Growing Corn Early

Reader Contribution by Ilene White Freedman

At House in the Woods Farm, we may have a tendency to do things a bit unconventionally. We grow vegetable crops into landscape cloth usually used for trees. We trellis our tomatoes with cattle panels. Our most popular planting tools are a kitchen knife and a cement spatula. We transplant everything, even beets and beans. We even transplant corn.

Some people find this comical, but I would say it’s just another one of our unconventional ideas that makes sense. People are accustomed to seeing farms with acres of monoculture corn, and sure, that would be ridiculous to transplant from seedling trays. But corn is just another row crop for us, in a diverse organic garden.

Why Try?

There are many reasons we like transplanting corn. Here are some of them:

You can start it earlier, in a hoophouse. We started ours April 12. The soil temperature needs to be sixty degrees for corn to germinate. You can get that and more on your heated tables in April, instead of waiting for outdoor soil temperatures to warm up.
You get a jumpstart on the weeds by transplanting. You can keep your garden bed weed-free a few more weeks while the corn gets a few weeks’ head start in trays.
No empty holes due to poor germination. Each hole will have a corn plant in it when you transplant only the successful seedlings. 
Crows won’t come eat your corn seeds right out of the holes you plant them in. The seed trays will be safe in the hoop til germination is complete and the plants have true leaves.

Be Early and Beat GMO Cross-Pollination

One of the most radical reasons to transplant corn and plant early is to have your corn pollinating itself without competition from your neighbor’s pollination. When you plant early, your corn will be ready for pollination way before the neighboring corn fields, which may be GMO varieties and often feed corn at that. Neither are good for you or your sweet corn. Don’t cross pollination with them: plant earlier than they do.

Also planting early may very well help you beat the bugs. Harvest before those bugs are ready to come out and party in your patch. And the final reason for planting early: it’s always fun to be first. Even if “it’s not a race”. Still turns heads.

This is my corn, taller than me and in tassel, on June 10. None of this “knee high by the fourth of July” business. Our corn is Ilene-high by the fourth of June!

The challenge with planting early is early cold weather. We sure had some this season in Maryland, which might have put our corn project to a test. But it did great. We did cover our corn when it was young. We covered it with perforated plastic over hoops. By the time the corn was tall enough to approach the hoops, the weather was warm enough for uncovering.

When I looked up “growing corn” on Google, it states “Starting seeds indoors is not recommended.” But I wouldn’t let that stop you.

Coming soon: A blog post on why we transplant carrots…

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at Mother Earth News  and, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to