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Earworms cause problems for vegetable growers

Staff writer

Anyone who grows sweet corn in their garden knows what it is like to husk it. One can almost guarantee that, when the leaves are pulled back, a worm or two will be found eating on the tip of the ear or making their way down into the rows of kernels.

For that reason, harvesting sweet corn isn’t much fun. Before the corn can be eaten or processed, the worms have to be removed and the damaged parts of the ear have to be cut out. Usually the worms fall out by shaking the ear.

The problem stems from flying moths that lay eggs in the silks that grow out of the tops of the husks. The eggs hatch and the larvae, or worms, make their way into the tips of the ears and begin to feed.

According to gardener Jana Dalke of Hillsboro, there are things gardeners can do to minimize the worm problem. She has found that earlier planted sweet corn has less of a problem than corn planted later. Rotating the location of corn in the garden plot also helps.

Doug Lind of Marion works for the Kansas Department of Transportation and grows sweet corn as a hobby. He sells it from his pickup truck and at area farmers’ markets.

He uses a malathion spray on the silks to provide some worm control. It has to be applied several times a season at a specified number of days before harvest. He doesn’t guarantee that his customers won’t find worms in their corn, but he guarantees it will be flavorful and nutritious.

Although seed companies have created sweet corn seed that makes corn resistant to earworms, the seed is available only to commercial growers, according to county extension agent Rickey Roberts. Lind has no interest in it.

“My philosophy is if the worms won’t eat it, why would I eat it?” he said of the modified sweet corn.

Last modified Aug. 5, 2015

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