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BONNIE'S GARDEN--A-maize-ing Maize

I think one of the greatest delicacies of summer is fresh-picked corn.  I’ll eat it on the cob.  I’ll brush it with chili/lime butter and grill it (yum); I’ll cut it off the cob and mixed it with fresh butterbeans (butterbeans and corn, double yum).  There are not many ways to mess it up.  Grandma always said to get the water boiling then go pick the corn, but there are now sugary-enhanced (SE) varieties which will hold their sweetness for a few days after picking.  Still, fresher is always better.  If you grow your own, that's as fresh as it gets.

Corn is truly American.  There is evidence that Olmec and Mayan Indians were growing it as far back as 7500 to 12,000 years ago.  It made its way to southern North American, particularly Arizona and New Mexico , where it was grown by Native Americans in the “Three Sisters” combination of corn, beans, and squash.  The corn supplied support for the beans.  The beans, in turn, helped to anchor the shallow-rooted corn, as well as enriching the soil with nitrogen.  The squash shaded the soil which helped to retain moisture, as well as keeping the weeds down.

Today, corn is the most widely grown grain in the Americas.  About 40% is used to make grain ethanol, which is mixed with gasoline to reduce pollutants.  About 85% of the corn grown in the U. S. is genetically modified—another really good reason for growing your own.

To grow your own corn, choose an area that is at least 4 foot or more square.  Because corn is pollinated by wind, you get more even pollination when corn is planted in four short rows rather than one or two long skinny rows.  Corn prefers full sun so make sure your plot is not shaded by nearby trees or buildings.  Check the pH of your soil to be sure it is between 6.0 and 6.7.  Adjust, if necessary.

Like beans, corn hates cool soil so wait until soil temperatures are at least 65 to 70 degrees—usually mid to end May here in Central Virginia.  Sow seeds one inch deep and four to six inches apart, thinning to 10 to 12 inches apart when four inches high.  When soil has warmed sufficiently (around June 1) mulch to hold in moisture and keep weeds down.  Corn likes evenly moist soil so plan on watering mature corn at least one inch of water once a week.  In the beginning, you’ll need to water small seedlings more often, of course.  Do not water from the top as this can wash off pollen.

If you’re growing more than one variety of corn, plan on keeping them separated by at least 400 yards.  They will cross-pollinate readily.

Corn likes rich soil so work in plenty of compost and composted manures before you plant.  After the corn sprouts, feed again when around six inches tall and again when corn is knee-high.  A liquid fish emulsion/seaweed blend works well but any organic granular fertilizer like Garden-tone will do.

When husks are dark green and silks are brown and dry (usually around three weeks after silks appear) and when the top kernels spurt “milk” when pressed when a fingernail, the corn is ready to be harvested.  Varieties marked “se” (for sugary enhanced) or “shr-2” (for “shrunken”—pertaining to the shrunken appearance of the dried kernels) will hold their sweetness a few days.  Varieties marked “su” are regular sweet corn and should be eaten soon after picking for best flavor.

If you don’t have the space to grow your own, then shop your local farmer's market in season.  That way you’ll be getting corn that was picked last night instead of last week.  Our Market runs every Thursday from 10 until 2 in the parking lot of The Great Big Greenhouse.





Posted: 5/12/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
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