I’m attempting to grow corn for the first time this year. Corn is a bit of a gamble in Seattle because we don’t exactly have hot summers or soil that warms up quickly in spring. What we do have is a thriving population of corn-snatching urban raccoons.
I decided to hedge my bets and sent an email to Bruce Swee, who I used to garden next to at the Interbay P-Patch. Bruce is a seasoned corn grower and he kindly shared some very helpful tips that he learned over the years from another Interbay gardener, Fred Nollan. Even if you don’t garden in the Pacific Northwest, this is great advice!
1. Build Rich Soil. I dug in a 2-inch layer of compost into my soil and then followed Bruce and Fred’s recommendation of working in a good granulated fish fertilizer into the soil before planting.
2. Pre-sprout the seeds. Corn likes to germinate in warm soil, so Bruce recommended pre-sprouting the seeds before planting them, because once the seeds sprout they can handle cooler conditions. He sprouts his by soaking them in water. I sprinkled my seeds on to a paper napkin, soaked the napkin in water, and then stuck it in a plastic bag. They formed roots in just 2 days!
3. Plant in a furrow. Gently place the sprouted seeds in the bottom of a 4 to 6 inch deep furrow, space them about 3 inches apart. Cover the seeds with an inch of soil, water them in well, and then place clear plastic over the top of the furrows (the plastic should be 1 to 2 inches above the seeds). Bruce and Fred recommend the plastic because it builds heat and humidity around the germinating seeds. They leave the plastic in place until the seedlings are well-established (just don’t forget to water under there), then they pull it off. As the corn grows, you can backfill the furrow with soil to help support the plants. You will also need to thin the seedlings to about 8 inches apart.
4. Hand-pollinate. Bruce says its best to pollinate by hand if, like me, you are only growing one or two rows of corn. When the corn’s tassels begin to shed pollen, cut off a tassel or two and brush them against the silks on each ear, making sure that you get plenty of pollen on the silks.
5. Install Critter Protection. Bruce and Fred protect their ears of corn from sneaky raccoons, rats, and possums by placing what they call a Corn Cozy over each ear. A Corn Cozy is basically a cob shaped sleeve made of ¼ inch hardware cloth that they slip over each ear when they are close to maturity.
I just got my pre-sprouted seeds in the ground last evening. I’ll report back on their progress throughout this growing season!