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How to Grow Organic Corn in Your Garden

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how to grow organic corn

A corn tassel.

Normanack, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.

A drive through rural areas of my home state of Michigan during late summer will result in mile after mile of driving past corn fields. August and September means plenty of fresh corn at farm stands and farmers' markets. And it's delicious! But the way to eat the best corn you've ever tasted is to grow your own. You want to eat corn as soon as possible after it has been harvested; the sugar content in corn kernels starts decreasing (turning into starch) as soon as its picked. So, for the sweetest corn, you'll want to cook and eat your corn within hours (maybe even minutes) of harvesting.

Growing organic corn in your garden is not difficult. Here's how to do it.

Where to Grow Corn

Corn requires a full six to eight (the more, the better) hours of sun. It grow well in just about all climate zones, though it may struggle in the short growing seasons found in zone 3 and lower. In these areas, you can try a short season variety to increase your chance at a harvest. Plant successive crops, every 10 to 14 days until about 3 months before your first fall frost, to ensure an extended harvest.

Corn is fairly tolerant of different soil types, so clay or sandy soil aren't a huge problem when growing corn. However, it does require plenty of nutrients. Be sure to add plenty of compost and composted manure to the area before planting your corn.

Planting Corn

Direct sow corn in your garden after your last spring frost date, after your soil has warmed to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Corn planted in cold soil results in poor germination due to rot. Plant your corn one inch deep, and eight to ten inches apart. It's best to sow your corn in blocks rather than a long row or two. This increases yields, because pollination is easier. (Corn is pollinated by pollen from the tassels falling on the newly-forming silks of the ears.)

Growing Organic Corn

The biggest thing to keep in mind when growing corn is that it is a nutrient hog! Corn stalks grow so quickly, and require lots of nutrients to maintain that strong growth. Planting in soil enriched with manure and compost is an essential first step, but you'll also have to supplement that during the growing season with additional feedings. Fertilize corn with fish emulsion or compost tea one month after planting, and again when the tassels appear.

Adequate water is also important. The most critical stages for making sure your corn is getting enough water are when they're first starting to grow and regularly once the tassels appear. In general, corn needs at least one inch of water per week, more in very hot weather.

Corn Pests and Problems

Corn Earworm

Corn earworms are the most common pest corn growers have to deal with. You can control corn earworms by dusting your plants with Bt and inspecting the newly-forming cobs and hand picking any earworms you see.

Hand Pollinating

Another common problem is inadequate pollination. This can result in having no ears form on your plants, or, perhaps more commonly, ears of corn that are only partially full of kernels. You can prevent this by hand-pollinating your corn. Simply strip the pollen from the tassels and apply a bit of it to any of the silks forming on your plants. You should pollinate as soon as the silks appear, and continue to do it every day for three to four days thereafter to ensure good pollination.

Recommended Corn Varieties

The best corn to grow varies by location; in short season climates, you'll want to look for short season varieties such as 'Golden Bantam Improved' (70 - 80 days to maturity), 'Seneca Horizon' (65 days to maturity), 'Spring Treat' (60 days), or 'Polka' (60 days).

Those gardeners with a longer season may want to try 'Country Gentleman,' a delicious heirloom variety, 'Double Standard,' 'Stowell's Evergreen,' or 'Thompson Prolific.'

Learn more about when to harvest corn in your garden.

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