Yogas
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Corn - how much for family of 5?

I live in Zone 5 (Chicago) and I'm considering growing corn this year. I'm trying to figure out if I have enough room to grow enough to feed a family of 5. Last year I grew a row of peas and harvested 1/4 cup so I want to make sure I won't be wasting my time!

So, about how many stalks of corn would I need to have a decent harvest and when is the best time in Zone 5?

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jal_ut
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I don't know how much room you have, but consider this: Plant 5 30 foot rows spaced 32 inches and put a seed every 8 inches in the row. This modest planting will give you from 225 to 300 ears of corn, with proper care.

Plant a week before your last (avg) frost.
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TZ -OH6
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Figure one ear per stalk (you may get two if you are lucky). You can dense plant corn if you have very good soil, but you have to fertilize it well and keep it watered. I fit approximatley 45-50 plants in an area 5ft x 10ft last year (three rows with 6-8 inch spacing) and got good ears off of nearly all of them. Those results were very different from a similar patch right next to it planted a little later that didn't get babied. That corn barely produced anything.

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jal_ut
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One stalk of corn, if its not crowded, will give you two ears of corn. That is why they are called "ears". one on each side. If corn is crowded too much you may not get any. So, it may be said you can get from none to 2 ears per stalk. You will get larger ears if you don't crowd it too much. What I said about 32 inch spacing on rows and planting a seed every 8 inches works well. Plantings more dense than this may result in many stalks not having any ears. A spacing of 12 inches in the row works well too, maybe even better.

It is always advisable to plant a fair sized area in corn so that the ears will get pollinated well. I think a minimum of 3 rows about ten feet long might work.
Last edited by jal_ut on Fri Apr 15, 2011 3:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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stella1751
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Interesting thread, Yogas! This year, I'm growing corn for the first time in a long, long time and for the first time ever in raised beds. How many plants would you guys recommend for a 5' x 5.5' bed and a 6.5' x 6.5' bed? Would I be able to squeeze in enough rows for pollination in a 3.5' x 6.5' bed?

Another question about corn: Years ago, the Home Depot in Cheyenne actually offered corn seedlings. This amused a gardening friend because she said that corn puts out side roots for anchoring so shouldn't be started indoors. However, I can remember starting corn in Dixie cups as classroom projects when I was a child.

Has anyone tried starting corn as seedlings? In my short growing season, a 4-week head start means a whole lot.

Thanks!
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rainbowgardener
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Depending on weather, you should be able to start planting corn early in May, after danger of frost is past and the soil is a little bit warmed up (but earlier than you would plant squash).

Feeding a family with corn is tricky if you are a backyard gardener. You didn't say how much space you have for this endeavor. The thing about corn is that all the corn you plant at one time pretty much ripens up all at the same time, not like beans where you can pick some and come back later and pick more. And it has to be picked right away when ripe or it gets ruined. You could plant enough for your family for the season and then take it off the cobs and freeze it; corn freezes well. But I'm assuming the point is to have fresh from the garden corn. Frozen corn is cheap to buy.

To keep fresh corn coming, you do succession plantings. Plant some rows and then two weeks later plant some more rows and so on. You could keep doing that until mid July and still get ripe ears before fall frost. But as people noted, corn needs a fair amount of "family" around it to get pollinated. You can't just plant a little bit of corn and have it set ears. It works better for pollination to plant it in blocks, not long rows. You would need at least a 3x3' block, 4x4' is better.

Mel Ott in Square Foot Gardening says in his method you could put 4 corn stalks in each square foot, so you would have 64 ears of corn from the 4x4. But remember he has SUPER enriched soil and the plants are constantly babied, and he is using smaller, shorter varieties. For most people 1 per square foot is probably better (and we are still talking about enriched soil, etc).

So to feed corn to a family through the season, you need to be able to plant 4x4 blocks every two weeks from (approximately) May 1 to July 15, which is 5 different blocks. Do you have room for that, Yogas?
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Gary350
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It depends on how much you like to eat sweet corn.

