Monday, July 29, 2013

Corn crop failed

A few months ago I started growing corn in my veranda. Today I pulled the plug on this underperforming plant. As always, it's time to take a look back and see what might have gone wrong.

The obvious problem is that corn is not a plant that is really recommended for veranda gardening. That's okay. That's what this experiment is all about. The soil is not deep enough, and the wind caused serious damage on a couple occasions due to the lack of windbreaks which more nearby stalks would have provided.

Another problem is watering. I didn't realize just how much water corn really needed. They need to be watered constantly every day. In a pot, water is a problem since it drains out so easily and evaporates pretty quickly due to the shallow depth of the soil. In the ground, roots would find water deeper and the water itself wouldn't evaporate as quickly. Still, if you see corn fields, you'll almost surely also see an irrigator of some kind. The days that I did not water may have been critical in the formation of the silks and tassels.

Corn loves heat, and this early summer was anything but hot. For a couple weeks in June, it looked like Tokyo was going to be a great place for humans. Unfortunately this meant that the corn grew in an initial environment that was too cool for it. As a result, the stalks only grew to about 1 meter.

Now it's excruciatingly hot and humid, with rain falling every day. Where was this weather a month ago?

In all, the corn stalks ended up too short, the tassels bloomed too early, and the silks bloomed too late. The end result is that the pollen never got to the silks and the corn cobs never took hold.

The final result is below. A small, inedible cob which showed no signs of growing any larger.

I still have a few seeds left over. I may try my hand at this again with the following changes:

  • A larger, deeper pot
  • The pot will be on the floor of the balcony rather than on a stand
  • More frequent waterings
  • More fertilizing
  • Waiting until the summer days warm up instead of by seasonal planting cycles

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Corn update: Crop failure

Every season and every crop is a learning opportunity. This year's attempt to grow corn has failed, but I'm still trying to understand what could have happened.

What looks like healthy corn stalks is actually premature tasseling of the corn, and there aren't any silks to take up the pollen.

Tassels are the male organ of the corn plant. They emerge and release pollen. The smell is incredibly sweet and pleasant, and I haven't had any adverse reaction to it. Silks are the female organ of the corn plant. They emerge from the ear shoots located on the stalk itself and act as receptors for the pollen released by the tassels.

Each kernel of corn is produced by one strand of silk fertilized by a grain of pollen. Failure to fertilize results in one less kernel of corn produced on an ear.

With no silks at all, the pollen released by the tassels will die without ever having the chance to fertilize a silk. This means no corn will be produced.

According to the Purdue agriculture website, failure to produce silks is commonly caused by insufficient watering. The soil has always been moist, so this is not to blame for the lack of silks here. One theory I am considering is that the planter the corn is in may be too small. It is probably too small for two, in any case.

Corn is very nutrient greedy. Constant fertilization and watering is necessary to properly grow a successful crop. Not having fertilized the corn during the growing season may have resulted in this premature tasseling and failure to produce silks.

I have added some fertilizer and added more soil to give the corn more room to spread out in the planter, but this year's corn may be a total waste. I may try this again next year with bigger pots and plant only a single stalk in each pot.

More about corn silk:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Technical difficulties

I'm having some technical difficulties with images at the moment. Once this gets sorted out, I'll have this week's update posted in no time flat.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Gone a week, come back to a Tokyo windstorm

Last week I enjoyed a 7 day vacation in Hawaii and am a bit bummed to be back to real life here in Tokyo. On the other hand, only 51 more weeks to go until the next Hawaiian weeklong vacation!

I didn't have anyone who could take care of these plants while I was gone, so I did my best and topped them up with water and hoped things would turn out for the best. Unfortunately Tokyo is in the midst of a spring windstorm and there has been quite a bit of damage to some of the plants.

Strawberries devastated by the wind

The strawberries seem to have taken the brunt of the wind. The larger, taller plants are all broken near the soil and any fruits that we might have expected seem to have dried up. It may not have all been a wind problem, as no one was watering them all week, but seeing how torn up the leaves and stems are seems to show that the worst damage came from being battered around in the wind.

Interestingly, the shorter (more delicious berries) on top seem to have done okay. I suspect because they aren't so tall they didn't catch the wind as much and just pushed through the storm.

What I'm not too happy about is that the plants on top are foregoing fruiting and are just sending out runners. Runners are great when you want to make more strawberry plants, but not so great if you want strawberries. I'll have to find a pot to catch the runners in and start them before it gets too hot. They will become next year's plants. I still wish I could get *this year's* berries, though.

Corn seedlings thirsty for water

The corn seedlings seemed a bit better. Although the vinyl covering that protected them was torn off during the windstorm, the seedlings seem to be doing okay. However, because they are in such small pots, the soil was bone dry and a lot of the seedlings were wilting. I gave them a shot of water this morning and hopefully we'll see some life in them. These are for giving away to other veranda gardeners. We certainly don't have room for 16 more corn plants here.

Corn in the planter doing great

Surprisingly, the corn in the planter, directly exposed to sun and wind for a week without anyone to care for it, has done great. All the planted seeds have sprouted and they look great. Sadly, there are too many here and I will have to thin them out. This is always the most difficult part of gardening.

