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Is Corn Worth Growing on Small Plots?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 32
Location: Oregon
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I have perhaps 25 sq yards in my urban lot that I was hoping to allocate to some sort of field crop, and corn comes to mind. However, I'm not sure the yields of 2 ears a stalk are good enough for it to be worth my time, especially since corn is a heavy feeder and I have no idea if my soil will be able to support them year after year. The soil has been primed by cover crops of clover and pea, so I'd assume it's fairly ready to go for something more intensive now. My original plan was a 3 sisters type setup with adequate spacing to have each corn plant yield its fullest, and enough sun for the squash and beans. Now, I'm not so sure.

Also, I intended to plant sweet corn only.

I am very low budget, with no more funds for compost or chips. I was hoping to mow the clover right now and place cardboard over-top cutting holes for planting my trios. I was not going to till at all. I simply don't have much time or resources available. I'm afraid corn will cost too much in manure/compost, water and space to yield a good return. Thinking about just broadcasting beans or tomatillos, as both seem like easier, more efficient fruiters. Thoughts?
 
pollinator
Posts: 1452
Location: northern California
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Remember that the original Three Sisters design and it's relatives mostly assume corn, beans, and winter squash being grown for dry, storable yields of dry corn and beans and mature squash.  Often the entire plot is left till first frost and all the produce harvested at once.  The bean and squash vines tangle everything together and it becomes a dense, weed-suppressing jungle.  This method of stacking crops has several advantages, but they might not be the things you want to grow.  Something like sweet corn or pole beans (for green beans) or summer squash would require repeated easy access to the interior of the plot.  You could lay out pathways for this, but then you will then lose more precious space.  I would not just broadcast anything, especially over sheetmulch or without any tillage.  A small area is best managed intensively for good yields.  Salad crops, other vegetables, and root crops might be your best bets.
 
garden master
Posts: 204
Location: Morongo Valley
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I think it depends on how much you love corn, and how much you want to avoid the problems of store-bought corn.  For me, it's totally worth it, even being a heavy feeder.  I love sweet corn and non-sweet varieties, but in limited space I focus on sweet corn and buy my dried cornmeal ground and pre-sprouted.

My husband and I love a little fresh sweet corn every year. It's like strawberries to us, a lovely fruit that has no substitute.  We usually eat it fresh, rarely cooked.  I don't understand the point of cooking it. I also greatly enjoy and use the corn silk, the dogs like to chew the cobs, the guinea pigs eat the corn husks, and finally I pull the whole plant and give the guinea pigs who devour the leaves and stems. Every bit of the plant gets full use.  If I got an edible smut growing on it, I'd be tickled pink and eat that too.  The smut is called huitlacoche, or Mexican truffles, and is a fungal delicacy.

Here's an article on eating corn smut, and a quote from it that is very interesting:

Corn Smut -Huitlacoche -on Green Deane's Eat The Weeds

The Aztecs intentionally inoculated their corn with spores by scratching the base of corn stalk with a soil-smeared knife. In Midwest America hail scratches corn plants allowing spores to enter. The fungus can live up to three years in the soil. The intentional infection is usually manifests itself ten days to two weeks later.   - Green Deane, Eat the Weeds



And a picture from Green Deane's site:


So I supposed the question of whether it's worth growing in small plots depends on taste.  :-)  It's another "strawberry" to me, as in something so amazing fresh (versus store-bought) I don't want to miss it.  A friend of mine whose family was from Illinois told me that her grandfather used to tell her:

Go pick us some sweet corn for dinner.  Run back.  If you trip and fall on your way, drop'em and go back for others.



I suppose that was both a testament to the great taste of really, really fresh sweet corn, and also to the fact that it does not store!  The moment it's picked, supposedly the sugars start turning into starches... I haven't tested this though.  We always eat it too fast to find out.

 
master steward
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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When I was something like 14, and my brother 17, I was exploring Microsoft Encarta (like wikipedia or an encyclopedia, but on a CD) and ran across pictures of corn smut. It looked so gross, that I decided that I should make my brother come see it, too. Of course, I had to be sarcastic about it, to lure him over to my computer. I also had never heard the word "smut" before, and figured he never had either. So, I went over to his room and told him "You gotta come over to my room and look at my computer. I just found the most amazing, beautiful glorious thing ever. It's called smut! You must see it!" He gave me the weirdest look, so I figured I needed to up my sarcasm and continued enthusing about how lovely and amazing this smut on my computer was and he really needed to come and see it. He finally, warily, came over to my room (probably very concerned for his little sister's sanity) and saw the corn smut on my computer. He then proceeded to tell me what smut ALSO meant. My poor, poor brother!

Aaaanyway, this is my first year growing corn, since my son wants to grow some. Who am I to tell my four year old he can't grow corn? Of course, I don't really have garden bed space ready, so I tried double digging a bed...only to find a  power conduit wire the previous owner had buried only 8 inches deep. So, now I've got to find another place to grow corn!