Most plants will grow 2 ears of corn. A small crop of corn does not do well so you need to plant it TOO close together it makes a small crop act like a large crop. Corn is self pollinating.

I plant my seeds about 8" apart in 7 rows 12" between rows. Rows are 25 ft long 37 seeds per row x 7 rows = 259 plant = 518 ears of corn if all goes well.

We eat corn on the cob as fast as it gets ripe. We have corn for every meal for about 2 weeks. Anything we can not eat gets canned in mason jars.

Corn does not do well in my geographical area summers are too hot and dry. Farmers do not plant 40 acres crops of corn in this part of the world. Corn does not like 6 weeks of 100 degree temperatures with very little rain.

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RBG raises a good point. If you want to eat corn all year long, just make sure to do succession planting. Like she said, it all ripens in a certain window of time.

For me, personally, since my space is limited, I forgo corn in preference for other plants since corn is so cheap when it is in season. However, if you have the space, just do the math with the figures everyone gave you and go for it :D. Trust me, if I had the space...I'd have the biggest corn plot you've ever seen :lol:.
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stella1751
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I went to another garden forum for an answer to my question 8) Some gardeners have had success planting them as close as 8" x 4". The rows are necessary to get in between them for picking and cultivating, so I won't need them on my raised beds. I could go with 36 plants in my 5' x 5.5' beds, 64 plants in my 6.5' x 6.5' bed, and 24 plants in my 3.5' x 6.5' bed. That would be 160 plants or as many as 320 ears. I'll have to see whether I purchased that many seeds.

BTW, blood meal is supposed to be excellent for beefing up the soil; that and plenty of compost should do the job.

According to the members of that forum, variety makes a huge difference. The shorter varieties can be planted closer. My seed are Yukon Chief, which is a short-season 3' tall plant. If I start them indoors, I can succession plant up to July for four crops.

As for how many it would take to feed a family of five, figuring one meal a week and two per family member, that might be 10 ears, or five plants, per week. If you don't have freezer space, you could conceivably plant 60 plants for fresh corn throughout the summer and into the fall. I can get that many into my one 6.5' x 6.5' raised bed, but it would be tougher to work with on the ground, I think.

Yeah, corn costs much more to grow than it does to buy at the store. However, you just can't buy that fresh-picked flavor!
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jal_ut
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I have played with this a bit too. If you want to make a 4x4 planting I recommend you put 16 plants in it. No more. These small crowded plantings still won't do as well as 3 to 5 rows spaced 32 inches with a plant every foot in the row. Corn is a large plant, nitrogen hungry, thirsty, and needing sunshine and breeze to bring carbon dioxide for growth. It also needs to have other corn near so it gets pollinated well. The wind moves the pollen around too. Give corn what it needs and watch it go.
Yeah, corn costs much more to grow than it does to buy at the store.
Sorry stella, I can't agree with this.
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Yogas
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Wow! Such great responses! Now I have to go out and do some measuring. I'll report back when I figure out my plan.

Thanks for all the great responses.

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GardenRN
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TZ -OH6 wrote:Figure one ear per stalk (you may get two if you are lucky). You can dense plant corn if you have very good soil, but you have to fertilize it well and keep it watered. I fit approximatley 45-50 plants in an area 5ft x 10ft last year (three rows with 6-8 inch spacing) and got good ears off of nearly all of them. Those results were very different from a similar patch right next to it planted a little later that didn't get babied. That corn barely produced anything.
Not to be that person who loves to contradict. :? But I don't think I've ever gotten less than 2 ears per stalk. And it's finny that Gary says that corn doesn't do well in TN. I believe ya Gary don't get me wrong. But here in Va, just a state or two away, we grow fields and fields of corn lol. And we have that same spurt of 100 degree weather. Only not as dry because of the humidity. Haven't spent much time in TN though. It may very well be a world apart when you actually experience it.

