Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Growing Sweet Corn for the Very First Time

Getting Started
With 6 - 4' x4' grow boxes I felt there was plenty of room in my square foot garden for a box just dedicated to growing sweet corn.  I ordered "Country Gentleman", an heirloom, shoe peg white corn from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.  According to the chart from the AgriLife Extension,  I could plant corn in my part of Texas anytime in March, so I planted on March 17th.  Although the typical planting instructions for corn is one seed kernel per square foot, in a square foot garden you can plant four kernels per square foot.  

                                                                                                Outsmarting the Critters
I had read that birds and squirrels love newly sprouted corn and will gorge themselves on the fresh sprouts as they  begin to poke through the soil.  I had previously built chicken wire covers for just such an occasion and after carefully planting half of my 4' x 4' square I placed the cover over the box.  It worked like a charm.  My corn sprouted and grew to the height of the cover without any birds or squirrels helping themselves to the tender plants.  I planted the second half of the grow box the following week as I didn't want to have all the corn ready at the same time.  Next year, I'll probably start planting earlier (weather permitting) and plant the second half of the box two weeks later instead of one week later.

Kitchen Skewers for Pest Control
It has been fascinating to watch the stalks grow taller and taller, seemingly overnight, after each watering.  I found that some of the leaves on three of the plants were being eaten and after careful examination found the little green worms causing the problem.  They had wedged themselves deep into the curls of the new growth and were hard to just pick out and destroy.  I found that a long wooden skewer from the kitchen, commonly used for shiskabob, was long enough and sharp enough to move the worm to within range of destruction.   

Natural Disaster Flattens Corn
About two weeks ago, we had a very heavy rain storm, with a great deal of wind, during the night; when I got up the next morning my tall, beautiful stalks had been knocked down flat to the ground.  They weren't broken off, just pushed down by the wind and heavy rain.  I should have taken a picture but I was more concerned about getting them back up then photography.   I propped up what stalks I could but there were really too many to tip back up without support.  I built a PVC frame structure around the outside of my grow box, using those green stakes from the gardening department to hold the PVC in place.  Then I wrapped a sturdy rope about 3 feet from the ground around each of the vertical legs of the frame so that the corn would have something to lean against.  It took several days to get everything back up again.  Some of the bigger stalks needed to have additional support, which I provided by pushing thin bamboo stakes from the garden center into the soil near the base of the stalk and tying the stalk to the bamboo.  I am pleased to say every thing is now back to the way it was before the storm.

Things I've Learned Thus Far
I've learned that the flowering part of the corn stalk appears first, followed about a week later by a purple tassel of corn silk along the middle of the stalk.  According to the Master Gardeners at the extension service, corn is usually pollinated by the wind.  Every so often I've gone out and shook a stalk or two in hopes that the ears will pollinate more fully and completely.  I haven't picked anything yet but I hope to be able to do so soon.

And here is the product of my labors.

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