isn’t long or warm enough that far north for the ears to mature. My guess is that anywhere south of I-80 has plenty of growing season for it (excepting some high elevation areas) while north of there it starts to get more iffy.
What I use it for the most is tortillas. It nixtamalizes well and makes nice tortillas. I separate the red out from the white while I’m processing it. Anything with only a hint of red goes in with the white but cobs with strongly red kernels get shelled into a separate bucket. I tend to grind the red stuff dry and use it for cornbread or other things that don’t involve nixtamalization so as to make full use of the good flavor that comes from the red skins of the kernel. The red kernels will also make good tortillas as well that are more tan colored and still retain some of the flavor associated with the red color. Even though the red layer rinses off with nixtamalization, some of the flavor does still infuse into the masa.
I do dry grind some of the white stuff as well but mostly nixtamalize it, and it’s easier to rinse than the red stuff. I select to keep the majority of it white because making tortillas is easiest with the white stuff and that’s what I do the most of. It’s more of a neutral flavor too. I do like having 10-20% or so red because the red adds such a good hearty flavor that I like at certain times. Anyone who wanted a different balance of colors or only one or the other could select for that.
I don’t have any photos on hand of the “Ozark Gourdseed” and it’s all already been shelled this year. I’m not generally much of a photo taker but starting to change that so I can share seed more widely. I continue to grow and select the “Ozark Gourdseed” every year.
I began another corn project in 2019. I planted seven varieties intermingled in the same patch. One was the “Ozark Gourdseed”, which I included because I wanted some of the adaptations to place that I’d already selected for> I chose the others to bring in a lot of diversity. I didn’t have a plan at first for what I would be selecting for, other than general well performing plants. The other varieties I included the first year were “Cherokee White Flour”, “Jellicorse Twin”, “Po’suwaegeh Blue”, “Warners”, “Truckers Favorite White”, and “Drought Tolerant White”.
When the harvest came in, I decided I wanted to take things in the direction of a flour type corn with mixed coloring of primarily blue but with white and lavender in the mix too. I started selecting in favor of, but not exclusively for, those characteristics. For the first few years especially I wanted to include some seed from any plants that performed well so I could get a diversity of well adapted genetics and nudge it more and more toward the kernel cahracteristics I want each year. Once I realized I wanted more blue, I added “Blue Clarage” into the mix the second year, as I’d heard some good things about that variety. I wasn’t disappointed, I particularly like the look and the taste that it added into the mix.
I added some lofthouse flour corn into the mix this year, but it tasseled significantly earlier than the rest and didn’t do so well, so I didn’t really want to save much seed form it. I did save a tiny bit, a few kernels that looked like they got pollinated by other plants in the patch, so I have a very small contribution of those genetics in the landrace. I haven’t named it anything specific yet, it’s just the landrace corn that I’m working on and is still very much a work in progress. It’s generally a long season corn but with more variation than the “Ozark Gourdseed”. Currently I go through the patch three times or so to harvest the ears that are ready. I eventually hope to select for more uniform maturing of the ears. I like diversity in general but also would rather be able to harvest the patch all at once.
This year (2022) wasn’t a great year for corn. The weather in June and especially July was very extreme hot and dry. I irrigated the corn some but not that much. I got a substantially lower yield than normal but enough of the plants did well that I had a good opportunity for selection for resilience. The landrace blue/white corn did better overall than the “Ozark Gourdseed”, some might be from genetic differences but I think it was mostly because I had planted it several weeks earlier so it got further into its growth before the extereme conditions hit. The “Ozark Gourdseed” also got hit worse by a late July storm which knocked over about a quarter of the stalks, while the landrace blue/white was in a more protected area and didn’t get hit as badly. Luckily I still have plenty of corn to eat from the 2021 season, which was the best year ever for it.
Here’s a picture of a sampling of the blue/white landrace ears from the 2022 season. I’m planning of sending some seed of both these and the “Ozark Gourdseed” to the seed project, along with the squash I posted about yesterday and melons, both muskmelons and watermelons.