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page 9

Beds for Sweetcorn

Note still more compost to the left of the newly prepared beds.

I think this is 2001. See the top picture on garden page 6 to see the beds later in the year, after the corn that has been sown in them, has reached full height.

What you can see here are 4 raised beds. Each bed is about 6 feet long. They are darker than the surrounding soil because they have been more recently "surface-cultivated" bringing underlying moisture to the surface. Moisture makes the soil appear darker. The photo does not reveal the true color perfectly. The true color is almost black. Rich black soil looks that way due to the large amount of organic matter in the soil. Originally this soil was a very light sandy color. After years and years of added compost, green manures, and cover crops, it has gotten much darker.

There are 2 blocks here. Each block consists of 2 raised beds, side by side. Each raised bed has 2 rows of corn and is about 36 inches wide. A block consists of a bed, a 2-foot wide path, then another bed. Note that because corn is wind pollinated, I always have at least 2 beds, alongside each other, and they are each at least 6 feet long — so there will be at least 4 rows of corn. Thus the corn is in blocks — that are 98 inches wide by at least 72 inches long. Between the close block and the far block is a 2-foot wide path, and I include 1 foot of path on each side of each row, when describing the width of a row — that one foot is half of the width of the path between the block being identified, and the next block. In other words, the 2 beds are each 36 inches wide, there is a 2-foot wide path between them, and 1 foot of path on each side.

Some seeds have already been planted in 24 spots. Further away, if you look closely, you can see seedlings. Closer to the viewer, you can see the flattened spots where seeds have been tamped down, but the sprouts are not yet visible above the surface.

It looks like there is space for about 72 corn plants in the 2 beds. That would be about 100 ears of corn. About half my plants have a decent second ear. More experienced growers are said to be able to get a second ear on about 3/4 of their plants. It depends on the variety, also.

If you look at the top picture on page 6 you will see that the corn planted has grown to full height. To the right are 2 rows of edamame running perpendicular to the corn rows. Then there is another block of corn that is about half-height, then to the right of that, still another block; this block is full height.

Most commercial growers space corn in rows that are each 36 inches apart, and 8 to 10 inches apart in each row. If automated picking machinery is not going to be used, the corn can be spaced in double rows, as I have done here. This will result in more ears of corn per acre. My corn is spaced: row of corn, 15 inches to next row of corn, 36 inches to next row of corn, 15 inches to next row, etcetera. However I don't space my plants 8 to 10 inches apart in the row; I space them 12 inches apart. Thus I get about 40 plants in the area where commercial growers put 36.

Plus the double rows are raised. Plus I raise them more and more as the corn grows — hill up around the plants to helps prevent them from blowing over in high wind — sweet corn is fairly shallow rooted, considering how tall it is, and is very susceptible to blow-over, especially if the soil is drenched by rain at the same time as the plants are being pounded by wind. Many times I've gone out in the middle of rain storms, to straighten and hill up around plants that have just blown over. The sooner you get the plants reasonably upright, and their roots fully covered by soil, the more likely they will survive and be productive.

Early in their growth I use the tripod sprinkler (which I made myself out of wood, with the necessary plumbing materials attached). Later I form a channel between the double-rows, and fill it up with water trickling from a hose. This uses less water. Sweet corn needs a lot, too. Since the beds are raised, not too much water spills out and onto the paths between the bed. The channel is formed more by the way I hill up around the plants, than by any way of digging a trench between them. Digging a trench would disturb the roots.

You may be able to see the 3/4 inch mesh polypropylene mesh netting that I have covering the beds, to keep birds from pulling out the seedlings. Birds like to grab the seedlings and pull — so they can get to the germinated seed at the bottom of the seedling. I have seen some rather daring birds who landed right next to me, to grab a seedling. They must really like corn seeds, if, in order to get one, they are willing to risk plopping down right next to a farmer who is jealously protective of his seedlings. The netting is propped up by, and draped over the stakes that you can see, and the edges of the netting are held on the ground with rocks. Small finishing nails are driven through spaces in the netting, into the tops of the stakes, just a little bit. It is easy to remove them later. These keeps the netting from moving.

Contemporary sweet corn cultivars require a great deal of nitrogen. These cultivars may be adapted to soil that has unnaturally high levels of N — levels that are difficult if not impossible to obtain by relying only on green manures and composted plant matter. To grow this sweet corn, my suggestion would be, that instead of trying to entirely elimnate the use of industrial N, we use it only to bring up yield from that 1/2 yield to 2/3 yield that it is possible to obtain by using natural plant sources of N. After large amounts of compost are used, we may need to use industrially produced N, in addition — in order to get a yield of sweet corn that is comparable to yields commonly achieved by commercial growers who use much less compost and much more industrially-produced N. You can send a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension office and get recommendations for soil amendments. I also did some pH, N, P, and K testing myself. Cooperative Extension will give you ,ore info, including info about quanties of organic matter, and micronutrients.

You can get a closer look below. The sprouts are easier to see than in the photo above. Note that the black polypropylene welded monofilament netting that I've used to protect the corn from birds. It is easier to see here. However it makes the sprouts harder to see than they otherwise would be.

Longer view.

From another angle similar to the angle shown in the top photo on page 6.