Experience is the best way to determine how much of any vegetable to grow as personal preferences and consumption rates vary wildly from one household to the next. However, this is no help to the beginning gardener. So extension agencies have developed basic guidelines to help gardeners determine how much to plant. To provide 40 ears of corn per person during the growing season, for example, gardeners should sow 240 stalks of sweet corn to feed a family of six, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Sweet corn takes up vast amounts of garden space; depending on the variety, a single 10-foot stalk might yield only one ear of corn. However, if there is room, the sweet, crisp taste of fresh corn is worth the effort. The sugar in sweet corn begins converting to starch the moment it is harvested. The faster it gets tossed into the pot, the more sweetly delicious the finished product is. Nothing bought in a store compares to the flavor of ears pulled directly from the garden. Homegrown corn can be traditional yellow or gardeners can plant stalks that will produce ears of white, bi-color, red or black.
Corn is heat-loving by nature and should not be planted until the average soil temperature reaches at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit; this usually means around the average date of the final frost. Sow the seeds 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart. To encourage pollination, replace traditional garden rows with mass plantings or blocks of seedlings. For example, rather than planting 16 seeds in a single, long row, sow them in a square creating 4 short rows of 4 seeds each. When seedlings are approximately 2 inches tall, thin the plot, leaving 1 foot of space between plants.
Each mature stalk of corn produces one or two full-sized ears of corn, although many varieties will produce a small, but edible, third ear near the base of the stalk. On average, for every 10 feet of garden space, gardeners can expect to harvest 10 to 20 full-sized ears of corn. This means that a family of six will have to dedicate 240 feet of garden space to corn to ensure an adequate yield.
There are many factors that can influence the amount of food a garden yields each year: weather, climate, diseases and pests, to name a few. One way to foster greater productivity is to choose high-yield sweet corns, such as "Jubilee" or "Trucker's Favorite." Not only do these ears fill out well, they also retain much of their flavor when processed for long-term storage. Additionally, in warmer climates, gardeners often can plant corn in the early spring and again in the early fall, squeezing two harvests out of a single season. In all areas, the harvest can be prolonged by planting blocks of corn every two weeks from spring until midsummer, or by planting several varieties at the same time, provided they mature at different rates.
- Clemson Cooperative Extension; Sweet Corn; Karen Russ; April 2003
- "New Complete Guide to Gardening"; Susan A. Roth; 1997
- Virginia Cooperative Extension; Sweet Corn; Diane Relf, et al; May 2009
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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