Corn seedlings are ready to plant. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Planting space-hog corn in garden is worth it

Grab a few ears, shuck them right there, toss them into the pot for five minutes, call it dinner

By Mary Lowther

David loves peas, asparagus and Brussels sprouts. The man can’t stand kale but will stand in line for Brussels sprouts; that sort of contradiction can keep a girl awake nights.

I think he inherited it from his Sassenach ancestors, marcher barons and border reivers who spent generations fighting the Scots along Hadrian’s Wall. Deprived of guid Scots cuisine he hadnae choice but to pursue foreign vegetables.

Mind you, his family emigrated to the new world in 1634, which has allowed time enough to acquire a taste for one of its major delicacies: corn, especially the Golden Bantam variety.

Since corn takes up so much room, many gardeners prefer to plant vegetables that produce a greater volume. David has convinced me this is a mistake. Come dinner time one can get the water simmering on the stove, wander into the garden, grab a few ears, shuck them right there, toss them into the pot for five minutes, call it dinner and wait for compliments which are sure to follow. Fresh picked corn may be the ideal delivery vector for butter.

We can sow corn the whole month of June and expect to reap a decent harvest before cold weather sets in. I divide my bed in half for two sowings, two weeks apart, but you could stagger it more than that. I start my seeds indoors, wrapped in a damp cloth tucked into a plastic bag and set somewhere warm to germinate. Once roots develop I pot them. When they’re a couple of inches high I set them outside for a few hours each day to inure them to the elements and after about five days I transplant them into the garden.

I dig a hole for each plant one foot apart, toss one third of a cup of organic fertilizer into the hole and mix that in. I fill the hole with water and plant the seedling into it, carefully bringing in the surrounding soil and patting it firmly around the seedling. Once the seedlings have filled half the bed, I cover them with spun cloth cover to keep birds from pulling out the seedlings. I learned the hard way. I’ve also learned to hide my packets of seeds when sowing outside ever since a crow flew down, grabbed my packet on the ground beside me and flew away, cawing with derision.

Once the corn has developed strong roots about a week later, I remove the cover, weed and lay down soaker hoses. The next batch of corn goes in the same way and once they’re all well on their way I put tall stakes along the perimeter and tie a few lengths of strong twine around the stakes. This keeps them from being blown over by anything short of Hurricane Hilda. I learned that the hard way too.

I plant a squash at both ends of the bed and encourage them to wind around the corn because the sharp hairs on their stems keep raccoons out of the patch. Every two to three weeks I side dress with fertilizer: sprinkle a layer along each side of the row, scratch it in a bit and spray some water on that to encourage micro organisms to carry it down into the soil.

In the weeks between, I spray with compost tea. If I want to save seed I tag two or three of the best ears and let them stay on the stalk until I need to clear the bed so they can absorb as much nourishment from the plant as possible. I take the ears inside to let them dry out completely, rub the kernels off, put them into a labelled envelope and store them in a cool place.

Once corn season is over I pull out the stalks, chop them into six inch pieces and toss them in the compost heap. The stalks are full of sweet sap and I’m trying to figure out a cheap way to render them down into corn syrup. Maybe I can talk David into building a fire pit that will accommodate a kettle filled with corn stalks and water, but I suspect this project would have to wait until he’s finished clearing the land, pulling the stumps, putting up the fence and otherwise building the new Garden of Eden down the street.

The Book of Genesis insists that God built the original Garden on the third day. So far David has been at it for nearly two years. At least it keeps him busy.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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