My advice would be to grow whatever you have room for and try it out for yourself for one season. What do you have to lose? Two or three meals worth would make it worth it IMO. And whatever you have left over you an freeze, as stated. It is cheap to buy frozen, but it also depends on whether you'd like to avoid buying for financial reasons or because you don't want to feed your family whatever chemicals are still in the corn from those commercial fertilizers. Whatever your reasoning, I think it's definitely worth the try for a home veggie gardener to try corn......at least once. It's quite satisfying to see those tall stalks that YOU grew. :wink:
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TZ -OH6
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Well, one ear per stalk is the best I can do, either planted at the density I described or spread out twice as far. If I don't baby those I get short thin stalks and small ears, if any. I hacked out a bit more space from the wilderness and will give it another shot with wider spacing.

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stella1751
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jal_ut wrote:
Yeah, corn costs much more to grow than it does to buy at the store.
Sorry stella, I can't agree with this.
You know something, I think you're right, Jal-Ut. One packet of seeds costs $2.89. I'm guessing (hoping) there are enough for at least 48 plants per packet, maybe more. So, that brings us to $.96 per plot.

We don't get much rain up here, and because the air is so dry and the wind runs high with depressing frequency, I water every three days. I'm guessing I use at least 10 gallons of water each time. (Raised beds dry out more quickly, so I like to water until I see it coming out the bottom.) Say, 60 days to maturity, that is 10 gallons x 20 days, for a total of 200 gallons. At $3.17 per thousand, that's $.63, which brings us to $1.53 per plot.

I will add blood meal in addition to my compost to make certain I have enough nitrogren in the soil. I think a 3.5 pound bag costs around $4.50, but I can't imagine using more than a third of a bag, which brings us to $3.03 per plot.

Compost tea is a staple. I use this roughly once every other week. I add Sea Magic (or kelp meal) and fish emulsion to mine, as well as molasses. I would be very surprised, given the cost of molasses, if I weren't spending as much as $.47 in compost tea on a plot this size, not counting the electricity necessary to brew it. This brings us to $3.50 a plot.

To keep the racoons out of the plot, a 4' chicken wire fence is recommended. I don't have one of these on my beds, so let's say $2 for 16' of this and staples to hold it in place, none of which are likely to be reusable. I won't have to buy stakes for the corners, so I won't count that cost. We're now at $5.50 per plot.

Depreciation and maintenance of necessary garden supplies (hose, sprinkler, three-pronged fork, compost tea equipment, and other assorted utensils) will run at, say, $.25 per plot, leaving us with $5.75 per plot.

At two ears per plant and 16 plants per 4 x 4 section, you could conceivably get 32 ears in one plot. Assuming no cut worms get the seedlings, all ears pollinate, no bugs get the ears, no critters eat them, no hail or high winds topple them, and no disease ravages them, you will wind up paying $.18 an ear, a bargain compared to the $.25 an ear for store-bought corn 8)

I take it back. Corn is definitely cheaper to grow :-)
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Gary350
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Soil in TN is very poor mostly clay and it dries out hard as stone in July and August. I add lots and lots of organic material but it does not last. One year I grew corn in sand it did much better. When I lived in Illinois I could grow corn with no effort at all but in TN I have to work at it. Jal is right corn is nitrogen hungry and needs lots of water and it does much better in rows 32" apart with seeds planted 12" apart. I have limited garden space I crowd my corn as much as possible to get the largest crop I can get. Corn is self pollinating a small crop will not self pollinate well unless the plants are crouded. In a small garden it is hard to grow a good crop of corn if you crowd it so it pollinates well then is has a sun shortage and you get small ears if you space the plants far apart for more sun then you get poor pollination.

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We do put nitrogen on the corn, before (or during) a rain or we water it in. We also believe in soil testing; here in Alabama we can send samples off to AU for testing, but if not, we will do PH test for acid or alkaline to test for adding lime in the fall winter before.

It is common to add lime in Alabama soil, and we rotate crops. Lime is not instant fix unless you buy the expensive kind, so if you need to lime your soil, plan ahead as it takes a while to "do its thing."

Our agronomist contact at AU says be sure to put nitrogen on corn, we do it about 3 and sometimes even 4 times, and we get 2 or more ears per stalk of healthy corn. We grow hybrid sweet.

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