Why we wait to thin corn plants (‘til 4 inches!)

Information in this post comes from and is inspired by the new book The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe.

Corn Seedlings

Some gardeners and farmers don’t thin corn at all. But sowing extra seed ensures a uniform stand of corn (especially important for small plantings) and allows us to select for seedling vigor. Thinning gives us plants with better disease and pest resistance, producing earlier, larger ears. For seed savers, selecting the best plants is essential not just to improving a variety, but also to simply maintaining it.

It’s too easy to put off thinning a stand of corn until the plants are a knee-high jungle, competing for light, water, and other resources. But thinning corn just after the plants emerge isn’t in our best interests as gardeners or seed savers either. Ideally, we wait until the plants are about four inches tall.

Why not simply keep the very first plants to pop up? Because these are not necessarily the first seeds to germinate. Many old-time, open pollinated heirloom corns put more energy into their roots initially, before sending their shoots upward. And we love this about them. It means they have bigger, better established root systems when the tender seedlings become vulnerable above the soil. And if the plants get nibbled on or otherwise set back, they can recover much more easily. If we were to select the first plants to emerge, we’d be selecting against this very useful trait.

Additionally, until the plants are about two inches above the ground, they’re still growing off the food reserves in the seed. And that depends on the size of the kernel – which is mostly determined by its location on the ear and the genetics of the mother plant, not on the seed genes. Once the corn seedlings reach four inches tall, we can compare their vigor based on their individual genetic profiles.

So as much as you may hate to watch those extra corn plants creep ever taller before you ruthlessly tear them from the earth, we trust you’ll do the right thing. Wait until your corn seedlings are four inches tall to accurately choose your most vigorous plants. You’ll be helping keep these old-fashioned varieties as hardy and productive as our forebears bred them to be.

Southern Exposure joins OSGATA in filing landmark lawsuit against Monsanto

anti-GMO lawsuit

OSGATA President Jim Gerritsen released this statement, March 29th, 2011, the day Southern Exposure joined 60 other plaintiffs in filing suit against the Monsanto Company:

Today is Independence Day for America. Today we are seeking protection from the Court and putting Monsanto on notice. Monsanto’s threats and abuse of family farmers stops here. Monsanto’s genetic contamination of organic seed and organic crops ends now. Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace – to decide what kind of food they will feed their families – and we are taking this action on their behalf to protect that right to choose. Organic farmers have the right to raise our organic crops for our families and our customers on our farms without the threat of invasion by Monsanto’s genetic contamination and without harassment by a reckless polluter. Beginning today, America asserts her
right to justice and pure food.

Read the Press Release and follow developments
at Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association: OSGATA.org

Our Non-GMO Policy and the Safe Seed Pledge

Let the Buyer Beware but Informed

The Organic Consumers Association has started a campaign that could do some good in checking some of the egregious abuses of the public good coming from the GMO industry. They have drafted an open letter to Natural Food Stores and Coops calling upon them to label all food not certified organic or certified non-GMO as possibly containing GMOs and all meats not certified organic or humanely raised as likely coming from a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation, the worst of the factory farms).

The lack of adequate labeling of potentially dangerous, or in some cases demonstrably dangerous, GMO ingredients is criminal. GMOs have been proven time and again to carry a set of risks to consumer health, not to mention environmental health, that is not shared by conventionally bred plants and animals. If they are going to be allowed on the market then consumers should at the very least know whether or not they are buying and eating them. While it is estimated that 60% of the food on grocery stores shelves in America contain GMOs only 20% of American consumers believe they have eaten food containing GMOs. An informed citizenry is something we should all be able to get behind, regardless of our feelings about whether GMOs are something we personally want to eat or not.

Customer appeals to natural food stores and coops sounds like an easy way to start a market led effort to label GMO foods, raise awareness about their ubiquity in America, and raise awareness of what the certified organic label stands for. A recent New York Times poll suggests that nearly 90% of US consumers want GMO foods labeled. Hopefully the many groups fighting for a regulatory fix find success but in the meantime a little bit of market based pressure from below can only help.

If you want to send your local grocers a copy of the letter you can find it on the OCA site, here: OCA: Open Letter to Natural Food Stores and Coops

Saving the Past for the Future