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Growing Corn

Growing corn can present a challenge for the home vegetable gardener, as it demands attention and it doesn't provide a lot of return for the space it occupies.

Corn can be grown in any region, but the time it will take to mature depends on the amount of heat it gets. Corn doesn't really hit its stride until the weather warms up. Depending on the varieties planted, two crops may be possible. Corn likes well-worked, fertile soil with good drainage, and it must have full sun. Sow the seeds directly in the garden on the average date of last frost. Plant the seeds 2 to 4 inches apart in short rows forming a block rather than a single, long row. Planting in clumps ensures pollination. For a continuous supply, plant early, mid-season, and late varieties at the same time.

ear of corn with husk
Corn can be grown in any region.

When the corn is about 6 inches tall, thin short varieties to two feet apart and tall varieties to three feet apart. Although corn can be grown closer together than this, the roots are then more crowded and more watering and feeding are needed. Corn is a heavy user of nitrogen. Fertilize in the spring, again when the corn is 8 inches tall, and again when the plants are 18 inches tall. Side-dress between the rows, using one-third of a pound of complete, well-balanced fertilizer on each side of a 10-foot-long row. Hill soil around the plant roots at this time to help support the stalks.

Watering is very important. Keep the soil evenly moist. Corn often grows so fast in hot weather that the leaves wilt because the roots can't keep the leaves supplied with moisture. Although corn requires much water, avoid getting water on the tassels. The pollen from the tassels must fall onto the corn silk to produce kernels, and if pollination does not occur, all that will grow is the cob. Weed early and keep the weeds cut back. Remember that corn has shallow roots, and a vigorous attack on the weeds may destroy the crop.

Harvesting Corn

From planting to harvest takes 55 to 95 days, depending on the variety and, to some extent, the weather. Harvest your corn when the kernels are soft and plump and the juice is milky.

Types of Corn

A large number of varieties of corn are available to home gardeners. Just a few of the good varieties available are listed below.
  • Early Sunglow, harvest at 63 days, is an early yellow variety that is good for short seasons.
  • Butter & Sugar, harvest at 78 days, produces white and yellow kernels.
  • Illini Xtra-Sweet, harvest at 85 days, has yellow kernels and is good for freezing.
  • Silver Queen, harvest at 92 days, is a very popular white-kernel, sweet, large-ear variety.
  • Sweet Temptation, harvest at 72 days, is a delicious bicolor.
In the next section, we'll talk about selecting and preparing corn.

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