Planting Corn

January 20, 2011 at 11:31 am Leave a comment

Planting corn is an ancient and sacred skill that can change your life and your understanding of your place in the cosmos.  It is a long and involved task that takes most of the planting season but yields an astonishing amount of food and other useful materials.  Corn is one of the few agricultural crops that does not self seed, meaning that it is completely dependent on humans for it to grow, similarly, many cultures are dependent on corn for food, fuel and fibers.  A symbiotic relationship has developed between humans and corn in the past several thousand years.  There are thousands of different varieties of corn each with its own distinct size, color, ear size, kernel shape, weather preferences, and best preparation methods.  There are almost as many ways to plant corn as there are types of corn, each with its own set of advantages that are best suited to a certain climate and soil type.  Some cultures plant in rows, others plant in circles, some plant in bunches.  Some methods include co-planting with beans and or squash.  Some hearty desert corn varieties must planted as deep as two feet to ensure a constant moisture in harsh conditions.  For these reasons it is helpful to have a teacher to show you the intricacies of this cultural knowledge.  For generations the knowledge of planting corn was disseminated through the oral tradition, from elder to pupil to ensure proper transmission of the complex skills involved.  By finding a teacher you too can take part in the beauty of heirloom corn planting .

However, teachers may be hard to come by.  For this we are offering a simple step by step online guide to planting.


Corn must be planted after the last danger of major frost. February in southern regions, march or april in most places, but as late as June in cold areas.  Planting later than June will most likely give unsatisfactory results, since the corn will not have the time it needs to fully develop before the cold weather returns.

Preparing the soil

Corn likes well worked loamy sand that is well drained.  If you don’t have this or don’t know what it is, don’t fret; corn is a very hardy plant that will grow just about anywhere there is a human to help take care of it.  Also make sure your parcel has as much sun as possible, sun is the energy source for your miracle food, so the more sun you have the better.  Begin by removing all the large weeds, stones, and other debris from your plot.  A light cover of softer weedy plants can be mulched into the soil to build up the soil.  These weeds will be decomposed by soil microbes leaving behind rich nitrogen compounds for your plants.  Using a shovel turn the soil over and break up any large clumps.  Do this in a row until you reach the end of your parcel.  Move to the next row and repeat, dumping the soil into the trench created by your previous row.  This mixes the soil and aerates it while softening it so the roots can grow easily.

Making The Rows

Once you have turned the soil for the plot you are ready to prepare your rows.  Corn should be planted in a block rather than a single row.  This allows the male flowers to pollinate the female silks so you get ears that are full of kernels.  If you plant a single row you will get poor pollination and ears with only a few spotty kernels.  Each row should be 18 inches apart, this gives enough space to walk through, since you will need to pass through the rows to clean and harvest.  Using a string and some stakes, mark out your first line as straight as possible.  using a hoe, dip down a few inches into the soil and make a small furrow 3 inches deep the length of your row.  Move your stakes and string and make your next row, making sure to keep your rows parallel.  Continue until you have marked out all of your rows.

Planting the kernels

Once you have marked out your rows you are ready to plant.  Walk down the rows and place 4 kernels in the furrow every 3 feet, don’t cover them yet.  Go to the next row and do the same, but line the kernels up with the middle of the 3 foot gap from the previous row.  You want your corn to alternate from row to row.  This gives you an 18 inch radius of open space around each plant.  Once you have done all of your rows go back and cover the furrows and make them level with the rest of the parcel.  Ideally you will use the spring or summer rains to water your corn in the beginning.  If this is not an option, carefully flood your parcel and soak the soil evenly.  Avoid spraying because this can move your carefully planted seeds.


In several days you will begin to see your little corn plants sprouting up from the soil.  Keep the soil damp but not soaked for several weeks.  If you are lucky, the rains will do most of the watering for you in the beginning.  If it goes more than two weeks without rain you should probably water.


The corn will continue to grow taller each day with the power of the sun.  Also you will surely seeds little weeds beginning to sprout in your parcel, don’t worry this is normal and easily corrected.  Any large or burly looking weeds should be pulled by hand and removed.  Smaller weeds can be taken care of with a hoe.  using the hoe, uproot the weeds and bury them.  This will kill the weed and feed your happy soil building microbes.

Making mounds

Once the corn is around 1 foot tall it is time to make your mounds.  You may have noticed corn plants growing on top of long mounded rows.  This comes from the way the soil is worked after planting.  Start at the beginning of your first row with a regular garden hoe.  Moving backwards gently use the hoe to uproot weeds and a little soil.  Pull them towards the row, being careful not to disturb your little corn plants.  You should be digging up a little soil from the area between your rows and mounding it up onto the row where your corn is planted.  This does many wondrous things including aiding water flow, reducing weeds, building soil, and stabilizing your corn plants from wind.  Do this 3 or 4 times during the growing season.  Once your rows are made watering can be done by running water down each row and flooding it.  Doing this for the whole parcel will allow the water to soak in near the roots.

Co-planting with beans

If you are planting beans with your corn you must plant the beans when the corn is knee high.  This will give the corn a headstart so that it does not get strangled by the beans.  At the base of each plant on one side, bury 2 to 4 beans a few inches from your established corn plant.  These beans should be about 2 inches deep.  Cover the beans, and repeat until all the corn plants have beans planted next to them.  Water the field by flooding the rows(or plant a few days before a light spring rain).  In a few weeks when the beans begin to get going train the vines onto the corn plant by lightly wrapping them.  This will help them find their support and get right to the business of growing.


Depending on the type of corn you planted and how you want to eat it you harvest the ears at different times.  Generally the rule of thumb for all types of harvesting is this: when it looks about the right size and color its time to harvest.  Use your best judgment and don’t be afraid to harvest one to see if its ready yet.  The silk is a good indicator of the corn’s readiness.  When the silk is fresh and healthy looking, the corn is not ready.  As the silk begins to dry it is time to eat the corn fresh.  When the silks are very dry the corn is pas and can be used dry for pozole or tortillas.

Saving seeds

Fully dried ears of corn should be saved for next years planting.  Each row on the ear represents about one row in your garden so only a few ears are needed to plant the whole garden.  To take part in the process of evolution and natural selection that makes heirloom gardening work, choose the biggest healthiest ears for their seeds.


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2011 Planting Season Winter Planting

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