It’s time to plant sweet corn in eastern Kansas/western Missouri, according to the experts. And this year, we’re following the experts’ advice — mostly.
Now that’s a change of pace for me (Mike). Last year I did virtually nothing by the book, and still had a great corn harvest.
The horticulturalists at Kansas State University Research and Extension say the best time to plant sweet corn in our climate is mid-April to early May. For reasons explained in this post from 2010, I didn’t get last year’s crop in until almost mid- May
The experts claim that you should work 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizer into the soil before planting at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet, and also that you should add more fertilizer later. Uh, but Roxie and I don’t use chemical fertilizers, so that’s something I didn’t do and won’t do this year, either.
Corn needs plenty of water, too, an inch to an inch and a half a week. If it doesn’t rain, then soak the soil until moisture has penetrated 12 to 18 inches. Yeah, well, whatever. Some weeks we got no rains, but I never once watered my 20’x20′ stand of sweet corn. Despite that, our crop was bountiful (something like 150 ears) and came in two weeks ahead of schedule. The seed packets said 88 days to maturity, yet we were eating corn on the cob 70 days after planting.
Who knows why? Maybe the weather conditions were freakishly favorable last summer for tardy and lackadaisical sweet corn growers. Maybe I planted during a waning moon, or is a waxing moon better? Like I can keep that straight. As Roxie observed in the previous post, who has the time or energy to fool with biodynamics?
(Deer bladder? Really?)
To be on the safe side, I’m chalking up last year’s success to dumb luck. No fooling around in 2011, especially since our satellite plot at the community garden is going to cost us $20 this year as opposed to last year’s price of “free.”
So in the next few days I’ll be planting corn. You, too? For best results, plant kernels (soak them first for best germination) 1 to 2 inches deep and as much as a foot a part. Or plant closer and thin to a foot or 8 inches.
Rows should be 3 feet apart. That right there tells you that corn takes up a lot of space. Some gardeners try to get around that by planting one long row along a border.
Don’t do that. For good pollination (that’s what produces those luscious ears) it’s best to plant corn in blocks of no fewer than four rows. That way pollen from the tassels has an easier time finding its way to the silks in the leaves along the stalks where the ears are produced.
You might get away with having just a few plants in a long row if you had the patience to hand pollinate. I’ve never tried it and don’t intend to, but see this article in the Lawrence Journal-World for details.
That same article discusses hazards of having two different varieties of corn planted in close proximity. As in closer than 50 feet. Cross pollination can ruin a corn crop, resulting in ears that have a disappointing taste, misshapen kernels and other bad stuff. Though if the two varieties are on different schedules for pollination, such disasters can be avoided. But why chance it?
So we’re coordinating with a couple of our neighbors in the community garden. Rox and I were open to plant just about any variety that the others wanted to try. Sugar enhanced, super sweet and the new triple sweet varieties are very popular these days.
But based on the success we had last year with silver queen — a regular sweet hybrid with white kernels — both Ann and Anne Marie said they’ll grow that variety this year, too.
One benefit of having my entire plot given over to corn is that I may try to follow the experts’ advice this year by staggering my planting. Plant four rows at a time (remember, the minimum block, our vaunted experts say), then wait a week and plant another four. Repeat. If you’re using seeds with the same days to maturity, this allows for a somewhat continuous harvest, rather than having the whole crop need picking all at once.
Staggered plantings also gets around the dreaded cross-pollination problem discussed above, as long as you time the maturities just right.
Roxie, however, wasn’t particularly keen on this when I mentioned it to her. She’d just as soon get the corn harvest over at once, she said, rather than have to stretch the processing out over a period of weeks.
Which means, if I’m going to follow through with my plan, it’s only fair for me to volunteer to do that job. Any corn we can’t eat fresh goes in the freezer. That means blanching the ears, slicing the kernels off the cobs and stuffing corn into freezer bags.
There, I said it. And somehow I have a feeling that Roxie will remind me of this should I forget between now and July.
Posted by: Mike