Why Do You Remove The Tassels From Corn
Edward R. Forte
January 6, 2022
In order to plant the millions of acres of corn throughout the Midwest each spring, farmers need to first buy seed.The seed that they buy is often hybrid varieties that have beneficial traits like being drought tolerant or disease resistant.To get these special hybrids, farmers and the companies they work with have to make sure to cross pollinate the corn.When the wind blows, pollen from the tassel will shake loose and fall on the silk.The companies work with the farmer to determine when to plant, when to detassel, and when to harvest.Then crews come through and clean the fields by hand removing any tassels that the machines missed.Some companies even mobilize bus fulls of people and move throughout the Midwest following the corn crops north as they mature.This method of hybridization has created a 6-fold increase in corn yields over the last 60 years. .
It is a form of pollination control, employed to cross-breed, or hybridize, two varieties of corn.In addition to being more physically uniform, hybrid corn produces dramatically higher yields than corn produced by open pollination, as well as other desirable traits, such as disease, drought, and weather resistance.The detasseling process usually involves the use of both specialized machines and human labor.It typically takes 24 to 48 hours to have the tips of the tassels emerge enough to get a good pull without grabbing the leaves of the plant after the initial cut.The pullers work by catching the top of the tassel between two rollers moving at a high speed.Detasseling machines typically remove 30 to 90 percent of the tassels in a seed corn field.This is far less than the 99.7 percent that need to be removed to produce the uniformity of seed desired by farmers.The main problems for the machines are that they are unable to adapt quickly to height differences in plants and they throw tassels into the air where they can become lodged in other corn plants and inadvertently allow pollination.It is desirable that the pulled tassel ends up on the ground to prevent this problem.Detasseling work is usually performed by teens; as such, it serves as a typical rite of passage in rural areas of the Corn Belt of the Midwestern United States.For many teens in these areas it is their first job.Exact starting dates depend on the specific area of the country and the growing conditions of any given year.Detasseling was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the "ear-row" method of corn breeding.Heterosis describes the tendency of the progeny of a specific cross to outperform both parents.Hybrid corn was detasseled manually until the mid-1950s when a cytoplasm was discovered that would cause one of the inbred lines to be male sterile while the hybridized seed corn it produced would regain male fertility.This situation changed in 1971 with an outbreak of the fungus southern corn leaf blight.At the time approximately 90% of hybrid corn used in the United States contained this gene.Today corn hybridization is accomplished by a combination of machine and manual detasseling as well as male-sterile genes.Seed corn fields are planted in a repetitive pattern known as a "panel", "block", "frame", "bay" or "set" depending on the area of the country.Another important aspect to keeping undesirable pollen out of seed corn fields is a process known as roguing, a process that removes plants that differ from the variety intentionally planted. .
Corn Flowers and Removing the top tassel
First, what is a flower, and if it's the tassel, how can you pollinate your next ears of corn that will grow on the plant?I never knew this, how reliable is this to know if your corn is pollinated or not? .
Corn Detasseling: Understanding the Basics
In this day of chemical treatments and automated and mechanical advances, it may seem odd that there are still crews of teens and adults that tread up and down every row of a field of corn, manually removing the tassels.A corn plant (zea mays), also known as maize worldwide, is a type of large grain.These stalks can reach 8-10 feet in height, occasionally more, which is surprising to me when I examine how shallow the root structure is.The kernels form in orderly rows along the length of the cob, and are enclosed in layers of leaves called husks.As many as 500-600 kernels form on each ear of corn, and range widely in color from white or yellow, to reds, browns, and blacks.Each ear has a cluster of hair-like stigmas called silks that extend from the kernels, out the top of the husks.As annoying as those silks may be on the sweet corn you are eating, they play an integral role in forming the kernels you are enjoying, slathered in butter.While the picture here shows bi-color sweet corn, with a higher sugar content to make it palatable to humans (and raccoons!A field planted with hybridized corn may yield double or triple the number of bushels of self-pollinated varieties.The seed from these female rows is allowed to mature and dry on the stalk, and is then harvested and sold to farmers the following year to produce their crops.Unfortunately, the hybridization process does not allow the farmer to save seed from his own crops to replant the following year.The humidity level in a field of corn feels higher than the general humidity level of the air on any given day, as the corn leaves allow moisture to travel from their roots to their leaves, where it evaporates into the air in a process called transpiration.If an area is experiencing drought or excessive heat, the leaves become more upright, held closely to the central stalk, and curl slightly in an effort to retain what moisture they are able to procure.Detaselling crews begin early, usually around 6 a.m. by the time the bus has made several stops to pick up workers, in order to get a good day's work in before the most intense heat of mid-day arrives.My son has perfected his detasseling gear: he wears quick-dry pants, rather than jeans, so they don't become heavy from the dew or chafe his skin from prolonged moisture.It may seem odd to wear long sleeves in 90-100 degree heat, but this lightweight layer protects him from the dreaded "corn cuts" that workers get from walking between closely planted rows.His other two indispensible items are a water hydration system backpack, such as a Camelbak, which allows him to sip hands-free throughout the field, and an industrial-sized bottle of sunscreen!The detasselers have a deceptively simple job: reach up to the top of the stalk, pull out the tassel, and toss it on the ground.Ears of Corn with husks and silks: Flickr Creative Commons, submitted by photofarmer.Field of corn being detasseled: Wikimedia Commons, by Flip Schulke with the National Archives and Records Administration. .
