Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From Seed to Supper: Growing Corn in Arizona

Like many backyard gardeners, my first attempt at growing corn failed miserably, but once I learned the trick (I'll give you a hint--it has to do with pollination), I realized that growing corn doesn't have to be that hard.

According to the University of Arizona planting calendar, you can plant corn from late February through early April, and then again in late July through end of August. But I'll admit that I roll the dice and plant it straight through from March through the end of August. When planting, make sure your soil has lots of nutrients (adding lots of compost or steer manure before planting is a good idea), and plant the seeds about two inches deep. I generally plant mine about every 2-4 inches and thin them later to about every 6-12 inches. 

Corn plants will pop up fast. My seed packets say the seedlings will pop up in 7-14 days, but I usually see seedlings way before that. (I have my seedlings on the same watering schedule as everything else, which right now is 3 days a week for 45 minutes.) Corn is what they call a "heavy feeder" as well, so in addition to making sure you put some manure or compost in the soil when you planted, you might want to fertilize as they are growing as well. I've been adding fish emulsion once a week or so myself.   

 Pretty little corn plants, lined up in a row. (A little pumpkin seedling snuck in there too.)

Here's the "secret trick" I was talking about at the beginning of the post. If you don't properly pollinate your corn, you'll end up with empty ears of corn where there should be kernels. Once you know how to pollinate though, it's not that hard.

Step 1: When the silks are young and fresh, like this:

pull some pollen off the top of one of the corn plants, like this:

Step 2: Sprinkle the pollen on top of the silks. Every silk represents a possible kernel on the cob, so do a really good job!

I really don't know how often you should do this, but my motto is "better safe than sorry," so I do it a few days in a row for each corn cob.

When the silks on top of the corn cob are all dried out and the ear is looking nice and plump, you can test out if it's ready. To test it, pull back the top just a little bit, and stick your finger in a kernel. If milky juice seeps out, it's ready!

But wait! Don't pull it off the plant yet! For the absolute best taste, wait until the absolute last moment to pull that sucker off the plant. (Once you harvest it, the sugars start turning to starch.) You want it to be as sweet as possible. For me at least, that's the whole point of growing corn at home.

Please don't tell me I have to tell you how to eat corn! Corn on the cob with a little butter and chili powder? Corn salad with avocado and tomatoes? Corn salsa? Oh my god, is dinner ready yet? 


Donna T said...

Why don't you do sister planting??

claudette said...

I have tried to do sister planting, but I admit, it hasn't worked for me. I had trouble reaching the beans. I might try again someday.