The thinning will be done next Saturday so the most vigorous corn can be identified. Hopefully the strawberries and corn seedlings in the starter pots revive!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The 2013 spring crop

This season we are sticking with a few favorites and trying a new vegetable.


As before, strawberries are always welcome and this year we've got a brand new planter for them.

The planter is terra cotta, which will absorb and hold heat. Also, it is tiered to allow plants at different levels to receive even amount of sun without getting shaded by each other. This kind of planter seems to be very productive, according to the ones I've seen around.

We've got 5 plants of two types planted. In the center are two small akihime plants. This is a challenging type, but the fruits are extremely sweet and fragrant. In the three outer pockets are tough and tall beni-hoppe strawberry plants. This type is easier to grow and should be very productive.


In three planters a few feet away, I've started some avocados. I love growing them, and I love eating them. My wife doesn't seem to appreciate them as much as I do, so I had to start these seeds in secret.

The one in the middle has sprouted and is making some vertical headway. The others are still unsprouted. I will not be expecting too much and won't feel too bad if I have to grind these into mulch later if they don't start soon.

The soil they are in is full of uprooted plants from around the garden, which is why it looks like such a mess. It's just extra mulch, as far as I'm concerned.


Although it's a bit early, I planted a handful of miniature sunflower seeds. During some spring cleaning, I found a package of seeds from eight years ago.

If something comes up, I'll be happy. If nothing comes up, I can't say I was expecting anything from these 8 year old seeds. This planter is actually my mulching planter, so if the seeds are dead they will just get turned into the mulch and will find life as the soil for some other plant.


The big new crop we're trying is corn. With spring two weeks early in Tokyo, the timing is just right to start some corn for an early summer crop.

This is the main planter with two corn plants expected. Under the surface sprouts are just becoming visible.

In addition, I've started a bunch of corn seeds in a starter tray. 

To protect the seeds from the wind and from drying out, I placed the instant shelter over them.


Finally, in addition to fruits and vegetables, my son brought home a pot of anemones from school.

These flowers add a splash of color to all the brown soil and terra cotta. It's nice to have something nice in the veranda garden, even if it is only aesthetic. If the sunflowers don't sprout, I've given a bit of thought to getting some other flowers to keep the anemones company.


Thank you for coming back to the Veranda Gardening blog. It's been a while, definitely. I am looking forward to learning about how corn grows this season. If things go right, I'm hoping to have a weekly update of all the plants around the garden!

Starting over

Since the last time I wrote in this blog over two years ago, I was looking forward to a new growing season in Tokyo starting in the spring. However on March 11 Japan was hit by the largest earthquake in modern times and a tsunami 30 meters high. This did not happen near Tokyo, but the effect shook the whole country.

Worse, and the reason I haven't written anything, is that soon after the earthquake the Fukushima nuclear reactors failed in the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl. The land immediately around the reactor is irradiated and will be unusable for production for the next several hundred years. The dust plume caused by the Fukushima explosion spewed radioactive material, cesium mostly, into the atmosphere and that material settled throughout the eastern Japan area. Tokyo was also dusted with this material.

So instead of starting up a new crop in the spring of 2011, I sent my family to Seattle for several months to wait out the initial dust plume and I refrained from planting anything that could be contaminated by the radioactive fallout.

The dust has settled, and the concern about radioactivity in the Tokyo area has also settled. Two years later, it's time to restart.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

New Garden: Seattle

Seattle presents great challenges for veranda gardening. Especially in my particular case where I have a giant tree blocking a lot of sunlight in the mornings. Also, although the days last from 6:00am until 9:30pm during the summers here, it never really warms up and the light itself is not very bright. There is a lot of fog in the mornings, so mold is almost guaranteed. The lack of sun means a lot of popular vegetables will be unproductive. The cold means slower growth and later, shorter growing periods.
This is the view from the veranda. You can see the tree that is blocking my sun. Just a few meters over, there is a lot of sun, but that area gets mowed frequently so I can't use it.

Forgetting all that, I went out and bought some supplies and transplants.

I bought a nice, deep planter. On the right is a big bag of Miracle-Gro soil which claims to fertilize plants for 6 months. Inside the planter are three plants I've selected for this year's garden: Japanese Cucumber, Japanese Eggplant, and Red Bell Peppers.

The problem is that these plants need full sun, but I can't offer that to them. Worst case, they will meet their doom in a week or so. Best case, I hope they can produce a few fruits.

There were a lot of pots already here, but I wanted a long, deep one so that I could effectively use the space on the porch. I can't believe it cost $17 at Home Depot. How can a plastic planter be so expensive?

Seattle also has a slug problem. They seek out gardens and munch. I considered lettuce, but I've seen how much slugs like it, so I decided against it. In order to help prevent slugs, I used bricks to raise the planter off the ground. You can see it in the final picture.

Cucumbers need to grow upwards, but garden netting is extremely expensive here. One net was going for $15 a square yard. There is something really uncomfortable about paying that much for disposable materials.
I'm a bit proud of the cucumbers on the left. In lieu of paying an arm and a leg for garden netting, I built my own. The materials used are a thumbtack, twine, and staples. The thumbtack (not pictured) holds the twine to the wall. The twine is stapled to the pot, and each of those "steps" is a piece of twine stapled to the vertical twine. Home-made and probably costing less than a penny.

Things are started!