Linda Grashoff's Photography Adventures

From the Archives of 2008—7: A Corn Saga, Part 1

April 17, 2022

Between May and November of 2008 on my walks down to the Vermilion River I took hundreds of photographs of a corn field near our then-home. I learned a lot during the project, from observation and from consultation with my live-in botanist. I didn’t learn until August that year that this wasn’t a crop of sweet corn but field corn. That’s when I also learned, thanks to David, that most corn grown in Ohio is field corn, used to make cattle feed, sweeteners, and ethanol. All three uses are unfriendly to the environment and public health. As a beginner vegetarian who likes to think of herself as an environmentalist, I wasn’t too keen on these uses of corn, but by then my engagement with the look—the physicality—of this plant was firmly established. So please don’t take this project as a paean to the beef industry but merely as documentation of the appearance of one plant and enjoyment of its stages of growth and decay.

Although I whittled and whittled the photographs to make a decent-length post, in the end I had to stretch this corn saga over two long posts. Meanwhile, I continue to photograph my neighborhood and will return to posting more variety soon.

1 I had no intention of photographing the life cycle of the cornfield when I took this photograph May 25, 2008.

2 Sun shining through the seedlings by June 1 enhanced their graceful appearance. I was beginning to get hooked.

3 Also on June 1 it was apparent that the corn rows were leafier.

4 By June 22, the cornfield had begun to look a lot more dense.

5 That morning sparkling dew on this corn leaf grabbed my attention.

6 Seven days later the leaves developed white stripes down their centers.

7  Corn is planted at a density of 10 to 12 thousand plants per acre, says David. The idea is to cram as many plants into an area as possible without their shading each other, which would reduce their yield.

8 By July 6 the corn rose more than knee high and created an interesting shadow on nearby grass and clover.

9 By the 16th the wall of corn looked more impenetrable than previously. All of the light that could be efficiently harvested was being intercepted by the leaves.

10 Four days later I noticed strange toes growing at the foot of the plants. This required major consultation with David. He said that these are prop roots. Each one is tipped with fluid that will help it avoid injury as it moves through the soil.

11 Ears of corn, where the female flowers are located, were well on their way by July 20.

12 On July 26 I noticed that the ears develop at more or less the same height from the ground.

13 I also saw that some plants had developed a second tier of roots higher up the stalk. Notice how the soil around the front root has been displaced by the burrowing root.

14 And I saw that there was action at the tops of the plants. These are the emerging tassels, which bear the male flowers. Many of the flowers were releasing their wind-dispersed pollen.

15 By July 30 some of the corn silk was changing color, indicating that the female flower had been pollinated. (Each strand of silk is part of a female flower and leads to a kernel, the other part.)

16 On August 3 most leaves were still quite green except for their white stripe.

17 At the bottoms of the stalks some senescence was beginning. The bottom leaves were turning brown.

18 And the feet were no longer very colorful.

19 The sun had a easy time tunneling through the plants by August 24 as leaves began to droop and turn lighter shades of yellow and orange.

15 responses

  1. In the early ’70s I read the book Diet for a Small Planet and first heard about the kinds of things you mention in your first paragraph. Our current oil situation is a reminder that after Congress created the ethanol subsidy, a lot of farmers planted corn to be turned into ethanol. One consequence was an increase in corn prices, the effect of which was to make life more expensive for poor people who depend on corn for nutrition in various countries. In Mexico, for example, in 2007 people protested and even rioted after the price of tortillas—the major source of protein for many Mexicans—doubled in a year.

    Like you, I appreciate those shadows in #8. The roots in picture #17 looked to me like fingers; you referred to them as toes in #10. I like the backlit areas in #16. And how could someone whose initials are SS not like your third photograph?

    Liked by 1 person

    April 17, 2022 at 7:49 AM

    • Thanks for your expansion of the corn saga. I’m glad you like the S curves in #3, SS. 🙂


      April 17, 2022 at 3:04 PM

  2. Fine set, Linda! All the aspects framed essentially. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    April 17, 2022 at 8:22 AM

    • Thank you, Harrie. As you might imagine, many of the hundreds of corn photographs I took in 2008 were not framed essentially. I’m glad I found enough that were to tell the story.