But, I do think it's worth it to grow corn, even if you only have 20 or so stalks. Growing up, my mom would have three or four rows, about 4 feet wide, of corn. Probably not more than 30 stalks The only time we ever ate corn, was when mom grew it, and it really was delightful to eat her marvelous corn. Though I wasn't intending to grow corn, I'm rather hoping I succeed, so I can enjoy some fresh corn on the cob!
 
pollinator
Posts: 967
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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For good pollination, you need to plant at least two rows, and preferably 3.  It grows best when you've got a critical mass of plants, brushing up against one another and spreading pollen all around.  Thus, it's going to take up space.  Further, if you want an ongoing crop of corn throughout the summer, you'll need to continually plant every week or so.  Our family LOVES sweet corn, so I plant about 14 to 20 new plants every week from April till June.  We continually harvest it throughout the summer.  If you don't have that kind of space, then it's probably smarter to just buy a couple of ears of corn at the store every couple of days.
 
Posts: 533
Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
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Try 16 plants laid out in 4 rows of four. Space them 2ft apart. You will probably only get one ear per plant but should be fine. When harvested either do another 4x4 in a different place or have a break from corn for 6mths.
 
Posts: 46
Location: North Coast Dominican Republic
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Kim Goodwin wrote:
So I supposed the question of whether it's worth growing in small plots depends on taste.  :-)  It's another "strawberry" to me, as in something so amazing fresh (versus store-bought) I don't want to miss it.  A friend of mine whose family was from Illinois told me that her grandfather used to tell her:

Go pick us some sweet corn for dinner.  Run back.  If you trip and fall on your way, drop'em and go back for others.



I suppose that was both a testament to the great taste of really, really fresh sweet corn, and also to the fact that it does not store!  The moment it's picked, supposedly the sugars start turning into starches... I haven't tested this though.  We always eat it too fast to find out.



Now, I know that the seed saving ethos favors open-pollinated and heirloom varieties, but it should be noted that the above is the reason for the preponderance today of hybrid sweet corn. The "Sugar Extender" hybrids, for instance, are designed to retain their sugar content in transport and storage. What comes down to is: are you a seed saver, or do you buy your seeds new every year? Hybrid seeds cannot be used in a seed saving system; but those who buy their seeds new every year need not avoid hybrids per se.
 
gardener
Posts: 3538
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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My experience with corn, is that it produces a tremendous amount of biomass. If you remove the biomass from the land, then soil fertility will suffer unless it is replaced. If the stalks stay where they grew, then they contribute a lot of fertility to next year's crop. It's looking like the older landraces of corn may be providing good growing conditions for nitrogen fixing microbes.

I expect 225 cobs of corn from 25 square yards. I recommend a spacing of 2.25 to 2.5 square feet per plant, which is around 90 to 100 plants in that space.

My strategy for creating a continuous harvest of corn, is to plant the succeeding patch, when the previously planted patch is 3 inches tall.

Corn is a tall vigorous plant that thrives with minimal weeding. Beans and tomatillos don't compete as well with weeds.
Growing sweet corn would produce about 22,000 kCalories of food, and 800 grams of protein.
Growing pinto beans would produce about  9,000 kCalories of food, and 600 grams of protein.
Tomatillos are perishable. I don't have a clue how I would eat, bottle, preserve, sell, or give away that many tomatillos.


 
Kim Goodwin
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Posts: 204
Location: Morongo Valley
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Jason makes a point above.  Which is why I'd like to plug Baker Creek Seeds, and their heirloom sweet corn varieties.  Here's a link to their current corn listings, where I counted 7 or so sweet varieties:  https://www.rareseeds.com/search/?keyword=corn

They have a gorgeous corn selection...  beautiful varieties with lots of genetics to play with.
 
Posts: 325
Location: SW PA USA zone 6a altitude 1188ft
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I've guerilla gardened one packet of country gentlemen for two years in the same approximate spot. The second year I used seed saved from what I grew in year one. I mowed the weedy grass and punched holes in the ground with a sharpened tree branch and dropped a seed in the hole. Most drops required a little putting to get the seed down the hole. That was it for site preparation and maintenance. I never weeded, watered,  or fertilized. The results were mediocre the first year and very poor the second year. I planted about a foot apart in one foot wide rows. After year one I let one cob dry out and pulled the kernels off by wrenching the cob with my two hands. Got one cob per plant, at best.

Country Gentleman is a white corn with shoepeg kernels, which means the kernels grow scattered on the cob, without any rows. This is the corn used to can white creamed corn. I thought the corn was fairly good, but my wife wouldn't try it. It would have been much better if I'd put a little effort into the project, but I didn't want to make the project look anymore possessive than I had to. It also might have been better if the topsoil hadn't been bulldozed into the foundation of the house that used to be there.

From the stalks grown the first year I tied some to the mailbox post in the fall. My wife was embarrassed. The plants are short to begin with, I think. But these weren't very hardy stalks.
 
Posts: 78
Location: South of Capricorn
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I (try to) grow sweet corn every year in my very small urban garden. It can't be bought where I am, so I grow it for love. I have done patches, with varying success, this year am doing some variations on three sisters and also trying some interspersing with rabbit fodder (rye). I'm resigned to assisting in pollinating, since I know I need more plants closer than the 4-per-hill I have.

This is the first year I am using the rabbit manure and so far the results are pretty good. In the past I have planted with half a fish in the hole, and gotten really good results. other years the rain has knocked down my plants, or they've just been spindly and the ears tiny. Right now I have about 18 plants of some kind of early-cold-dirt-hardy hybrid someone gave me in the ground right now, and batch 2 is starting in the seed trays (country gentleman).
 
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https://permies.com/wiki/92731/fiber-arts/Homegrown-Linen-transforming-flaxseed-fibre
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