I’ve discovered smut in my corn. Must I tear it all out? Can I plant again next year? Are there varieties that are resistant? What varieties are most susceptible?

Corn smut – a fungus disease called Ustilago maydis – is extremely common. It cannot be controlled with fungicides, nor with treating the seed. The spores can be carried into your garden by the wind, even from long distances. Plant infection often occurs through wounds. Therefore, avoid injury to roots, stalks and leaves while weeding. Insect damage can also leave the plant vulnerable, so eliminating corn worms, beetles, and earwigs may help.

No, you don’t need to tear everything out. Very rarely is a corn crop rendered unusable by smut. To minimize the damage, remove the immature galls before they break open – and eat, bury (away from the garden), or burn them.

Yes, it can safely be eaten! In Mexico, the immature smut galls are consumed as an edible delicacy known as cuitlacoche (wheat-lah-KOH-chay). Think mushrooms. Even in the USA, restaurants catering to Hispanic customers sometimes feature this item on their menus. Try them cooked with scrambled eggs.

Meanwhile, to reduce the problem of having them grow in your corn, remove the galls early, and if the infection is bad, do not plant corn in that area for 3-4 years. The white Sugary Enhancers are reported to have some resistance to common smut.