When you grab an ear of sweetcorn and peel away the outer husk, all those silky strands represent a direct link between the male and female parts of the plant. Every golden kernel needs to be pollinated via it's individual silk. The pollen falls onto the silks from the flowers that ripen above the ears on each plant.
To achieve perfect (or even good) pollination, lots of corn plants need to grow close to one another, so the pollen from the flowers falls rich and thick on the silks of the ears. This is why corn is planted in blocks rather than long rows.
So to have a 13 by 10 metre planting of corn that now contains 150 plants instead of 500 represents not just a loss of plants, but a danger of poor pollination for the remaining crop. And this is happening with the second and third plantings too.
What is going on here? Is it the native hens? Ducks? Or something more sinister?
Next seedling, nothing. Next, grub. Grub. Another grub. Oh shit, they're everywhere.
I return to the house in a blue funk. I don't have the time to gently scrape around each corn seedling and squash grubs individually. I've got to get on to planting beans, because the first two plantings were hammered by something, and also beets, which looked sturdy enough for the first few days but have been wilting and dying in droves over the last week, just....like...the....corn.....
Oh double shit. Back in the main patch, a little scraping reveals the reason the beets and beans are failing. And the Anatolian capsicums I was so looking forward to. Triple shit.
Type 'black cutworm' into google. First hit: Dark Sword-Grass Moth. There's a picture of a grub: that's my guy.
Second hit the very helpful Illinois College of Aces, displaying a photo distressingly similar to the one above.
The bad news is that the black cutworm is a widespread and damaging agricultural pest. There's little I can do for the current plantings, short of spraying lots of noxious chemicals (there's a handy calculator on the website to help large-scale farmers decide whether chemicals would be economically advisable at this point; not an option for me, being happily organic).
The (kind of) good news is that the main vectors for black cutworm are weedy patches over winter, and late tilling. This is raising red flags for me, as both patches being damaged by the worm were very weedy over winter, and I didn't turn them over until the ground was dry.
So with good agricultural practice I can (hopefully) avoid a repeat next year. This year I cop a loss.
And now? I'll do the things I normally do when things go wrong: Shake fists at sky. Kick stuff and hurt toe. Grumble at Wife. And do better next time.
Also, I think I'll till over and replant some of the corn. Could be a long summer...