How To Eradicate Corn Smut

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Corn smut is something most homesteaders hate to see develop in their growing plot. Just about when big juicy ears of sweet corn are ready to harvest and be enjoyed is when the ugly knobby growths appear.

Outbreaks of this type of corn disease usually happen when temperatures range from 80F to 92F (26C to 33C). The corn smut spores are carried primarily by the wind into your garden rows.

Although you probably will not notice the corn plants are infected with the galls until the gray and black growths appear, the disease almost always takes hold before the distortion of exposed kernels is present.

How To Detect Corn Smut

  • Corn smut (ustilago zeae fungus) infects the ears, tassels, and stalks of corn plants. The spores spawned corn smut are capable of living in both garden debris and in the soil for about 7 years.
  • The fungus galls can release thousands of infected spores in the growing plot when they bulge and ultimately burst.
  • Corn ear galls can grow up to 5 inches in diameter.
  • The corn smut tumors are initially light gray, but blacken as the growths fill with spores.
  • Any corn smut galls that do not burst will harden significantly over time as they dry out completely.
  • The fungus is fully capable of wintering over if it does not harden and dry up.
  • Wounds in the corn caused by worms and insects make it far more vulnerable to corn smut.

How To Prevent and Treat Corn Smut

  1. Cultivate a breed of corn that is known to be more resistant to corn smut such as silver king, fantasia, brilliant, or seneca sensation.
  2. Be very careful not to harm the roots, stalks, or leaves of the corn plant while tilling in your growing plot. Walk gently among the corn stalks so they are not pressured by your feet or body.
  3. Be diligent in both the treatment and monitoring of corn plants for corn borers.
  4. Do not use fertilizers that are high in nitrogen around or on corn plants because they may make a corn smut outbreak more robust.
  5. Crop rotation along with the steady removal of garden debris can lessen the chances of corn smut spores finding a host to thrive upon.
  6. Remove and then destroy any corn plant that shows the formation of even a single smut growth promptly, before the fungus has the opportunity to spread to other plants.

Corn Smut as a Delicacy?

The vast majority of American farmers and homesteaders consider stalks filled with corn smut a complete loss, but that actually might no longer be the case. In Mexico, as well as some parts of Canada, and Europe, corn smut is now considered a delicacy and not a blight on the garden.

Corn smut, when used as a food source, is commonly referred to as huitlacoche or Mexican truffles. The edible value of the mushroom like fungus was discovered by University of Wisconsin while trying to find a way to eradicate the growth of the fungal spores.

Annually, about 10% of corn crops are affected by the corn smut that also causes agriculture machinery to “gum up” in America. The United States government and farmers have spent millions of dollars trying to develop corn smut-resistant strains of the staple crop plant.

Researchers from Wisconsin University convinced one organic farmer to intentionally infect his corn with smut. Once the blighted corn was harvested, it was able to garner an 80-cent per ear profit – far exceeding the single digit profit per ear the farmer had been receiving.

Huitlacoche contains essential amino acids, including lysine, which the corn plant itself does not possess. Lysine helps the body fight infections, build muscle, strengthen bones, and keep the skin looking fresh and young. Corn smut also contains more cholesterol-reducing beta glucans than even oatmeal.

Mexican truffles can be eaten raw or cooked, which turns them dark black. Canned corn smut is becoming increasingly more available in the United States. The canned version of does not have the velvety soft and light texture of fresh corn smut, but is a far more liquid edible and jet black.

I have never consumed corn smut, either fresh or canned, but I am told it tastes a lot like mushrooms mixed with corn and boasts a smoky flavor. In Mexico, Hot huitlacoche patties consist of stir fry type filling of corn smut and onions.

The emerging delicacy is also being used as an ingredient in soup, stew, tamales, quesadillas – and even dessert recipes. At the upscale James Beard House restaurant in NYC, corn smut is sauteed with garlic or onions, with tomatoes and chiles, then blended in. The dish is slow cooked for about 20 minutes and then apparently devoured with great glee.

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Tara Dodrill
About Tara Dodrill 130 Articles
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day. her homesteading skills are unmatched, she raises chickens, goats, horses, a wide variety of vegetables, not to mention she's an expert is all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping and many, many more.

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