Conquering Sweet Corn

I'm still working on conquering sweet corn. I have two gardens going this summer, as previously noted. The corn above is in the garden at my house. The corn below is in the garden next to where I grew up. There is quite a difference in the two corn plots, which I can explain rather simply...

I have no idea what I am doing with sweet corn.

How's that?

I have excuses. My Dad never planted sweet corn so I didn't have a chance to watch and learn how he planted it. Last year was the first year I tried to grow my own sweet corn even though I've had a vegetable garden of my own for at least 20 years. I don't always think it is necessary to follow the instructions on the seed packet.

I believe the corn at my house is planted too close together. Since it is a small plot of corn, in a 4' x 8' foot raised bed, I spaced the corn a little (a lot) closer than normal. This is in spite of the problems that I had last summer, which the seed company told me were because my sweet corn was planted too close together. I remembered that when I planted this corn, which is a variety called Bon Appetit from Pinetree Garden Seeds, but that didn't stop me.

I don't always listen very well, even when I am talking to myself.

So when I planted sweet corn at the second garden, I planted the corn in groups of 5 or 6 seeds, spaced about a foot apart. The variety there is Illini Super Sweet. It was the variety that the owner of the garden patch had purchased, and I was happy with it because I think it was the sweet corn variety my aunt recommended I try after reading about my sweet corn struggles last summer. But I think I planted this corn too far apart.

I clearly over compensated on the spacing.

The other difference in the two gardens, besides the spacing, is the amount of watering. I did water my raised bed garden during the 'moderate drought' but we did not water the other garden. So the second garden is struggling a bit (a lot). The beans (not pictured) are soaking up the rain and making a good comeback and are ready to bloom. The corn doesn't look so good, as you can plainly see, but it should still be "knee high by the fourth of July" so I am hopeful.

It will also be quite embarrasing if I don't get at least a few good ears of sweet corn this summer out of one of these gardens, and perhaps a bit of a blow to my overall reputation as a gardener, a well-educated gardener at that.

If these were flowers I was trying to grow, I'd enter Kathy's contest at Cold Climate Gardening and try to win a book. But it's sweet corn. It's sweet corn, which really should not be that hard to successfully grow!


  1. Carol, how ironic that today you posted about your battle with sweet corn while I pulled all my sweet corn out of the ground and threw it into the compost pile. We have had nonstop rain for the last few weeks and it destroyed my crop of peaches and cream... So sad. Good luck with your harvest. I can't wait to hear how it turns out.


  2. Carol, you're right...the raised bed one is planted too tightly. We raise sweet corn every year, we've raised that almost every year since we've been married (32 years!), even if we never grew another thing. Ours isn't looking the greatest this year, but neither are the fields of field corn around here, either.

    The root system of a corn stalk is quite different than that of most plants. They generally are very shallow-rooted, but in times of drought, they dig down deeper to find moisture, and that's what you want them to do. It makes them more stable when the summer storms come along. There's nothing more disappointing than to have a tasseling stand of corn get blown over in a storm.

    It's hard in years like this to find a good balance between watering too much or not enough. The most important time is when it's tasseling out, which ours is doing now, because it's getting ready to shoot ears and you want nice-sized ears with full kernels end-to-end.

    I know it sounds more complicated than it really is - look at the farmers - they aren't out there watering and fussing over their corn crop and they will still get a crop, although this year it's looking like the yields will be down due to the drought.

    I think the biggest thing for you is how you've planted it. We plant each kernal about 4 inches apart, with rows about a foot apart.

    I hope this helps some!

  3. Carol, surely you'll get some joy out of one bed or the other? While I think the corn in your garden "may" be planted a little close, it sure looks healthy! I'll be curious to see the end of this tale! (from one who's never grown corn)

  4. Callie Leary-Works... That's too bad about your corn and all that rain.

    Kylee... Yes, I do think about the farmers. They plant and wait. This is a tough year for them because of the lack of rain. I plan to thin out my thick corn by the weekend to see if it can be saved.

    LostRoses... You are too kind. It *IS* planted to close together. Funny thing, I get joy out of the corn stalks because I think they add some nice height to the garden.

  5. I planted corn this year too, and it's looking okay so far. I agree with you: it's nice to grow corn just for the stalks themselves. I think they're pretty. It's been a couple years since I've tried growing corn. The last time I did, I had several nice ears forming and the stinking squirrels got to them before I did. We'll have to see who wins this year :-)

  6. We don't have space for corn here, and in IL got tired of losing it to the raccoons. Now I wonder if planting it really close together in a block could have saved the center plants, at least?

    I will feel a vicarious thrill when you eat your first golden ear. Better not use the tomato pillow ~ you wouldn't want to get butter all over it!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. Carol - I know zero about corn but I just wanted to ask you if you are as excited as I am about the draft tonight?? I don't think I ever told you but I'm a chicago bulls season ticket holder and since we are picking at number 9 (thank you NY knicks!) we are really looking forward to tonight.

  8. Your Dad, being a farm boy, said corn in a small garden would not work well, as it does not pollinate well. That is why he never tried to grow corn in the back yard. Sherry's husband tries to grow corn and we usually get 1 ear apiece (6) for the season. But it's fun trying

  9. My folks always grew corn, and although I never paid that much attention, it never seemed too troublesome. Their soil was heavy clay though, so moisture-retention and roots anchoring well was a given. Sure hope yours turns out! Seems like we spaced plants about 6" apart, and rows 12" apart...but that's all I remember.

  10. I have never grown corn, the but info here is helpful.

    I'm thinking about rain a lot these days since we're in a severe drought here in Maryland. The farmer who tends our field says the local farmers are joking that we've had all the rain we're going to get this year. (Farmer humor, I suppose.)

  11. You are so funny! That was a great post. I wish I could help with the corn thing, but in addition to a lack of space, I have a severe traumatic childhood earwig (pincher bug) episode that prevents me from growing it. But I look forward to hearing how yours comes out! ~A :-)

  12. Colleen... I hope the squirrels leave your corn alone this year.

    Annie... the tomato pillow is ONLY used for tomatoes! But don't get thrilled yet as I have no tassels or ears yet.

    Gina... I am watching the draft (it just started) but the Pacers have no picks, so I'm watch for a trade!

    Eleanor (Mom)... It is fun trying. I'm hoping for about 6 years, and I'll be happy.

    Lisa... I think the 6" spacing is about right.

    Robin... I read your rant about not getting rain. I hope you get some soon!

    Cottage Magpie... Isn't it funny what we carry over from our childhood?

    Thanks all for the comments, tips, and encouragement!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  13. Carol, I don't think corn is all that easy. My dad grew lots of things (and most well), but corn was not one of them. After a few attempts, I think he gave it up. Besides, isn't that what farmers' markets are for??!

    One year I participated in a co-op (prepaid, of course) and we got six little ears as our corn share for the whole season...meanwhile, the local farmers' market (less than a block away) had scores of huge wonderful ears everyday...

    I love growing things but I have come to the realization that some things I will leave to others...I guess corn is one of them!

    I'm sorry to hear about drought. Sigh. We're supposed to get rain tonight...fingers far, I've seen about five drops.


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