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How to grow sweet corn

How to grow sweet corn
Corn and corn products are a major part of our diet. The average American eats 11 pounds of corn, and very little of that corn is raised organically. Considering the high volume of corn we eat, even small amounts of chemical residue can add up. Yet, for every pound of pesticides and herbicides used in the US, about half of that pound is used on corn! To make a difference, try growing your own earth-friendly and chemical-free corn.

Corn is a quick growing vegetable that can be used in a wide variety of dishes from tortillas and cornbread to roasted corn and colis. It's low maintenance, and can be grown in many different types of soil. Corn was a traditional Native American crop, and in many places it's still grown along with Squash and Beans in an integrated system known as the "Three Sisters". These crops form a synergistic relationship; the protective hairs of squash keep deer and rabbits away, corn forms a trellis for bean poles, and bean poles naturally fertilize the soil with bacteria in their roots.

Organic food has several benefits over conventionally grown crops. Organic corn is free of pesticides that suppress the immune system, accumulate to toxic levels, and can trigger allergic reactions. Organic corn has significantly more antioxidants than other corn: 58.5 percent more. Organic corn also has a lower environmental impact. It uses less water to grow, causes less runoff, and requires uses no petroleum based fertilizers to grow (which cuts oil consumption).

Among gardeners, sweet corn is extremely popular, although some gardens feature popcorn, dent corn, flint corn, or pod corn. There are three main types of sweet corn: Sh2, (supersweet), SUSU (normal sugary), and SESE (sugary enhancer). Sweet corn can also be classified by its color: white, yellow, or bi-colored. Supersweet corn varieties have firm kernels and are very sugary. They are typically not as “creamy” as the other varieties. Most varieties do not store very well and should be eaten within a couple of days. Sugary enhancer varieties have a smooth and buttery texture. For flavor, texture, and ease of growing, this is widely considered the best variety.

There are many different types of sweet corn, and many are acclimated to specific regions. Common cultivars include Pegasus, Treasure, Camelot, Aspen, Silver Queen, Platinum Lady, Seneca Starshine, Sugar Snow, Avalanche, Jubilee Supersweet, Early Xtra Sweet, Challenger Crisp ‘N Sweet, Earlivee, Iochief, Sundance, Seneca Horizon, Golden Cross Bantam, Incredible, Terminator, Maple Sweet, Phenomenal, Hudson, Honey ‘N Pearl, Honey & Cream, Butter & Sugar, BiQueen, Double Delight, and D’Artagnan.

Even though corn started out as a wild plant (Teosinte), humans have transformed corn into a plant that can no longer sow itself. Modern corn requires someone to break the hard, tightly bound cob and plant the seeds. Without human interaction, modern corn would probably cease to exist. As you plant corn kernels, you may want to reflect on how we rely on corn for food, and corn relies on us for propagation.

In your garden, there are many similar instances of interdependence. Corn relies on bacteria in the soil to break up debris and cycle nutrients. Corn also relies on earthworms to aerate the soil, bees to pollinate it's flowers, and predatory insects to eat pests that attack corn. When growing any plant in your garden, you can take advantage of natural checks and balances to get the best result from the system.

A few different insects and diseases attack corn. These include root rot, blight, wireworms / white grubs, corn rootworm beetles, European corn borers, corn earworms, flea beetles, and birds. To control these pests, try planting companion plants like potatoes, peas, broad beans, cucumbers, sunflower, marigold, melon, pumpkin, and squash. Avoid tomato though - it attracts insects that like the taste of corn! Corn smut is a disease that also attacks corn, but some people consider it a delicacy.

Soil is at the root of organic gardening. The soil you use should be rich in organic material, helpful bacterial activity, and positive fungal life. Aerobic bacteria provide the best conditions for young roots to grow, and they also prevent pathogens from getting established in the soil. Helpful fungal communities form symbiotic relationships with plants; they provide nutrients in ready-to-use forms and, in return, plants share some of the energy they capture from sunlight. If your soil ecosystem has been damaged by years of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, it's easy to undo the damage with organic soil treatments. One of the least expensive and most effective soil amendments is compost made from kitchen and yard scraps.

Corn needs plenty of nutrients, but it's root can be damaged by harsh chemical fertilizers. Organic fertilizer will yield the best results. Organic fertilizers are naturally balanced, so there's less chance of root burn, and they release nutrients steadily over a long period of time. To determine if your soil needs fertilizer, you can send a sample in to the nearest University's Agriculture Department, or use a electronic soil tester. The test is also useful to determine the pH of your soil. Corn grows best at slightly acidic pH values of 6.0 to 6.5.

How to grow corn: Plant your seeds approximately one inch deep and space them about a foot apart in each row. If you have sandy soil, you can plant your seeds a little deeper. Planting your corn in groups of four to six rows with 32 inches between rows. This pattern boosts the pollination rate, but corn can also be used as an shade plant around the edges of a garden. Sweet corn requires frequent watering to produce full, healthy ears. Once the tassels appear, you should be watering at least one inch of water per week. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out between waterings, and add compost, mulch, peat moss, or coir if it dries out too quickly. If your area is experiencing particularly hot and dry weather, make sure to compensate and water more frequently. For more growing and harvesting tips, check out the VeggieHarvest page on corn.

As of 2005, only 0.016% of all corn grown in the US is certified organic. That's hardly any corn at all, and we can do better. Even if you don't have much room to grow organic corn, you can plant a small plot or use organic corn as a border crop. Try some today, and see what a difference organic gardening can make!