Fanatical food growers like me are always raving on about the superior flavour of home-grown produce… and we’re not joking… all of it is true… and it’s especially the case when it comes to sweet corn. When you eat corn freshly picked from the garden… it’s incredibly sweet, crisp and juicy.
Often I’ll just munch into it then and there and it’s delicious. Any cobs that make it to the kitchen are tossed straight into boiling water where they only spend a few minutes before serving with a little knob of butter and a generous crack of black pepper. It’s the perfect summer lunch for me and the perfect summer crop, because it thrives in the heat, and now that the soil is warming up, it’s prime time to get planting.
One thing you can be sure of, corn loves a well prepared rich organic soil and will gladly accept just about everything you throw at it. So kick off by forking over and loosening your soil to around a spades depth, and then start piling in the good stuff – up to a barrow load of well-aged organic matter per square metre – compost, manure… cow, chicken, horse, sheep, whatever you can lay your hands on – then spread it evenly over the bed.
Don’t forget the blood ‘n’ bone – toss a good handful around every square metre along with a tight fistful of sulphate of potash. Give this all a thorough mixing with a garden fork, then rake over your bed ready for planting.
The best way to plant corn is by sowing seed directly into the soil, but you need to make sure your seed is fresh in order to get a good rate of plants coming up… if you’ve got an old packet lying about that’s more than two years old, forget it, toss it out. The other important thing to remember, you should always plant corn in blocks rather than single rows. The cobs are pollinated by wind, so block planting ensures you get a good even distribution of pollen. I like to mark out my rows by pressing the handle of my garden rake into the soil – about 50 cm apart – then I drag a trowel along the lines to form a groove. After that, it’s just a matter of dropping in your seed along the grooves about 25cm apart, and then filling the rows with soil using the back of your rake. Corn seed can rot easily… so when you water them in… give them a good soaking… then don’t water them again until they’ve come up, which takes about a week or so.
Here’s a great idea you might like to try. You may have heard of ‘the three sisters’– squash, beans and corn – the three main crops of Native American groups. Traditionally they were planted together in mounds… and each plant benefits the other in some way. The corn, planted in the centre provides a structure for the beans to climb on, while the nitrogen fixing beans return nutrients to the soil for others to utilise. Meanwhile, the large leaves of the squash act as living mulch, shading the soil, reducing moisture loss and preventing excessive weed growth. It’s the perfect example of companion planting.