One of the earliest domesticated plants on earth, corn has been consumed for the past 10,000 years. Indigenous Mexican peoples consumed it long before it spread to South America through the Andes, over 6,000 years ago.
Once Europeans arrived in the Americas in 1492, corn's popularity skyrocketed. The first Spanish settlers loved the crop, bringing it back to Europe and introducing it across the continent. Corn's ability to grow in diverse climates fostered widespread cultivation by the 1500s.
Today, corn remains the most widely grown crop in the Americas, with millions of metric tons grown each year.
Corn is a definitively outdoor crop that grows best in the garden. Temperature can make all the difference between a successful harvest and a faulty one, so ensure that your soil is at least 60°F for standard varieties and 65°F for sweeter ones.
Work compost or manure into the soil each autumn, allowing the benefits to seep in throughout the cold season so the ground is ready for planting come spring. Corn requires a lot of water, so the soil should be well-draining. A 6.0 to 6.8 pH is ideal.
Corn requires ample growing space, so be mindful when choosing a plot. Sow individual seeds four to six inches apart in each row.
Initially, rows should be spaced between 30 and 26 inches apart. Once your plants reach about four inches tall, you can place them closer together — about eight to twelve inches apart. Corn is pollinated by the wind, so planting in blocks a few rows deep yields stronger harvests than growing just one or two long rows.
Sunlight is key to a successful harvest, so your corn crop should receive at least six hours of full sun each day. Many experts recommend more, noting that around eight to ten hours is best. While they might sprout, plants without proper sun access will grow slower and shorter than their well-lit counterparts.
Since corn has shallow roots, it requires an attentive watering routine. An inch or two each week will be enough to keep crops growing strong. If your area is getting rainfall, you may not need to supply extra moisture. If it's not raining, however, water the plants this same amount on your own. Use a soaker hose to hit the soil surface directly.
Watering is extra important when stalks start tassling. Drought is stressful to sensitive corn plants, and stress during pollination results in missing kernels.
Your corn crop is susceptible to common intruders, such as raccoons and deer. An electric fence is a great way to keep them at bay; it should cover a one-foot area surrounding your garden so that critters can't find their way in. Wrapping up the ears is another way to ward off invaders.
Pesky cutworms and flea beetles are also attracted to your plants. These feed on roots and foliage and can kill off your crop, so take action quickly. Apply insecticide early in the growth cycle, use white sticky traps to catch beetles as they jump, and dust plants with talcum powder to repel pests.
Corn faces many common diseases, including tar spot, gray leaf spot, eyespot, northern corn leaf blight, and common rust. These are most evident in the leaves, resulting in notable spores, lesions, and discoloration. Diseases spread by spores carried through the air, wind, and water, or by overwintering in the soil.
Fungicide and seed treatments offer the most effective disease protection. Seed treatments get plants off to a strong start, while routine fungicide applications offer added protection throughout the growing season.
Your corn crop requires several vital nutrients for success, with the two most important being nitrogen and phosphorous. Potassium and calcium come next, and the plants also need boron, copper, iron, magnesium, sulfur, and zinc.
How do you nourish your harvest? Quality compost. This organic matter contains all the nutrients that your corn needs to thrive. Not only that, but it detoxifies soil and gives it a crumbly texture, holds water, reduces erosion, and protects plants against disease. A thick, 2" to 3" layer each growing season is key.
In early summer, use pruners to cut off a stem that's eight inches or longer, with five or six leaves from the parent plant. Remove the excess so that your cutting has four leaves remaining; these are necessary for new roots to form.
Make an angled cut on this stem, then dip the cut in rooting powder. Now, stick the cutting in coarse sand to start the growth cycle all over again. Keep the cutting in a well-lit location, and you should notice roots in about eight weeks.
Once the tassels turn brown, it's time to harvest. Kernels should appear full, and the cobs should be swollen. Simply pull the ears downward and twist to remove the stalks, then prepare or preserve right away for the best, freshest results. Sweeter varieties, especially, lose flavor quickly, so consume them as soon as you can.
Corn is such a popular crop for a reason; this nutrient-rich vegetable provides an assortment of health benefits. Vitamin C boosts your immune system and protects cells from free radical damage. Carotenoids improve eye health and help ward off cataracts down the line. Vitamins B, E, and K are also present, giving you an energy boost, aiding brain and blood health, and helping wounds heal.