Thursday, May 27, 2010

How We Plant Sweet Corn - 5 Tips

The final package of corn seed is in the ground, ready for the rain.  Here are some tips we've discovered about planting sweet corn - not to say we followed all of them ourselves!

Tip #1 - Wait until the soil is warm.
Corn likes warm soil and cannot tolerate frost.  If you can't wait, follow the example of our gardening neighbour and plant some seeds in peat soil pellets so that once the soil is warm, you've got a head start.  The peat soil pellets are good because you can plant the whole pellet without disturbing the delicate roots.

This year, because of a very warm spring, our soil was ready early.  We started planting corn on May 19.

Tip #2 Isolate different varieties.
If you're set on having the type of corn described on your package, limit your corn patch to one variety.  Or, have separate corn patches at least 7.5 meters or 25 feet apart (according to the package).  If, like us, you choose not to do this, you risk getting a mixed variety and/or poor results.

There's three gardeners in our plot and we all have different preferences, so we have three varieties right next to each other.  Perhaps our staggered seeding will help by staggering the pollination of the different varieties.

We planted:
  • Canadian Early Supersweet Hybrid F1 on May 19 - matures in 65-70 days
  • Peaches and Cream Bicolour SE on May 21 - matures in 72 days
  • Honey and Cream Bicolour SE on May 27 - matures in 70-75 days
Tip #3 Plant a Minimum of 3 Rows Side by Side
Corn pollination is very interesting.  The pollen is on the big tassles at the top of the mature corn plant.  The pollen must somehow find its way to the corn silk of the forming cob.  That's why wind and having the same variety close by is so important.  The pollen travels down each strand of silk to form each corn kernel. If the pollen doesn't make it to the silk then there will be no corn.  For a more detailed explanation check out Ohio State University.

By planting corn beside each other in blocks, rather than single rows, you increase the chance of the pollen hitting the corn silk as the wind blows the pollen from one plant to the other.  That's why you also risk cross pollination if you plant mixed varieties.

While we didn't leave the required space between different varieties, we did plant in blocks of 4 rows.

Tip # 4 Give corn Nutrients and Water Regularly
Corn is a heavy feeder.  It especially likes a lot of nitrogen.  While fish heads are a good source of nitrogen - mixing in compost or planting after a previous crop of beans might be more palatable for most people.

Once again, we're relying on the compost manure that we mixed into the soil last fall.  As for watering regularly - let's just hope it rains regularly!

Tip # 5 Take into Account that Corn Produces Shade
Remember that corn will grow big and will shade your garden.  Consider this when deciding where you plant your corn and what you plant next to it.  A good tip to remember is that veggies grown for their leaves can handle a bit of shade (spinach, swiss chard, lettuce, etc.).  Planting on the east side of your garden in a north to south direction will produce an early morning shade but leave the garden shade free in the afternoon. While that may be the ideal spot, you can't do that every year since crop rotation is also very important.

We move our corn every year to help with soil nutrients and pest control.  This year our corn is on the south side.  It's not ideal, but the crops right next to it, can handle it.

Now, let's see May 19 plus 65 days until germination means we should have corn on July 23.  Could it be?  We'll be waiting with eager anticipation.

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