      Liked by 1 person

      April 17, 2022 at 3:09 PM

  3. mecmom

    I love this corn saga.  Last year I tried for the first time to grow
    sweet corn in my tiny garden.  I was thinking of doing a sort of three
    sisters, growing corn with beans and squash—since the corn takes up a
    lot of nitrogen and beans have nitrogen fixing capabilities and the
    beans need something to climb and the big leaves of the squash shade the
    ground and help keep the weeds down.  This is how Native Americans are
    supposed to have done it.  My experiment didn’t turn out very well, the
    corn didn’t get stable enough to support the weight of the beans, or
    squirrels tried to climb the stalks; anyway the stalks fell down and
    squirrels or somebody got the few ears of corn, and I put the whole
    thing in too late for the squash to develop.  I had a lot of fun
    watching the whole thing, however.

    When we were kids my grandmother would send us to the field to pick corn
    while she put on a pot to boil.  We rushed the corn to the kitchen and
    she cooked it.  The idea was to get the corn into the pot before the
    sugars started to turn to starch.  I think we had to get to the field
    while the corn was still quite young as well.

    On the farm was a great machine that I would like to find one of:  It
    was a great cast iron enclosed wheel with an attached handle and an
    opening like a mouth on each side, one high, one low, and the bottom was
    open to the ground.  Inside was a great stone flywheel.  The idea was
    you’d put an ear of dried field corn in the high opening and crank the
    wheel.  The inside would strip all the kernels off the cob and throw the
    empty cob out the low opening and all the kernels fell to the ground. 
    There was something very satisfying about turning the crank. I think the
    kernels were fed to the chickens, maybe the pigs, I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 17, 2022 at 3:08 PM

    • Oh, Mary Ellyn! Great sagas of your own. Thank you for telling them here. The only time I tried to grow sweet corn—in Ann Arbor—I planted three kernels in each hole. When the seedlings came up, I thought they were so adorable that I couldn’t bear to weed them down to one plant. Consequently, the plants never grew very tall. I don’t remember if they ever grew ears.


      April 17, 2022 at 3:19 PM

  4. Anonymous

    Fantasic as always Linda!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    April 17, 2022 at 4:09 PM

  5. This project is really exciting, Linda. The photos are superb, the story proceeds coherently, and I learned things I didn’t know before. I like the way you moved through time and covered many different aspects of this plant. There are many standouts for me – #3, 5 (you knew I’d like that one!), 8 & 9, 11, 15, 16, and the last photo with that warm light shining through those great colors. Terrific post!

    Liked by 1 person

    April 18, 2022 at 8:06 PM

    • Thank you, Lynn. Maybe I should have predicted that you’d like #5, but I didn’t. (You are the queen of botanical closeups.) Thank you for calling so many photos “standouts.” I knew this would have to be a more documentary post than usual for a photography blog, so I’m also pleased that you found the story coherent. Part 2 doesn’t have as much story to it. I got caught up by the appeal of decay and of sun coming through translucent leaves. I lingered in that beauty quite a while. You’ll see.

      Liked by 2 people

      April 20, 2022 at 1:23 PM

      • And that’s exactly what the doctor ordered – get caught up, abandon coherence, and enjoy what’s in front of us. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

        April 20, 2022 at 1:59 PM

  6. I agree with you wholeheartedly about beef, and “all that” — I don’t think it could be misunderstood as an endorsement of any kind. I think telling the story of corn and its background in an article like you do here is a very effective way of communicating. Photographers have always studied subjects in depth, and find beauty in things that are not considered beautiful, in the more common sense. (but you know that well;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    April 19, 2022 at 11:30 PM

    • Thanks, Alex. I’m glad to know that you think what I wrote was effective communication. As I mentioned, I have my husband to thank for much of the information. I’ll take the responsibility for finding the beauty. What fun that was to discover.

      Liked by 1 person

      April 20, 2022 at 1:29 PM

  7. Like Steve mentioned above, I first learned about the disaster that is beef farming when reading Diet for a small Planet. I was horrified to learned what that farming did not only to the land but to the animals as well. Then more recently I read Omnivore’s Dilemma where the author “adopts a cow” and what happens in the yards where cows are kept. After all that, I admit to continue eating beef. I try to keep my consumption level low and buy from Whole Foods where the animals are responsibly raised by the suppliers. Of course when we consider the animals that we are eating, well that is another case and concern for our fellow creatures.

    For a few years we grew corn in our garden so are familiar with the growth habits as the plant matures. We grew if for our table and do not raise cows. 😀

    I love the row pattern in #3 and the backlight filtering through the rows in #19.

    Liked by 2 people

    April 21, 2022 at 7:06 PM

    • Thanks, Steve. It seems that Diet for a Small Planet introduced a lot of us, me included, to new ideas about food. Michael Pollan may be having a similar influence now. Let’s hope so.

      Liked by 2 people

      April 21, 2022 at 7:34 PM

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