I’ve heard from so many people about the back-breaking weeding they’ve either had to do growing up or in their own gardens – and I’ve made it my goal throughout the life of this blog to show that you can grow vegetables without a lot of weeding (see my whole category on weeds here).
I grow corn, beans, and potatoes in large-ish permanent beds (10′ x 20′), and while I’ve written about theses beds within other posts, I felt there was a need for an dedicated post just on how to plant corn to be weed-free all season. There aren’t many things worse for a gardener than trying to find sprouting corn in a sea of weeds – and then trying to free the poor things from them.
Think I’m stretching the truth? Well I’ve got pictures to prove it! I’ve been planning this post since last year – taking pictures of a whole season of planting and growing corn so I could share it with you.
Here are the simple, non-back-breaking steps I take every year to plant a weed free bed of corn:
No matter what I do, the weeds come back each winter so that by March, the beds looks like the photo on the left. So, the first step is:
- Cover the future corn bed with black plastic at least two months before corn planting time for your area, securing it with rocks.
- When you lift the plastic months later, you will find a pile of dead vegetation that you simply rake up and add to your compost pile.
- Then spread a 2-4 inch layer of compost over the bed, without tilling. The only time I turn the soil are if I find areas with vole or mole holes – it’s my sad attempt to hinder their movement.
- Make a furrow with a hoe about 4-5 inches deep – this is the only place you break up the soil, and it’s pretty simple with the hoe. Add a line of organic fertilizer in the furrow and partially fill the furrow back to about 1-inch deep. In my 10′ wide bed, I plant 4 rows about 2 1/2 feet apart.
- Add corn seeds 2-3 inches apart. Seeding fairly thickly like this is my trick to ensure an even corn patch – between corn’s often spotty germination and the birds, I had some empty rows before I started sowing this way.
- Lay soaker hoses along each planted row and water the seeds well (lest you think this isn’t important: soakers – or drip sytems – are the only way to not get water between rows…and the weeds that want to grow there).
- Optional: If you have birds or cats in the neighborhood, covering the beds with chicken wire or whatever you have will help keep the beds pest-free.
Soon you will see the corn sprout! Sometimes it may take up to two weeks, so don’t worry. You can see here that even with my thicker sowing, there are some large spaces between some of the corn. This is fine, as I planned for it, but if I had sown the seed at the final spacing I wanted, I’d have too much space and would’ve had to re-sow. But that means the next step is what some people find the to be the hardest:
- Thin the corn to 12-18 inches apart. Yes, you will be pulling sometimes lovely corn and throwing it away. If you’ve read here long, you know this pains me, but it’s the only way to get full sized stalks with full ears – the only way. And it’s better than empty spaces. So bite the bullet and just do it.
Now all that’s left is to water and watch it grow:
- Water with the soaker hoses for about 4 to 5 hours every 4-7 days deeply to encourage deep root growth (shorter watering every few days results in shallow roots and stalks that will topple when full of ears if a wind comes up). If in doubt, dig an inch down – if it’s moist, the corn has enough water and can wait for a day or more to be watered.
- You may see a weed here or there (in the photo on the right there’s one in the front) that you’ll need to pull casually as you’re hooking up the soaker hose. At the end of the season the bottom leaves may yellow like mine did after two months of warm, dry weather, but the rest of the stalks are a healthy green with ears growing full, so don’t worry if you see some dead bottom leaves on your plants.
This is the full-grown corn patch at the end of the season – the ears are ready for harvesting. Do you see that soil? Yeah – no weeds. No hoeing. No tilling. Lots of corn with very little work – what’s not to love about that?
As far as the varieties of corn I grow, I always plant two beds with three different varieties that mature 2 weeks apart so that we’re not inundated with corn all at once. This gives us about a month of harvest and I can easily prep and freeze smaller amounts and not kill myself processing corn. The last few years I’ve liked ‘Quickie’ as the earliest variety (about 65 days), ‘Bodacious’ for a mid-season (75 days), and Incredible as the tallest, and latest (85 days).
So, there you have it – there is a way to grow corn and not have to spend a lot of time weeding! I do know that some of you don’t want to stop tilling, and if you do, just be prepared for all the weed seeds that germinate from being exposed to the air. I would suggest using newspaper and straw in between the rows so at least you don’t have to spend time weeding the paths.
Do you grow corn? Do you have any tips and techniques to share with us that you like?