The Masque of the Red Death — of Corn

The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.

~from "The Masque of the Red Death," by Edgar Allan Poe

We've got more than just squirrel problems with our corn this year (as if that weren't enough). We also have weird, red veined stalks (and these often these have red tassels as well). It starts with the center vein turning red:

Lots of our corn looked like this, and it did not grow very tall. They also had very small ears (well, the ones we beat the squirrels to did, anyway).

Not all of it turned out this way. Here's a nice, normal one with a good sized ear:

(To be honest, we have to assume that ear was good based on the size of the husk the squirrels left behind). These have nice, white center veins in the leaves:

So what is going on? According to a very thorough diagnostic chart from the University of Georgia, the Red Death might be a virus called Maize Dwarf Mosaic Virus, which stunts the growth of corn and is transmitted by insects, including aphids (and I did see a bunch of aphids around earlier). The other possibility is just that we had a shit-ton of barren stalks. And that could be caused by the lack of rain in July, or the aphids, or a whole lot of other stuff.

So I spent a depressing hour pulling out our stunted, barren, squirrel-eaten stalks of corn yesterday. Here's what we have left:

That's pretty much just the past planting that was sown on July 19, plus a few stalks from the sowing two weeks before that.  The good news is that they seem healthy so far:

One last bit of information: Tiegan's corn (in a somewhat sunnier quadrant, and planted later than the worst of ours) is fine. Except for the squirrels.

If you happen to be a farmer or some kind of corn expert, please comment and give us your take on the Red Death!


So after hearing from an actual farmer, the diagnosis is regular old "failure to pollinate," probably due to having too small of a plot tasseling at any given time. The solution for next year: skip the succession planting, and plant a bigger block that will come in all at once to increase our pollination odds. That will (hopefully) mean eating lots of corn at once in the summer and then freezing the rest.


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