I started messing around with corn breeding a few years ago. Corn genetics is messy, the more I learn the more I find that I don't know. Genetics was so much easier when we knew nothing!
Many varieties of corn suffer from varying amounts of inbreeding depression, to save seed it is best to grow at least 200 plants and save seed from the best 50 to 100. Some varieties of landrace corn have little to no inbreeding depression, but the down side is that they can be rather variable. Using landraces as breeding stock means that genetic bottlenecks are not as tight and small populations can be slightly more forgiving.
Corn will happily cross pollinate with other types of corn that are within a few hundred metres up to a few kilometers of each other. This makes saving corn seed difficult unless you live on acreage and have no one growing corn near you.
As I currently live on acreage and have no one growing corn close to me I save seed from a few different types of corn. If I get the timing right, and am vigilant with selecting seed and rogueing out off types I could probably grow half a dozen types of corn each year without too much trouble.
I grow some interesting coloured corn, most of which is popcorn or dry corn as there are very few coloured sweet corn varieties available in Australia. I once looked online at the amazing coloured sweet corn that is available overseas and asked myself: "self, why doesn't someone in Australia breed a decent coloured sweet corn?" I looked around for someone who was developing a decent coloured sweetcorn in Australia, I could not find them. I did find some people who are maintaining a few coloured sweet corns and a few who are developing the most wonderful yellow or white sweet corn, but none of this is what I was after.
So I decided to try to breed one myself.
|Immali Corn 2015|
|Some "Immali corn" seedlings|
The early cobs lacked much colour, they tasted better than store bought corn but not as great as I had hoped. Adding colour is not all that difficult, stabilising that colour is a bit more difficult, but I can do it.
|Early Immali corn (ignore the yellow) - needs more colour|
|Tastes great, looks ok I guess, still a way to go|
The later cobs look far better and taste far better too. It is too bad I only get one crop of corn per year so progress is painfully slow.
|Look how far it has come|
|Some fine looking "Immali corn" cobs|
|Still not there but look how far it had come|
They still have a way to go, it is not yet stable and I do not want to distribute this seed until it is a bit more stable. The colour will always vary a bit, but that is kind of the point.
The taste is a bit up and down right now, some cobs taste good while others taste simply amazing, all of them taste at least as good as store bought sweet corn. This is mainly due to timing, if picked just right they blow me away, if picked too early or late they are not as good. I would like to work out how to fix this, the genetics behind this are a bit beyond me at the moment as I do not have access to a good corn genetics book. By only saving seed from the best tasting plants all of the Immali Corn should taste amazing by the time the colours are locked in properly.
|I worked hard to get here, we ate this cob and the colours remained unchanged through cooking|
Once the strain starts to look more consistently like the cob above and is a bit more stable I hope to distribute seeds. It may never be truly stable, it may be best if it always stays a landrace variety at least to some extent. I hope that some dedicated seed saver somewhere will see the merits of Immali Corn and continue to grow it after I am gone. Perhaps I should tell you what i hope to achieve in this variety.
So if I can get more of the cobs to look like the one above, and get the taste to be a bit more consistantly amazing, what else have I tried to include in this variety?
I wanted a reasonably small plant that was productive. I figure people have less land these days so need small plants that are highly productive. While 12 foot tall monster plants such as the Giant Inca White corn is spectacular to look at, it is not practical for Suburban Joe to grow in the corner of his yard. The Immali Corn only grows about 5 foot tall. It is not a dwarf plant, but it is not a giant either, I think it is a nice manageable compact size.
|Immali Corn, reasonably short plants|
|Sideways corn picture, note the 2 cobs forming up high and 1 more lower down|
As well as a great tasting corn that is productive and takes up little space, I wanted something that was good to look at. The cobs needed good colour, which was the primary reason behind this project. One of the bonuses to using a coloured landrace as one of the initial stock was that the tassels sometimes are purple, it makes the plant look a bit more ornamental.
|Immali Corn tassels and cobs|
|Immali Corn silk|
Where can you get Immali Corn seeds?
This variety is reasonably stable now. The last two times I have grown it I have only seen one plant that was taller than normal and the cobs all look and taste the same. Seeds are now available through my For Sale page.
I think that you should breed some type of vegetable that you like. Perhaps don't start with corn unless you are already experienced in breeding and saving seeds, perhaps start with a tomato or some beans or something simpler like that. You don't need any fancy equipment, I certainly don't use anything special. You don't need formal training in Botany or Horticulture or Genetics like I have, but you can still produce something amazing that can be treasured and passed on to others.