Corn is a summer crop that requires a lot of space and a lot of water and is probably not worth growing for all the resources needed to produce only two or three cobs on each plant. But if water and space are not limiting, then go ahead. And it can be intercropped. Nothing you can buy will come close to tasting like sweet corn picked fresh from the garden. That’s because corn starts to convert its sugars into starches as soon as it is picked. The longer it’s left, the starchier the flavour and the less nutritive value it has. Peas are the same.
Corn also needs to be grown in large blocks to produce good sized cobs because the plant relies on wind and not insect pollination. So a lot of plants need to all flower at the same time and within touching distance. Another reason for monocultures in conventional systems. However the plants will generate a heap of organic matter, mostly carbon, that your compost and soil will love, once it’s broken down.
Autumn – Harvest later sown crops. See below. Shred or chop crop resides well and compost or dig through soil.
Winter – Prepare soil ahead of sowing. Good to plant after a legume crop. Dig soil well and apply compost and lime or dolomite, rockdust.
Spring – Corn needs very warm soil to germinate. Wait til the frosts have well and truly passed and sow as seed or seedlings in late spring or early summer. Sow in a block, at least 1m x 1m area, with 15cm between rows and eventually 10-20cm between plants (seedlings can be thinned to get ideal spacing). Mulch and water well, especially during flowering. Corn will be ready in 10-15 weeks after sowing.
Summer – Sow as seeds or seedlings, though seeds are better as there is less transplant shock. Continue weeding and watering. When plants are 15-20cm high, hill organic rich soil around the base of the plants (do as a row to make watering easier) to stabilise the shallow rooted plants and provide nutrients as they grow. It will also help develop the ‘prop’ roots which grow later and may mean you get more tillers or side shoots (and hopefully more corn cobs!). Stake if on a windy site. Mulch and water well during flowering and when grains begin to swell. Plants are ready to harvest when the silks at the top of the cob wither and brown off. You can test by peeling back the leaves and pressing your fingernail into the cob – if the liquid runs clear it is not ripe yet, if milky then it’s ready to pick (if no juice at all then it’s over-ripe and past picking).
Generally – Corn seed is usually a hybrid (F1) and you need to look hard to find open pollinated varieties. but heritage seed suppliers do have them. Corn is one of the most ‘bred’ and commercially adapted crops. The hybrids have been bred for sweetness, however. The male flowers are the tassals at the top of the plant and the females sit below – the silks at the base of the leaf axles. Try earlier maturing varieties in Newstead. It can also be grown in a threesome with beans and pumpkins (beans grow up the stalks and pumpkins crawl, shaded, amongst them), or together with sunflowers and pumpkins – that way you are spreading the water and space amongst more than one crop. Lettuces can also be grown in the shade of corn during summer.
Eating – To pick, grab the cob and twist off from the stalk in a downwards motion. Harvest is best in the early morning when moisture levels are high. Eat or (blanch and) freeze within 24hours of picking. Steam and eat with butter, pepper and salt. Barbeque. Bread.