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Quirks Of Nature in the Garden

Nature is never constant, there are ebbs and flows and at times unusual things can happen.
Unusual for the observer maybe but just another interesting aspect in the ever changing world of plants and gardens.
Last month I received the following email from a gardener;

Hi Wally,
This season I planted some seeds from a butternut pumpkin that we had saved seeds from. As you can see from the photo it has turned into a monster, it roughly measures 26inches from the stalk to end. Other pumpkins in the patch are round, some are long and thin but they all have the same markings. One or two are starting to turn a faint orange colour. Are you able to confirm from the photo if this is indeed a butternut pumpkin. Look forward to hearing from you.
Regards Elaine.

The picture shows a butternut colored, long marrow, growing next to a butternut. Both are growing off the same plant, side by side.
Another gardener rang me about a week ago and told how this season she planted a few squash plants and also a couple of water melons in the same area.
Now that the plants are reaching maturity she has found that the watermelon plants have produced only squash fruit, no water melons. Yet the plants are really water melons with their distinctly different foliage to squash foliage.

All these plants are cucurbits and what has happened is the bumble bees have taken pollen from one type and pollinated the female flowers of the other, resulting in cross pollination and strange fruit.
This cross pollination can occur between certain members of the family but not between another member, cucumbers. So it is safe to grow cucumbers near pumpkins, squash, gourds, zucchini and melons but maybe not so good when you grow these others near each other.
Corn is another plant that can easily cross pollinate with other members of the family being maize, ornamental corn and pop corn. Thus if growing a variety of sweet corn ideally you should only grow that one variety and not other varieties of sweet corn, pop corn or maize anywhere near (if you want the type to be true.)

Corn is wind pollinated and the pollen can travel great distances and one of the big reasons for us to never allow GE corn to be grown in this country.
I came across a situation some years ago where a gardener grew pop corn and sweet corn near each other and the resulting cobs had both pop corn and sweet corn on the same cobs. Making both crops just about useless. It would have been interesting to have placed some of the cobs in the oven in their sheaths to cook. Likely the popcorn would have popped and so you would have the sweet corn as the main meal and popcorn for dessert.

Corn or maize is actually an invention of man and is solely dependant on mankind for its survival on the planet.

It all started about 7000 years ago when the South American Natives took a grass called Teosinte (which resembles our modern corn or maize.)

Ancient Teosinte did not have large ears. Instead, hard, nut-like kernels were distributed in small, feathery cobs over many tertiary branches of the plant which has a similar growth habit/appearance to modern corn.
There are five recognized species of teosinte: Zea diploperennis, Zea perennis, Zea luxurians, Zea nicaraguensis and Zea mays. The last species is further divided into four subspecies: ssp. huehuetenangensis, ssp. mexicana, ssp. parviglumis and ssp. mays. The first three subspecies are teosintes; the last is maize, or corn, the only domesticated taxon in the genus Zea..
Over time this corn like grass was developed into the maize and corn we know today.
The following are the different types we see today;

Dent (Zea mays indenata) Dent corn is often used as livestock feed, in industrial products, or to make processed foods. Dent corn is also frequently referred to as "field" corn. Either white or yellow, dent kernels contain both hard and soft starch that become indented at maturity.
Flint (Zea mays indurata) Flint corn, also known as Indian corn, is used for similar purposes as dent corn. Flint corn is distinguished by a hard outer shell and kernels with a range of colors from white to red. (You can remember that it has a very hard exterior by thinking of flint, the stone.) Today, most flint corn is grown in Central and South America.

Sweet (Zea saccharata or Zea rugosa) Sweet corn is primarily eaten on the cob, or it can be canned or frozen for future consumption. Sweet corn is seldom used for feed or flour. Sweet corn is extra sweet because it contains more natural sugars than other types of corn. (Field corn contains 4% sugar at the same stage standard sweet corn contains 10% sugar.) Almost 50% of the sugar can be converted to starch within 24 hours after sweet corn is picked, so it is best to eat it fresh!

Flour (Zea mays amylacea) Flour corn is used in baked goods because it has a soft, starch-filled, kernel that is easy to grind. Flour corn is primarily white, although it can be grown in other colors, for example, blue corn. One of the oldest types of corn, flour corn was a chief type grown by Native Americans .
Popcorn (Zea mays everta) Popcorn, a type of flint corn, has a soft starchy center surrounded by a very hard exterior shell. When popcorn is heated the natural moisture inside the kernel turns to steam that builds up enough pressure for the kernel to explode. When the kernel explodes the white starchy mass that you like to eat forms. All types of corn will pop to some degree, but they won’t necessarily have enough starch to turn inside out, or an outside layer that will create enough pressure to explode . One of the oldest forms of corn, evidence of popcorn from 3600 B.C. was found in New Mexico.

The most interesting aspect of Teosinte (which grows wild in various parts of South America) is that it will grow wild, where the more modern corns will not.

If you take a cob of corn and allow it to dry and then toss the whole cob on the ground or bury it. The seeds will germinate but because of the way they are on the cob the young corn plants suffocate each other and fail. Corn needs mans intervention to remove the dried seeds from the cob and then scatter or plant them for the corn plants to grow and thrive. Therefore the existence of modern corns is entirely dependant on mankind and us gardeners and has been for over 5000 years.
Because corn is such a stable food source for much of mankind this unusual relationship has transpired.
Corn stores well, can be ground into flour and in the past some natives in America would likely have starved to death if it had not been for this mutual benefit, between man and plant, where one could not have existed without the other.

In recent times corn has become a major crop for the production of biofuel (especially in America).
Filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn — which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year.
I read somewhere that the amount of oil/petroleum needed to produce ethanol from corn is greater than the amount of ethanol produced. (Energy/transport/fertilisers/chemical sprays)
Meanwhile the price of corn and corn related food products have increased adding to the problems of millions that are starving on the planet.

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