I first realized that there was a problem two weeks ago, when I went to throw out some weeds in the dumpster and I saw that someone from a different garden had thrown their corn stalks with the ears of corn still on it. First thinking I would salvage the remainder, I pulled off an ear and peeled the husk back, only to find the kernels form the top half completely dissolved, and replaced with dusty grey granules of caterpillar poop. I tried two more ears with the same result. And then realized that every ear of corn had a tiny hole bored into the outside through which the caterpillar larvae must have entered. Disgusted, I thought better of the salvage effort.
It seems that one of the pedagogical functions of community gardening is to teach humility. I held out a small hope that I had somehow miraculously planted a caterpillar-resistant or caterpillar-undesirable type of corn. I actually hadn’t intended to grow corn at all this year, having experienced the side effects of poor hand-pollination two years ago and decided it wasn’t worth the water and fertilizer. But my mother-in-law had given me some very interesting seeds–‘Two-inch strawberry popcorn’, from Seed Saver’s Exchange.
My son being a big fan of both popcorn and of strawberries insisted that we plant some– and I (being interested in anything that will keep him interested in the garden) obliged. Outside of some minor losses to the gopher, the corn crop grew beautifully. We went gangbusters will hand-pollination since we grew only a small row of corn, and the crop seemed to be heading up nicely.
So I hoped for the best (this being a popping corn). But the universal law of community gardening–‘if one person gets it, you’re all close behind’ held true. Just as I was hoping that it was almost time to harvest, I noticed each of my ears of corn had a hole in it. This must have happened pretty fast–note the picture on the left (two weeks ago) and the picture on the right (today.)
Looking inside, this is what you find.
So, fearing the crop would be entirely devoured by the catepillars if I let it go another day or two, I let my son harvest the corn early. The good news–my son, who I reluctantly dragged to the garden yesterday, was delighted to find the catepillars (sometimes three of them!) gnawing away at the corn. He called them ‘his new pets’ and jailed them all in a bug house. He then happily harvested all of the corn, which he was quite delighted with, shucked it, and carried it home to dry.
Though the corn is not mature, and probably won’t be worth much in terms of eating or popping, it did at least serve its true purpose as a youth engagement exercise. We intend to proceed with the instructions for drying corn that we’ve found on Mother Earth News http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/grow-your-own-popcorn-zmaz79zsch.aspx#axzz2aDxZ88jd, and will certainly return with the results. In the meantime, though, does anyone have great tips on how to avoid the caterpillar attack? I have a few rogue stocks of corn that are just putting out silk over at my parent’s house, and I would be interested to know your (hopefully non-pesticide) solutions.