By Mike Skibbe

As a midwestern modeler, farm fields are a necessary modeling project.  Some crops like soybean, cabbage, and wheat can be convincingly modeled with a combination of ground foam and static grass materials.  Most early spring crops look about the same with small green plants peaking out from manicured rows of tilled soil. 

Mature corn, however, is a little more difficult due to it’s height and leaf structure. 

Several options exist for modeling corn in N. The first convincing field I saw was modeled with indoor/outdoor carpeting.  This method is great for covering large areas quickly, but doesn’t include much detail for close-up photography.  The most detailed corn is the etched brass corn from Alkem Scale Models.  It will look best in close-up photos, but requires quite a bit of work to paint and install.  It’s also pricey if you need a larger field.

The search for a cheaper alternative led me to use old fashioned broom straw for this N scale cornfield. The broom was obtained at a craft store during Halloween closeout, and cost about $0.99. Notice that the natural ends of the straw are intact on the broom. The branches give the effect of wilting corn leaves when packed in a field.

Old fashioned or natural straw broom, sometimes sold as a "Witch's Broom" around Halloween.

First, prepare the field itself. You are going to want to use a foam insulation base, and glue some dirt down on the field before planting the corn. I used some flat black latex paint and sprinkled in Woodland Scenics ‘Soil’ fine turf while the paint was still wet. Once dry, the excess was brushed off and you have a dirt field ready for corn.

The natural straw color is a perfect match for the late September dried corn in my area. The corn dries out in late summer even before the trees start changing colors for fall.  I choose not to paint the straw, but if you are modeling a mid-summer field, then you will want to paint it green. Weyerhauser Green from Floquil is a good base color. Add some lighter and darker shades from there so the field isn’t perfectly uniform.

Next, just chop the broom into smaller stalks of corn. I keep them about 1/2″ longer than I want the final height to be so that there is a long portion to plant in the foam base.

Now all that’s left is to poke holes in the foam and plant your corn in rows! You’ve caught on by now that this is not the fastest modeling job, but if you can watch a game on TV while you’re working, it won’t drive you completely mad.

In Progress: A piece of music wire is used to poke holes, and cut broom material is ready to be planted.

I use a piece of music wire to poke the holes in the foam. You want a blunt tip on the music wire so that the foam is pushed out of the way enough to be able to plant your corn in the hole. If you sharpen the wire, it will slide in and out of the foam and allow the hole to self-heal, making it really difficult to plant the corn.

Close up of N scale broom corn.

On this Modutrak module I’ve also aligned the corn rows perpendicular to the track.  This way the rows are evident to the viewer, and actually drift in and out of view as you walk alongside the module as if you were driving past a corn field in real life.  Also, while individual pieces of broom straw aren’t exact scale models of corn stalks, the effect of plants with large droopy leaves is portrayed well as the straw is grouped in rows. 

It’s easy and cheap!  How large a corn field can you plant?

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