There’s nothing like watching corn sway tall on a summer day. Sunflowers blooming, birds flitting in and out of the tall stalks. Even better is pulling a perfectly ripe sweet corn ear off and eating it fresh from the garden. So how do we get from those tiny kernels in the palm of your hand to the towering grasses that produce one of the world’s main staple crops? The answer is simple time, sun and water.  Well, perhaps a bit more than that but here are some basics.

Top to Bottom: Painted Mountain, Casseopeia, Martian Jewel's

Choosing your corn seed:

There are three main types of corn that you can grow as food.  There are more types than this, but these are the 3 most common ways corn will be described when you are purchasing seed. Choosing the right variety will depend on how you want to eat your corn. When looking for corn seed always choose Non-GMO, open pollinated corn seed.

Popcorn is a type of flint corn characterized by small kernels with hard outer shells. The soft starchy centers pop out of the kernel when heated. You harvest popcorn in the fall when the husks have dried out. Popcorn is not typically eaten fresh. It comes in all sorts of beautiful colors too like, Casseopia and Dakota Black. If you love sitting down with a bowl of popcorn, try growing your own!

Dry/Flour Corn is very nice and starchy. It can be eaten when fresh but is usually left to mature and dry on the plant. The dry kernels can then be processed into ground corn flour to make things like polenta, tortillas or grits.  Flour corns are usually dent or flint corn varieties. They come in all sizes and colors. Open pollinated flour corn is easy to save seed from yourself. Many corn varieties have been passed down over the centuries to ensure its survival. Try Oregon Blue if you are a PWN local looking for a well adapted variety to our climate.

Sweet Corn is eaten when fresh in the milky stage  before the starches have fully developed. This is the best type to plant if you like corn on the cob. It has more sugar content than the  other types of corn. If you grow open pollinated sweet corn you can leave some cobs to mature fully and save the seeds for use the next year. I prefer bicolor sweet corn like Zanadoo but one of my colleagues loves Soltera Morado for its dark red sweet kernels. 

How to plant:

Choose a location in your garden that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. 
Prepare the space that you want to plant your corn in. Corn needs to be planted in groups or blocks to allow for proper fertilization. So choose an area big enough for at least 15 plants.

Add compost and a high nitrogen fertilizer like composted chicken manure to your prepared bed. Incorporate these into the soil with a digging fork or a rake. Corn is a heavy feeder and really loves nitrogen to grow big and tall. 

When your bed is ready, check the soil temperature. Corn can germinate anywhere above 50 degrees. Vigor and speed of germination will increase the warmer the soil temperature is. I like to check the nighttime forecasts for the next ten days to make sure there is no dip in the average night or day time temperatures. Corn is pretty sensitive to frost. Also, cold wet conditions around planting time can lead to  poor germination and weak plants.

Plant corn kernels 1 inch deep. A general planting rule of thumb is to plant seeds at least 3 times as deep as the seed is in length. Cover the corn seeds gently with soil and tamp down. Water the seeds in.

You can plant corn in rows in a block formation or you can plant it in mounds in groupings of three to five plants. Corn is mainly pollinated by the wind and pollen from neighboring plants so make sure each corn plant is surrounded by more of the same variety of corn.

If you want to grow more than one type of variety of corn you can stagger your planting dates by a few weeks. One way to stagger planting times is by sowing corn indoors in potting soil and then transplanting the seedlings, then do a direct sowing of corn later into your garden to have two separate planting dates.

If you want to transplant seedlings, start your corn about 3 weeks before the last frost in your growing region. I have found that corn does best when started directly in the soil instead of being transplanted. 

 Try to get your corn planted in the soil by the first week of June. 

Taking care of your corn plants:
Corn loves to grow! It is very attainable for you to grow big beautiful plants.

One of the main needs of corn is water. Corn needs about 1 inch of water per week. If you live in a place where it rains in the summer, you might just need to water a little bit to help your plants along.  We have hot dry summers here in Oregon, so we have to water our corn weekly. It is best to water all at once. One inch of water will permeate the soil about 5 inches deep.  Corn needs the most water at the tassel and silk stage. Add about ¼ inch of water.

You can supply water to your corn with drip irrigation or with overhead watering from sprinklers. If you want to help retain moisture in the soil you can mulch your corn with straw. You can also plant squash at the bottom of your corn crop. The vines act like a living mulch at the bottom of corn plants. 

You can add a little supplementary nitrogen when the corn is about 16 inches tall to give it a boost. I really like using a foliar application of fish hydrolysate at this stage. Foliar applications require a sprayer. You can usually buy a sprayer at garage sale but most hardware stores and garden centers will have them.

Alternatively, you can also use composted manure again. Sprinkle the manure around the base of the plants without touching the stalk. You can rake it in slightly, but there is not a need to do so. 

Finally, sometimes corn needs a little help with pollination. Particularly if you were not able to plant a large block of corn plants. Corn plants have both male and female flowers. The female flower is the silk and ear. The male flower is the tassel at the top of the corn plant. Anthers filled with pollen will develop on the tassel. When the wind blows the pollen is carried to the silk of neighboring plants. You can help this along by walking through the corn plants and gently shaking the plants to emulate the wind. 

 Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for corn harvesting information. 

Happy Plantin