Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Language of Corn

Back when I was 14 and detasseling corn for minimum wage in Iowa, I had no idea there was much to know about corn. (For a fictionalized account of the torture of detasseling, see Chapter 5, “Cornfields,” of my novel, A Year and a Day.) We were simply told to yank out the tassels.
“Because that’s what you’re paid to do.”

Yet, as reported in my post yesterday, the inadvertently lovely language at the Corn Cam’s official crop report from the the Iowa field office of the National Agricultural Statistical Service in Des Moines indicates there’s much more to know about what’s going on in those fields.

Happily, now we have a full explanation of the crop report courtesy of Doyle Ryan, a retired eastern-Iowa farmer who is now living in Las Vegas, via his son, Dan Ryan, an aspiring writer living in Cheverly, MD (a friend and former Writer’s Center student of mine):

“The silking is an important time for the plant because that is when it pollinates and you don't want weather extremes. Each kernel on an ear of corn has a silk and it needs to be pollinated from the tassel in about a 10-day period. After it is pollinated the kernel starts to grow and has a milky fluid in it. The fluid turns into a doughy paste (hence dough stage). The dough continues to harden and the kernel instead of being round on top gets a dent in it (dent stage). It continues to turn from sugar to starch from the top of the kernel down and is considered mature and safe from frost when this is complete.”

Again, I am reminded that writers not only need to be connoisseurs of the human heart and mind…but that also knowing some interesting facts makes our writing alive and authentic, too.

Thanks, Dan and Doyle. Readers of the blog now know where to go for farming info!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.