Roadside Corn

Back when I was a youth growing up in the wilds of Illinois my parents told me that, when you saw all that corn planted along the road, the first few roads were feed corn to discourage people from pulling over and just grabbing a few ears. Thinking about it today as I was driving along past the fields, that seemed rather impractical to me in terms of harvesting since it’s all mechanized and it would be very difficult to avoid mixing the two. Rather (I assume) most corn planted is feed corn and the odds are just against you should you decide to purloin some.

Were my parents even a little bit accurate? Any corn farmers want to restore my childhood faith?

“Roadside Corn”


You can’t grow feed corn and sweet corn together. The kernels will come out all nasty. The kernels grow from it’s own genetics, not the parent plant’s.

I wouldn’t think the farmers would give a shit about a few dozen, or even tens of dozens of pilfered corn.

Lately I’ve noticed some farmers here (Ontario) have been leaving a few perimeter rows facing roadways uncut, as a natural snow fence. I wonder if they’re compensated for that or if they are doing it on their own goodwill, as a public service?

Minnesota pays farmers the fair market value of the crop to leave a few rows standing as a “living snow fence”. The farmers can even go pick the corn by hand if they want as long as they leave the stalks.

Feed corn plants grow tall and sturdy. Compared to them, sweet corn plants look positively puny. Scattered plants (not groing in neat rows) are most likely scattered kernels that against all odds actually germinated and grew.

Field corn’s not bad when it’s young enough. You can eat it like sweet corn then. Mature field corn picked when the husks are dry, makes for a good munchy if you parch it. Just carefully try to pop it in a little oil, being sure not to burn it. It’s good with a little salt and black pepper. It has been marketed as CornNuts.

But, like others said, different types of maize will hybridize easily if they’re close to each other. This property keeps lots of school kids in the fields corn detassleing in central Indiana in the summer.

Very often, when Americans pass corn fields, they are passing ‘feed corn’. So much of what we pass goes to feed supplies. I’m sure some is for human consumption; most isn’t.

So, your parents were full of chit.

Are we siblings? I also grew up in Illinois, and my parents said the same thing.

There’s feed corn, that goes to animals, it gets to keep its tassels. There’s seed corn. That comes in male and female varieties. The male corn is allowed to keep its tassel, the female corn gets its tassel ripped right off. The tassel has the pollen, its therefore the corn’s genitals. Every year thousands of children innocently get bussed out to fields to practice this herbological genital mutilation, ripping the female tassels right off. It’d be very disturbing, if it wasn’t a bunch of plants.

Oddly male seed corn ears are gigantic, it is an interesting experience to sort corn. To have a this cute Spanish girl you’re working with, who’s training you on your first day, pick up this gigantic piece of corn, of tremendous phallic girth, look you right in the eye and say “this is the male corn! It’s waste, throw it out! It’s bad. We don’t want it in the female seed. Ruins it” ker chunk as it goes down the waste chute.

It wasn’t meant to be, but I digress.

Ew, pesticides. Carbamate if I’m not mistaken.

A lot of farmers also like this because it help maintain our population of ringneck pheasants, deer, and other wildlife.

I didn’t know until fairly recently that each stalk typically has only one ear. For some reason I always thought four or five per stalk. It seems like a lot of bio-mass to make just one ear.

Is that true? If so we are going to have a lot less corn in the garden than I thought.

I didn’t know that until recently either. Googling brings up some articles saying that if there’s not a lot of competition for resources, a plant might produce more than one ear. Or that hybrids can be engineered to produce more than one.

I also didn’t know that each silk thread makes a kernel.

We get our sweet corn from a farmer who plants five acres of it, right next to his feed/seed corn. The only way we can tell which is which is by the height of the plants. The sweet corn plants aren’t as tall.

The corn in my in-laws garden typically has several ears per stalk.

It depends on the type. Many field corn varieties are 1/plant, but not all.

Sweet corn is usually 2/plant but some varieties can do 4 or 5.

It also depends on the spacing. Even the 1/plant types might produce 2 if spread out more and vice versa.

No, that’s not true in general. Certainly not for sweet corn, which has been bred to produce several ears per stalk. And many varieties of field corn also produce multiple ears per stalk.

The farmer will select a particular variety to plant based on his soil composition, planned fertilizer use, expected rainfall, and what his intended use is for the corn.

Other corn trivia I heard (but not sure I accept):

  • A mature ear of corn will have an odd number of rows, never an even number.
  • Industrialized corn cannot replacate itself without the aid of humans - the husks seal in the kernals and they rot before they can germinate in the soil.
  • There are two types of people in the world - those that eat corn on the cob across (like a typewriter), or around.

Again, I do not vouch for the accuracy of these tid-bits. Anyone else hear these?

The around-the-cob method is good for keeping the butter on the corn. If you gnaw and rotate fast enough, the butter can’t drip off.