Growing Crops: Corn

Corn is an impressive crop to grow, particularly in an urban or suburban environment, as it’s such an unexpected sight to see outside of rural farm country. You can grow corn for eating, or the multicolored varieties for Fall decorating, or popcorn varieties that are harvested after they have dried on the stalk. Not all at once, however, as different varieties need at least 100 yards between them to avoid cross-pollination.

There are generally a number of seed varieties to choose from at your local nursery, depending on your purpose for growing them, your taste (some like their corn super sweet, others not so much) and how long you want to wait for harvest (different varieties take anywhere from 60 to 100 days from seed to harvest) – which depends a lot on how long the growing season lasts in your climate zone.

This particular variety is excellent to try your hand at if you’ve never grown corn before:

Best Climate to Grow: Warm to hot with wind protection. Strong gusts can snap the stalks, particularly when they get top heavy with ears of corn.

Light Requirements: Lots of sun, all day long.

Soil Requirements: Extremely fertile, rich soil that retains moisture without becoming soggy. Slightly acidic pH is ideal, no lower than 6.0. Corn will not thrive in alkaline soil. Amend as needed prior to planting in order to ensure proper nutrition for your crop.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Start out with rich, fertile soil, and apply an organic 5-10-10 fertilizer around the base of the stalks (being careful not to disturb the shallow root systems) when they are about 2½ feet tall – then mulch to retain moisture. Repeat the dressing and mulch again once you see corn silk beginning to grow out of the ear tips. Drip irrigation is strongly recommended in order to maintain a constant level of moisture.

When to Plant: Successively plant every 2 weeks, sowing directly in the ground, from late Spring to early Summer when the soil has warmed up to a minimum of 60 degrees F and there is absolutely no more danger of frost. If you have an extremely short growing season, you can start the seeds indoors starting in mid Spring and then harden off and transplant the seedlings starting in early Summer. Succession planting like this will ensure a steady harvest throughout the summer rather than a glut of corn all at once.

Planting Depth and Spacing: If you are sowing directly in the ground, plant 2 seeds per hole, 1 inch deep, in blocks of 4 holes that are 12 inches apart. Once the seeds have germinated, remove the smaller of the two seedlings and add to the compost pile. If you are transplanting, plant one seedling per hole in blocks of 4 holes that are 12 inches apart.

The reason for the block planting method is to ensure good pollination in all four directions. An unpollinated corn stalk will not produce an ear of corn. What you will have is a really tall, thick grass stalk, as corn is actually a member of the grass family.

Container Requirements: Believe it or not, corn grows very well in containers, as long as they are placed in a warm, sunny spot and protected from the wind and properly fed and watered. You will most likely need to apply fertilizer every other week, in addition to mulching and installing a drip irrigation system specifically for containers, in order to ensure that your crop will thrive. You need to plant at least four stalks to ensure pollination, spacing them just as you would if they were in the ground. You will need a wide container that is at least 12 inches deep, so it won’t tip over with top-heavy corn stalks.

Harvesting and Storage: Your ears of corn should be ready to harvest once the corn silk has begun to brown but hasn’t dried out, and the ear itself feels full and firm to the touch. If you are not sure, carefully pull back the silk to check. Poke one of the kernels with the tip of a sharp knife. If the liquid runs clear it is not ready for harvest yet. If the liquid is milky, it is ready to harvest and eat right away. If no liquid comes out of the kernel, you’ve let it go too long. It might be OK to add to soups, but it will be rather dry and bland on the cob.

Keep in mind that once you’ve pulled back that husk, you’ve made that ear more vulnerable to pests. If the ear isn’t ready to harvest yet, carefully replace the husk, and then cover the ear with a small mesh bag tied closed at the base of the ear, or a length of cut-up panty hose to protect it from the bugs and birds that would otherwise go after it.

Corn freezes and cans well, but it will lose over 50% of its sweetness within one day after being harvested. You don’t want to harvest your corn unless you intend to either consume it or preserve it very shortly thereafter.

Harvesting Seeds: The first and largest ears of corn are your best bet for seed next year. Decide which ones you want to use for seed, and enclose them in a paper lunch bag (tied shut with string or twist-ties) for protection. Do not harvest them until you have harvested the other ears from those stalks. You could even let them stay a bit longer to dry out as much as possible before removing them – leaving a few inches of stem. Take them inside and pull back the husks and remove all the silk. Cut a hole in the stem and run strong string, twine, or wire through the hole. String the corn up in a cool, dry place where they will not be susceptible to pests, and let them dry completely. Once the kernels have dried, carefully remove them from the cob and place them in a container (it does not need to be airtight, just impervious to bugs) to store where it is cool and dry until it is time to plant again.

Pests to Monitor: Birds, Earwigs, Fruit Fly Maggots (when the plants are seedlings), and Squirrels. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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