Photo: Growing Corn in Small Spaces
Being a veggie gardener sometimes requires us to make choices, at least in the case of those of us with limited space. It could be that you have many more vegetables on your list than your available gardening area will allow, which means having to sacrifice something you’d really like to grow. A good example of something you may wish to grow but think you cannot is corn. Due to the height it achieves, you might worry that it may cast shade on other veggies in dire need of sunlight, thus corn could wind up getting passed over when the time comes to plant. It does not have to be that way, however, as it actually is possible to grow corn even when you have limited area in which to do so; it just might take some extra work to bring it along.
The first thing to consider when growing corn is how and when to plant it. For starters, corn is going to require good placement, not just for its own benefit but so as to avoid shading other plants. It should be planted when temperatures have reached the high 60’s because it does not thrive in soil that is too cool in temperature. Also, due to pollination needs, corn should be planted in a block, be it square or circular, but not in a single row which inhibits pollination. With these conditions in mind, set aside an area for designated corn planting and select the variety you wish to grow. If you wish to grow different varieties, be sure to plant them an ample distance apart as the entire crop can be ruined if different types of corn are able to cross pollinate one another. A good rule of thumb is 25 feet of distance between corn varieties.
Just as different types of corn need distance from one another in order to avoid cross pollination, corn of the same type needs to be planted closely to others of its kind. This is because corn needs to be pollinated in order to produce; corn that is not properly pollinated will be small in size and lack kernels. In order for corn to pollinate successfully, the anthers need to make contact with the silk, which is done by wind; insects truly do not play a role. Since wind is the main driver behind pollination, it helps that plants be close together so that a gentle breeze pushes them to collide, enabling the spread of vital pollen.
In the case of particularly small sections of corn, it is also possible to help things along by hand pollinating since small sections of corn cannot always pollinate optimally. To do this, carefully collect anthers by hand and place them in contact with silk, paying the most attention to corn on the outer edges of your planting area as those come into less contact with pollen laden anthers naturally due to placement. The goal is to get the pollen from the anthers to make contact with the silks. The ideal time to do this is soon after tassels and silks appear as there is only about a week long period before the pollination window closes and your opportunity is lost. Doing this daily for several days when dry weather is present is advised. It is safe to stop once the silks turn brown as that is an indication of successful pollination.
After observing the appearance of brown silks all that is left to do is maintain proper water levels and wait for the time of harvest to arrive. In the meantime, however, do keep in mind that you are not the only one waiting to enjoy it. Various pests may attack corn, such as corn rootworms, and wildlife may find it irresistible as well. Depending on the area you call home, it may be necessary to contain corn in an area fenced with electrical hot wire or similar fence and have other pest control protocols in place.
Although it may require some additional work in the form of hand pollinating, there is no reason to leave corn out of your garden. For a short amount of time each day over the course of about a week, you can give yourself the gift of healthy, robust corn. Just water in accordance with the climate in which you live and enjoy the fruits of your labor.Discuss in our forums