Growing Corn on a Homestead: Pest Management, Disease Prevention and More

Corn is both versatile and affordable, making corn a popular and useful vegetable to grow in a homestead garden.

Reader Contribution by Monica White
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Grown over 500 years ago, corn is one of the oldest vegetable crops known to man. It has been credited with keeping ancient civilizations alive throughout the ages. Corn still sustains many of today’s modern world cultures. From its purely natural sustainable qualities, some cultures consider corn to be sacred; preventing it from any destruction, while encouraging its wide growth and appeal. 

Corn is actually a grass, but its vegetable is used in many different commercial products. Products such as corn syrup, chicken feed grain, hominy grits and a variety of flours and grains which extend to even further uses. Corn is both versatile and affordable, making corn a popular and useful vegetable to grow in a homestead garden.

Because corn may be used as both a grain and a vegetable, it has become a staple of many recipes and diets. Think Mexican street-fair corn, tortilla chips, tacos, burritos and tamales, to name a few from popular Mexican cuisine profiles. Corn is easily recognized in regions all over the world. For example, in the U.S., Boston has its famed Boston clam and corn chowders, and the south is renowned for its grits, corn breads and seasoned cornmeal batters, which seem to magically transform almost anything into its coveted golden fried form. Picked straight from the stalk, nothing can beat the fresh, sweet taste of golden corn!

If you have had repeated success in growing corn on your homestead, then you likely have mastered those conditions which would prevent you from producing a healthy and bountiful corn crop. But for those wishing to revisit a few good pointers or for those just starting out, read on for a few good tips for successfully growing corn.

Tips for Success in Growing Corn

Corn seeds should be planted 1-2 inches deep, in a rich, well-drained soil. For best pollination, plant corn in a block formation of 2 to 3 rows that are 10 to 15 feet long and spaced 24 to 36 inches apart. To avoid cross-pollination, corn plots should contain only one type of corn. Ideally, the soil should have a neutral pH of 7. Conduct a soil test to find the pH measure of your soil. After determining your soil’s pH, adjust any soil imbalances to a neutral pH, the best for growing corn. If your soil’s pH is below 6, then it is in the acidic range and you should add limestone. If it is above 7.5, then it is in the alkaline range and you should add Sulfur. How much to add depends on the plot size and the amount of deficiency to correct. Consult your local garden center or a university co-op extension office familiar with your growing region. 

Water Requirements

Water is highly critical in developing strong, productive corn plants, especially during the tasseling stage. Water once or twice a week, allowing 1 and a half inches of water to saturate the top layer of soil. Watering the plants in the morning will provide good hydration and the foliage time to dry before full sun exposure. Watering in the morning also gives the roots more useful exposure time with the water before evaporating. Mulch is essential for curtailing evaporation and retaining moisture in the soil. While organic compost assists with correcting soil imbalances and maintaining the soil at a neutral pH. 

Fertilizer

You should fertilize corn when the plants reach 8 inches tall and again when they are 18 inches tall. Use approximately ½ cup per 10-foot row of planted corn. Apply an organic blend fertilizer that is rich in Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium, such as a 5-10-4 fertilizer found online and in most garden centers. Nitrogen is key for growing strong healthy corn plants. It is also recommended to fertilize corn with a 5-5-5 fertilizer once the plants reach 24 inches tall and again when the female silks appear. More on the male tassels and female silks under the pollination section.

It’s your decision to add additional fertilizer based on your specific corn crop, how rich your soil is and the overall growing environment. You may also choose to add organic soil amendments to the soil prior to planting, which include fish emulsion, blood meal/or cotton meal. Organic soil amendments are good to use, because they are generally derived from safe, naturally beneficial sources and you normally shouldn’t have to worry about using too much or it burning your plants.

Sun Requirements

Corn is a sun-loving plant and requires 6-8 hours of sun per day. Pick a plot location which provides adequate daily sunlight.

Corn Plant’s Mature Height

Corn plants typically grow 6- 8 feet tall. Allow for this height when choosing a planting location, consider any potential obstructions that may be caused to the corn plants and any shade which the corn plants may cause to other sun-loving plants nearby.

Best Time to Plant Corn

You should plant corn once the dangers of the last frost for your area has passed and the ground temperature is at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spacing Corn Plants

Corn seeds should be spaced 12-18 inches apart in well drained soil to avoid seed rot.

The male tassels are key to pollinating the corn plants

Pollination

Pollination occurs after the tassels have formed at the top of the corn plant. The tassels are the male part of the plant which produces the pollen that is deposited on the female silks below during pollination.

Pollination is critical in order to produce completely filled ears of corn. Each kernel of corn depends on complete pollination to avoid having missing kernels. If poor pollination occurs, the plant will end up missing many kernels of corn on its cob.

Tassels and Pollination

The male tassels usually begin pollinating the silks approximately two to three days after their pollen arrives. This two- to three-day break creates a small window of opportunity that allows the female silks to become most receptive in receiving the male pollen deposit. 

Female silks displayed on the corn plant

Pests Management

Earwigs, Earworms & Caterpillars. Use a general pesticide for pest, such as earworms, earwigs, caterpillars and thrips with a pesticide containing Spinosad (pronounced Spin-OH-sid). Spinosad is an organic insecticide that has been granted the status by the USDA’s National Organic Program in 2003. It is safe for people, plants and beneficial insects such as adult butterflies.

Products containing Spinosad include: Monterey Garden Insect Spray, Bulls-Eye TMBio Insecticide and Captain Jacks Insecticidal Soap found online and at large retailers with garden centers.

Disease Prevention

Stay vigilant to your growing corn plant’s health by practicing general disease prevention tactics early on. Apply any effective preventative measures and use organic products or chemicals, if necessary.

For thwarting and preventing earworms, apply approximately 1 teaspoon of mineral oil to the top of the silks, ideally as they become yellow, but before they have begun to turn brown.

Good Reasons to Grow Corn on the Homestead

  • Minimal space requirement – 60-100 days to corn maturity
  • Easy to grow – Following a few basic guidelines 
  • Versatile crop use as a grain or vegetable
  • Whole grain source of carbohydrates
  • Can be frozen/processed/preserved 
  • Feeds people and livestock
  • Nutritious and delicious  
  • Good source of fiber

With a consistent schedule of care applied to your corn plants, you and your family should reap the golden rewards of your hard earned efforts. Enjoy!

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she’s growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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  • Updated on Mar 14, 2022
  • Originally Published on Mar 1, 2022
Tagged with: corn, Monica White, Reader Contributions