August 2020 | Height of summer

August 2020 | Height of summer

You Must See This |
At the Allotment |

As the sweet corn plants developed, seemingly healthily and robustly, first I saw one, then more and in the group I had sown of sixteen corn seeds about one-third seemed to be oddly affected.  I did a bit of research.  I had never worried about F1 seeds – apart from the issue that such seeds in developing countries would, by needing to be re-purchased every year, possibly put an insupportable burden on struggling farmers – and I was prepared to pay a bit extra for a better crop.  I checked on F1 seeds again and, indeed, the seed is merely the “first child” of two parent varieties bred together over an extended period to produce an offspring, hopefully, with the good features of both.  F1 stands for first child.  They are not products of genetic engineering.

Instead of the usual close, leaf wrapping this distorted corn cob is growing out of the many limbed , fluffy growth that serves for pollinating corn instead of the usual area much further down the plant stem.
Perhaps you can make out that instead of the usual close, leaf wrapping this distorted corn cob is growing out of the many limbed , fluffy growth that serves for pollinating corn instead of the usual area much further down the plant stem.

What I was seeing is best shown in the second picture below, the plant with distorted cobs has developed to a height some 30cm below the unaffected plants in the background and that stunting is the case with all of the distorted versions.  At the apex of the affected plants the pollinating section itself develops into an incomplete, rudimentary corn cob.  Not what should happen and nothing to eat there, thin and flat.  Usually the cob develops quite separately and further down the plant stem.

I never throw seed packets away but this time I did.  However, I do remember they were called Swift F1.  It can take ten years of breeding or more to produce a stable hybrid which is reflected in  the extra expense.  I am simplifying the story but the issue about “stability” seems as though it might be key to something that could be said to be a sudden instability of my seeds.

Or was it something to do with cross pollination.  I have never been able to use up all the half-packets of corn I have left over from previous years because of cross pollination which makes growing different varieties close to each other out of the question because whatever you get won’t be true to anything – although it could also turn out to be marvellous!

New next-door plotholders have a large sowing of sweet corn and none of the previous occupants grew corn.  Could my strange distorted plants result from cross pollination?  Who knows?  No one on the allotment site has seen anything like my distorted plants and cobs before.

In any event, the unaffected Swift F1 cobs were delicious – just rather fewer than hoped!

If you have had strangely affected sweet corn too do get in touch and let us all know.

NB In Gardener’s World episode 31 on 16 October 2020 Frances Tophill, reviewing the year at her allotment said that her Swift sweet corn had been stunted, she thinks, due to the extreme dryness made worse by many days of high winds.  She made two sowings, the first unsuccessful, and the second producing lovely fat cobs.

I did some more research of my own and have discovered that another problem I had with my corn this year was missing kernels and this is apparently caused by poor pollination.  I am not surprised with the winds that we had.

So I was wrong in thinking that the seeds themselves were unstable and it would seem that extreme dryness and high winds have caused unstable pollination.  (Corn is wind pollinated but not by gale force winds!)

The normal plants in the image background show that the affected plants are a good 30cm smaller with the distorted cob at the apex.
The normal plants in the image background show that the affected plants are a good 30cm smaller with the distorted cob at the apex.
Image of large marrow which may actually be a courgette.
I think this is actually a large courgette even if it did say Marrow on the seed packet

Stuffed Marrow

This season, after buckets and buckets of regular water, I have finally got marrows again.  Well, the  seed packet said marrows but the similarity to a giant courgette is noticeable!  In any event I have finally been able to try out a friend’s method with stuffed marrow which is really successful.  You prepare your mince with whatever flavourings you like (for me chopped red pepper, onions and garlic) vegetarians will have perhaps a nut-based alternative stuffing.  Fry the mince mixture.  Cut the marrow into 5cm thick slices to produce wide rings and cut the seeds out from the ring centres with a sharp knife.  Shave off stripes of the marrow skin which can be tough,  leaving behind some stripes of dark green skin to add colour and taste.  Microwave or steam the marrow rings for 20 mins.  Put the cooked mince into the ring centres and bake in the oven for about an hour.

This was a popular dish from my childhood but all I ever heard was people lamenting how it was impossible to get both marrow and stuffing properly cooked.  Yes, if you cut the marrow lengthwise it will never cook it seems plus the two major ingredients need to be pre-cooked separately.

Small  Garden Trees
Plants of the Month

Trees have reared their heads again (sorry for mixed metaphor).  Pleased to report the friend with the Silver birch has heard no more from the neighbours about it – just a pot shot from them I think.

A massive tree, probably self seeded, on my own next-door neighbours’ side they are currently making arrangements to bring down.  It has been dead for about a year so bit of a relief.  The neighbours were good enough to ask to have a chat about it – much better approach – and came into my garden and we discussed it and I was perfectly happy with what they planned to do and thought it was good that they considered my side of the issue.

I mention this because they know I am a gardener and asked for suggestions for a tree to replace the one that is coming down.  Thought my suggestions to them might interest readers of this blog.  The neighbours already have a Sambucus nigra so they clearly like coloured trees and I made careful note of final size of tree which is crucial –

Acer shirasawanum Aureum.  Very slow growing – final size 8m in 20+ years per RHS.  All the links in this section are not recommendations but use them to see images of some quite stunning trees.
https://www.gardeningexpress.co.uk/acer-shirasawanum-aureum-golden-leaf-full-moon-japanese-ma

Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’.  Faster growing – 4m in 10 – 20 years per RHS.
https://www.ornamental-trees.co.uk/acer-palmatum-osakazuki-tree-p265

Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’.  4 – 8m in 10-20 years per RHS.
https://www.acer-palmatum-sangokaku-0009376c

All three of these would make a colourful impact in any garden and are lovely to look at.  ‘Sango’kaku’ in particular, with coloured stems, offers several seasons of garden interest.

The lavender may be past its best but the bees are still visiting and buzzing happily. the image shows a white-tailed bumblebee, a social bee common to gardens, woods, farmlands and heaths and, it seems, allotments.
The lavender may be past its best but the bees are still visiting and buzzing happily. You may be able to spot that this is a white-tailed bumblebee, a social bee common to gardens, woods, farmlands and heaths and, it seems, allotments.

A lockdown positive

I have been self-isolating since March and, to be honest like many older people, would need to be a lot more confident of the prevailing situation before venturing into public places.  Thanks be for the outdooors.  That brings me to the birds and the fact that several people I know have been using their front gardens as temporary sitting rooms and inviting people to join them there while still being able to maintain 2m physical distancing.  (Not happy with the term “social distancing”.)  One of them remarked how much she enjoyed listening to them.

One of my joys during lockdown was, when sitting at my laptop at the window which I often do, I started to be amazed at the number of birds which increasingly were flying very close – so close that at times I thought they might come through the open window to sit on the table and join me.  Why have I never seen them before I wondered; were they there and I didn’t notice?  I loved watching their balletic fly pasts and the shapes made by their wings.   I enjoyed hearing them too but more than anything it was seeing them coming so close and wheeling and diving.   It was a great three month display and, now life has gone back to more normal, they are gone.

Then I heard a piece on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science (BBC Radio 4 on 23 July at 21.00) which presented some  current research on roads and birds.  Apparently, although not yet proven it is suspected that it is the noise of roads that bothers the birds because it disrupts their ability to communicate.  Makes perfect sense.  Worth listening to.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000l267

Do get in touch if you have had strange distorted plants – or indeed any other garden issues.  My own garden is still a work in progress more of that another time.  Until then good bye from Rosanna and Happy Gardening!

Composite picture of early year plants and flowers

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