Starting Corn Indoors Can Extend the Growing Season and Raise Productivity

| 5/14/2018 2:28:00 PM

Progress of Corn

My father-in-law used to find great mirth at the fact that I start my corn indoors. I do, after all, live in the heart of corn-growing country and he was a lifelong farmer of corn, soybeans, and wheat.

I started this practice more than 20 years ago when we lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was told that most folks didn’t have much success with growing sweet corn there because of the shortened season. Since I love a challenge, I set about trying to lengthen the growing season without adding costs or constructing cold frames.

My puzzle-loving brain settled on using empty toilet paper tubes for containment because I assumed the length of the tube would allow for less root disturbance—the issue most commonly stated as the reason for failure of transplantation. I also assumed that the tubes would compost and allow for fairly quick freedom of the roots once planted. My method worked well and we enjoyed several meals of sweet corn that summer.

When we later moved to south-central Ohio, I decided that I would continue my toilet paper tube reuse practice because of the high success rate. I also tried some direct seeding in an adjacent bed the first year so that I could see if there was a difference. Interestingly, that year I had 99% germination for the seeds indoors and only about 75% from the seeds that I put directly in the ground. I haven’t direct-seeded corn again even though my method is a bit more time-consuming than the traditional way.

The first photo (above) shows one season’s progression in the garden. I put the plants in the garden near the end of May that year. Each plant was nestled carefully into a hole in the bed. It was easily knee-high by mid-June with beautiful ears formed by the end of July. I find it necessary to cage my corn for the first few weeks so bunnies and cats don’t mistake it for a salad bar.

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