A Teosinte Christmas in Colorado

So, i know I’ve blogged a bit about experimentally growing Teosinte in my post about growing prehistoric corn and also in my post about differences between teosinte species. Both posts have gotten quite a bit of traffic over the years and have brought people to my blog who are interested in Teosinte specifically.

For those of you who don’t know Teosinte is a progenitor to modern Corn (Also known as Maize), which is still able to interbreed with Corn. Some teosinte is annual, while others are perennial (or maybe bi-annual). There are many people who are interested in breeding perennial teosinte with corn to make perennial or bi-annual corn.

The major problem with trying to grow Teosinte in a moderate climate as here in Colorado in the United States is that it is adapted to grow in the climate of mexico and our growing season just isn’t really long enough. Even more so since Teosinte is day-length sensitive and does not even start to tassel, silk, and pollinate until the days get short and the sunlight shifts deeper into the red spectrum. By the time that happens here it is usually around August and often we get snow by September or October. Definitely not enough time for Teosinte or Corn seeds to mature and dry down for saving. …Or is it?!

Well, this year it just happened to turn out just barely long enough. I’m calling it my Christmas miracle! haha. I think it was a combination of it being a La Nina weather year with an unusually warm fall with no snow until here in December. But also with the fact that i dug up my clump of teosinte plants and put them in a pot in the garage. Though they were a bit unhappy in the garage and were touching the ceiling.

Still i was able to keep them in there long enough to hand pollinate them. But to be honest i thought i had again failed to get viable Teosinte seeds. But when the plants were dead i went out and happened to find some! Above is a picture of what i believe to be seeds of ‘Zea mexicana’ teosinte seeds.

If there is one moral of this story that you should take away it is this: Never give up even when everyone else thinks you are crazy or tell you that what you believe is impossible. I learned this in gardening from my friend Joseph Lofthouse of Utah. He has had success with so many of his unusual crops that no one else in his valley of Utah is able to grow. He often starts with many varieties of a plant as possible and grows as many as he can. Often more than 90% of them die or fail to produce seeds. But he only needs a few that do. Once he gets seeds he can start to effort to plant them year after year and adapt them to his climate. If they still fail to thrive he lets them die or culls them off himself. But he has a variety of unusual crops, such as Landrace Watermelon adapted to Utah (and by extension Colorado), Landrace Cantaloupe, Landrace inter-species hybrid squashes, Tomatoes that are self-incompatible and are highly attractive to bees (modern tomatoes are not at all and are highly inbred), and more.

 

On the left here is a photo of one small cob of a teosinte hybrid (zea diploperennis-corn hybrid from the USDA) pollinated with what i believe to be flour or field corn pollen. On the right is the same teosinte-corn hybrid cob line but i believe this one was self pollinated with its own pollen. It seems to have popcorn heritage as the seeds show popcorn / flint corn characteristics.

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Here is another strain of day-length neutral teosinte (decended from Zea mexicana) that a collaborator Joseph Lofthouse of Utah is growing and having success with. I believe he got the seed originally from NativeseedsSEARCH in Arizona. He decided to test if it makes good popcorn.

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Here is my Teosinte clump in the summer of 2016.

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Here is the same spot with snow on it now in winter.

If you’d like to follow the discussion about growing teosinte in places it is not normally supposed to grow (or other unusual crops) then visit the Alan Bishop Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum here!

Red Corn Pollen

Red Corn Pollen
Red Corn Pollen / Ruĝa Maizo Poleno

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For those who don’t grow Indian Corn or any unusual plants for that matter, your missing out. Most people don’t even know that corn kernels come in different shades of colors, and probably even less know that you can also get red/purple pollen, red or purple stalks, and even purple leaved corn plants. The genetics are amazing. Peas also come in interesting colors of yellow, purple, and red (seeds and pods).

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Por tiuj, kiuj ne kreski Indiano (Ornama) Maizo aŭ aliaj plantoj, via maltrafas. Plimulto de personoj eĉ ne scias tio maizo semoj veno en malsamaj nuancoj de koloroj, kaj verŝajne eĉ malpli scias ke vi ankaŭ povas akiras ruĝa/purpura poleno, ruĝa aŭ purpuraj tigoj, kaj eĉ purpura folion maizon. La genetiko estas miriga. Pizoj ankaŭ veni en interesaj koloroj de flava, purpura, kaj ruĝaj (semoj kaj ŝeloj).

Calculating Growing Season

Growing Season 2010 Northern Colorado

The last few days I’ve been investigating how to take advantage of free weather data from local weather stations. I was able to download some interesting data and graph it, which gave me a very accurate view of the growing season available here in my area.

First i downloaded Fahrenheit-based cooling data with a base temperature of 50F from www.degreedays.net (using temperature data from www.wunderground.com). I was then able to generate a growing degree days chart from nearby weather stations. It looks like it is designed for heating and air conditioning, but it seems to work fine for gardening. I chose a base of 50F (10 C). I had to run the calculation as “cooling days”, since it is the temperature above 50F that I am interested in. I did a weekly chart for the 2010 growing season.

Precipitation 2010 Northern Colorado

The precipitation graph i had to use data directly from www.wunderground.com. Based on this data it appears that cool season crops could be planted as early as March if someone wanted to. I myself probably wouldn’t plant anything earlier than April 1st, and for everything else like Corn, they shouldn’t be planted earlier than May 8-10. I will plant my watermelon May 10-20 just to give them an extra week from the last frost. When both graphs are combined it seems pretty easy to guess which storms are likely to be late snowstorms. The last two snowstorm in 2010 appear to have been around April 30th and May 8-10th. Yep, sounds about right.

I’m still learning about GDD (Growing Degree Day’s) and how to calculate it properly, but from what i’ve learned.. Day’s to Maturity (often listed on seed packets) is often unreliable in Northern and colder climates. Depending on how warm conditions are, some plants will grow faster at higher temperatures. For those wishing to calculate GDD for their area i found this Growing Degree Calculator. In addition, Joseph from Utah has graciously graphed a few different locations for comparison.

Comparing 2010 growing season in different areas

https://keen101.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/calculating-and-graphing-growing-season-part-2/

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