Why Grow Corn at Home?
Having a garden and growing corn at home, to me, seem fairly synonymous.
When I hear the phrase “corn on the cob” it congers fond memories of childhood and honestly plenty of them from adulthood too!
Summers in Michigan are short, but they are hot and humid, which is perfect weather! If you live some place similar to Michigan or with even more consistent weather than you can grow corn.
Growing corn at home requires a few things for it to be successful, the first being proper spacing. The primary form of pollination for corn is by wind and it requires a lot of “food” or you could say it’s kind of greedy when it comes to how much it feeds.
To have efficient pollination and adequate feed you need to give corn enough room.
Why Spacing is Important
Pollen sheds from the tassels at the top and must land on the silk strands of their neighboring stalks newly formed ears to successfully pollinate. If you have ever read the back of seed pack you may already know that you should plant corn in four rows or in a square.
This is to give you the best chance for a high percentage of pollination. If you only have space for three rows or a triangle you will still get a harvest, so do your best with what you have. Just be sure to plant it one foot apart in the row and no less than 1 foot apart between rows. I plant my rows about 18 inches apart so I have room to walk between the rows.
Planting in a circle is another option and I’m sure there are more options than that. I’m always reading where someone has come up with a new method to grow vegetables. You know the saying necessity is the mother of invention, so be creative and keep an open mind and you might be surprised with what you come up with.
Is One Row Enough?
The thing you don’t want to doif you are growing corn at home is just plant a single row. Planting four stalks next to each other doesn’t count as four rows, that would be a single row and you won’t get much of a harvest, if any. I remember the first time I thought I’d give growing it a try. I planted a single row and was really disappointed that I only got something like 6 ears. The row I planted was 50 foot long, so I was thinking I ought to get about 50 ears at least. No, I didn’t read the seed pack!
I made the comment to my neighbor that corn must not grow well in our area, so he pulled out a corn seed pack and told me to read the back. Yes, I was embarrassed. Quite! That was years ago and I am happy to report I’ve not made that mistake again.
Corn isn’t like most of the other vegetables in your garden. For instance when indeterminate tomatoes grow, for instance, the number of tomatoes that are harvested aren’t determined when the flowers first bud, but it isn’t until the plant is done growing. Corn will set so many ears per stalk and that is it for that stalk.
If you have the space and a long enough season you can stagger a few plantings a few weeks apart to keep harvesting longer. This method will give you more for your freezer and more to enjoy fresh during the season.
Because I live in Michigan and we have short summers I lay down a 4 mil black plastic sheet to warm the soil. I secure the sheet to the ground and plant right through it. I actually do this to my entire garden, but that’s for another blog post on some other day.
Corn needs full sun and soil that has a pH of 6 to 6.8 that is well drained and fertile. You can plant your seeds once the danger of frost has passed. It’s a good idea to fertilize your soil twice considering how much it consumes as it grows. I fertilize before I plant and when I see the first tassels coming out of the top of the corn.
Normally it should sprout up pretty fast and if it’s getting the proper nutrition it should have dark green leaves. If it’s lacking nutrients you will be able to see it because the leaves will start turning light green in color. If you see the leaves changing like that you should go ahead and give them another feeding.
It grows fast so because of this it needs lots of water to keep the plant fed, healthy and growing properly. Think of water like a conveyor that is constantly moving the nutrients from the soil up the stalk, keeping it green and strong. The thing about it though is it has shallow roots, so new water has to be added frequently. I use soaker hoses and my garden is 75 feet wide by 50 feet long, which means I have 4 rows that are 50 feet long and it works great!
I’m not sure what the limitation for using a soaker hose is, it probably has more to do with the system you have feeding it that would be able to push the water out 400 feet, or whatever, down a row. But practically speaking, for most homes using a well or are on city water, 50 feet isn’t too much.
200 years ago when nobody had a soaker hose, sprinklers or running water there were some very creative ways the Hopi and Navaho would employ to beat the arid conditions where they lived. They would use basins to catch the rainwater that was mostly available in the spring time and would use the earth around them to form ridges around the basin. This is where they would plant their maze – in the basin. It appears that the idea was to keep the roots moist longer with this method. They would align the basins in a sort of spiral from the center so it would pollinate and it also strengthened it to stand up to the wind.
I don’t know if you plan on replicating this technique, but the concept is a good one, especially if you live somewhere that is dry. Finding a way to keep your corn roots moist long after the spring rains have come and gone, would help to give you a good harvest just like it did for the Native Americans who used the technique to help them survive.
Some Tips and Tidbits
Compared to many other plants it is pretty resilient, so if some gets bent over from a storm, unless it was killed, it will pop back up after a couple of days of proper sunlight.
Something you want to keep in mind, especially if you are growing sweet corn – try not to allow different types to cross pollinate. You need at least 250 feet of separation from one stand to another, so bear in mind what your neighbor is planting and where it’s being planted at. If you are trying to grow two types, plant them so they don’t bloom at the same time and keep them 250 feet apart if you can.
Why this is important is, unless you are trying to develop a new strain and don’t mind if your experiment fails, you could ruin the flavor and sweetness of the corn you are trying to grow.
You know how delicious corn is and that is really why you grow it, to enjoy. Raccoon’s really like it too, but don’t expect them to help you plant it! Though you’ll notice they don’t mind picking and eating it for you. To keep them out an electric two strand fence from 4 to 12 inches above the ground will do the trick. If you have young children or small pets you may want to try some alternate methods.
Plastic mesh fencing made to keep deer and rabbits etc., out of the garden could work, as well as possibly some animal repellents.
I have lots of luck with the black plastic I lay down to plant my garden. I don’t have any raccoon’s, rabbit or deer come in my garden. I wish I could say I guarantee it’ll work for you too, but I’m not really sure why it works, so of course I can’t. Try different things and see what works best for you or talk to your neighbors and see what has been working for them.
Final Thoughts On Growing Corn at Home
Another consideration is how many days it takes before you will be able to harvest. If you look on your seed packet it’ll have planting instructions and usually it has a picture of harvested vegetables in a bushel or sometimes it just says “days”.
This is important because if you have a growing season that is 90 days you don’t want to grow something that takes 110 days, or you’ll just be wasting your time and resources.
You can find out what your growing season is by doing a quick search on google. If you haven’t already seen the planting zone map, it’s really a very nice reference to help you grow vegetables that will produce best in your zone.
What kind of corn do you grow?