Friday, July 5, 2013

How to Plant Sweet Corn Transplants

How to Plant Sweet Corn Transplants

Over twenty years ago, when I had several community garden plots at the Essex park.  I wanted to grow a heirloom blue corn variety that could be eaten as sweet corn or  ground as corn meal. I had a very limited seed supply (maybe a hundred seeds) and I didn’t want to leave it to the vagaries of direct seeding. So what to do, I decided to start the seeds indoors in several flats and transplant them to the Essex park location. My strategy worked like a champ and I got nearly 100% germination and by hand placing the plants I got a very good stand. I planted the corn in a square block with the plants about a foot apart. I could weed very well between the plants and got great pollination.

This example from an experiment I did many years ago illustrates some key points about growing corn. 

Point one, early spring germination, especially with sweet corn, can be a little bit hit and miss. If you want to increase your confidence level, you can control conditions much better with transplants. That may not be practical on a commercial level, but in the home garden you can do some creative things with transplants that will almost guarantee success.

Point two, good pollination is critical to having a well filled out ear. Planting corn in a block, instead of a long strung out row, helps each plant pollinate their neighbor. In my example the 100 plants would almost be enough to have a viable genetic population. But you don’t have to have that many plants if all you want is good pollination. Maybe 8-10 plants in a block pattern or circle would do.

Point three, good weed control is essential and you need a little room to work around the plants. Better to weed gently with a shuffle hoe when they are small, than to have to pull big giant weeds and risk pulling out your crop.

If you want to make even better use of your space, plant a few bean plants in the shade of your corn or a winter squash plant. The Native American tribes called this the three sisters - corn, beans and squash. 

You can get sweet corn transplants from us through July 4th at the Rochester Farmers market. We will actually plant a little later than that, but that is a little risky in terms of first frost. The variety we like to mid season in a bi-color (white and yellow) called Ambrosia. I recommend you get at least three starts of three plants each for good pollination.

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