Why do farmers cut the tassels off corn?
Then crews come through and clean the fields by hand removing any tassels that the machines missed.Most detasselers work 3-4 weeks a summer, depending on the weather conditions any given year.It is a form of pollination control, employed to cross-breed, or hybridize, two varieties of corn. .
What is That? Corn Detasseling
Today, machines remove most of the tassel, the pollen-producing flowers from the top of the corn plant.Laborers walk the fields to remove tassels which machines miss.Farmers get their seed from companies that cross pollinate corn to create hybrids with beneficial traits like drought tolerant and disease resistant.Detasseling typically occurs in July in seed corn fields in this area. .
Why do they cut the tops off corn?
Most detasselers work 3-4 weeks a summer, depending on the weather conditions any given year.Each summer about 100,000 people, mostly students, head out to the corn fields to detassel.Or the rows may prevent excess snow from accumulating on spots that can be too wet during spring planting. .
How to Detassel Corn
Commercial corn growers plant four rows of one variety to be detasseled and serve as females.Plants of a different variety in the fifth row retain tassels, delivering pollen to the females as well as to themselves.Check your corn plants for developing tassels twice each day when they reach about 2/3 of their full mature height.Once all the tassel’s lateral spikes emerge completely from the top of the leaf sheath, a corn plant is only a day or two away from scattering its pollen.Fluffy little clumps of silks – the female flowers or stigma – begin to show at the ear tips within two or three days of complete tassel emergence.This “flowering period” may take up to two weeks for an entire field to complete the process, depending upon maturity differences between individuals.Pollen grains can float as far as 1/2 mile from the parent plant on the breeze in the few short moments that they’re viable.Identify the cornstalk’s tassel protruding straight upward from the topmost leaves of the corn plant.Grasp the stem of the tassel firmly just below its bottom spikes and right above the uppermost cornstalk leaves. .
The hassle of the tassel
The plants not only gain height, but also begin to develop tassels on top of the stalk in early to mid-July.Mike Witt, Iowa State University field agronomist, explains the difference between the two.Pollination occurs when pollen from tassels falls and fertilizes the silks and the kernels are developed.“Detasseling is the process of removing the tassels from the top of the corn plant in order to induce cross-pollination,” Witt says.“Heterosis is where mixing of genetic materials, or cross-pollinating, of the parent enhances the traits of the offspring,” Witt says.These hybrid seeds demonstrate consistent results for higher yields when they are planted as field corn.This year, Borst has roughly 200 detasseling employees with assigned roles based on their experience.The detasseling process by machine and by human hands needs to meet a percentage rate of tassels removed from the field.“All employees are required to wear masks when they are being transported to and from the fields, and we will have hand sanitizer on each bus.”. .
Shucking Corn Guide
The Food52 Hotline is where questions go to get answered—from the best way to thaw a frozen cake to the best all-purpose flour for baking.On the Hotline, Food52er Kathy asked for the best way to remove corn silk, and we were all ears to hear what the community had to say...Opt for a dedicated vegetable brush (for corn or mushrooms) like Dona and kimhw recommend.Skip the specialty brushes: Miznic opts for a toothbrush, "usually picked up for about 99 cents.".Pegreen suggests the microwave method: “Cut a small slice off the stem end of un-husked ear of corn.Put a few ears in microwave on high for 30 seconds, the husk and silk should come off more easily.We'll have to try that teeth trick later—but for now, here are our test kitchen's top tips on how to shuck corn:.When shopping, pick a heavy ear, with firm kernels (go ahead, give it a little squeeze).Perfect next to grilled chicken, crispy fish, or a juicy steak.Sweet corn gets paired up with spicy Sriracha, diced bell pepper, fresh cilantro, and crumbly Cotija cheese.And instead of just milk or cream, throw in some buttermilk and sharp cheddar for good measure.The fresh kernels are bound together with grated cheese and sliced scallions, plus a little egg and flour.Our co-founder Merrill Stubbs opts for shells and basil, but feel free to play around with both the pasta shape and fresh herbs. .