Growing up, I always lived in areas with a short growing season.One year, when my family lived in a remote area of British Columbia, we planted a big block of corn, hoping to get a harvest despite our short, cool summers. I remember eating some fresh corn — but I also recall walking past frost-bitten stalks filled with immature ears, victims of a predictably early fall. As far as I remember, we didn’t try that experiment again.
Now my husband and I live in Oregon, where the summers are long and warm — even hot and dry, though my Oregon friends say the arid heat these last few years is unusual. Last year, we moved to our new 2-acre home a little late for serious gardening. This year, we’re growing a lot more vegetables, including our very first attempt at growing sweet corn.
If you research growing corn, the first thing you’ll read is that the corn should be planted in a fairly compact block several rows square. That’s because corn is wind-pollinated, and it doesn’t pollinate well when the ears are far apart.
Our first attempt at growing corn was a complete failure. Not one single seed germinated. I don’t know whether I planted too early, in soil that hadn’t yet warmed, or whether the birds got them — my second batch of peas, planted at the same time, also didn’t germinate, and I did see birds pecking up the peas.
In any case, they didn’t grow. So, despite knowing that corn isn’t really meant to be transplanted, we bought several pots with two or three little plants each, and planted them out in rows at the end of our vegetable garden. I knew they were supposed to be in a block — but we had less than a dozen, and already-established rows. I wasn’t convinced they’d survive, let alone succeed, and reworking the garden seemed like a lot of work for these straggly little plants. I planted them in three short rows of three or four each so they at least had neighbors, rather than one long row.
I suppose my half-hearted attempt at planting in a block helped. We actually got ears, and the first three or so ears to mature were mostly full of plump kernels — just a small area at the top was unpollinated.
However, today’s harvest was an excellent example of why corn should be planted in a block. Observe:
All of them were like this, if not worse.
So there’s today’s object lesson: Plant corn in blocks! Otherwise, THIS happens!
On the other hand, though imperfect, the corn was sweet, juicy, and flavorful. And I can’t think of too many more satisfying activities than stepping out to the garden with small ones in tow, making a quick harvest of corn, zucchini, and cucumbers, and then lunching on freshly picked, buttery sweet corn.