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10 Tips for Growing Corn in the Pacific Northwest — 12 Comments

  1. I loved your article! Well done! Oh, and I am from Nebraska; grew up on a corn and soybean farm, and believe me, in the PNW I would never say “anybody can grow corn”. LOL! Moved here in ’96. In fact, I don’t recommend it to beginning gardeners because it takes so much space, requires so much fertilizer, and is extremely thirsty! Then there are the diseases and pests….
    On our Nebraska farm we were a rare breed in modern farming times…we practiced “dryland farming”. Which means we didn’t irrigate. Yeah, we spent a fair amt of time praying for rain. 🙂 Anyway, just wanted to say I enjoyed your post!

    • Coming from a true Nebraskan, that is quite a compliment! Thank you! Sorry I didn’t take time to respond sooner, because your note seriously made my day! I didn’t grow corn this year for the exact reasons you noted: space, fertilizer, water, pests…and unreliable “heat units.” Not to mention wind. BUT – last year, I traded some seeds with a gardener in Ohio who sent me what I called “magic corn.” I never got around to writing a blog post about it, but maybe I still will, because they were the most spectacular plants in the garden. One visitor said, “Wow. I feel like I’ve been transplanted to Kansas or something!” The variety was “Bloody Butcher.” It grew sky high; the kernels were a gorgeous deep maroon; they can be ground into a wonderful flour or meal; flavor was simply outstanding. (Jeremy, if you are reading this, I was reluctant to plant them, but I am sure glad I did – and I just might make more room for them next year because they were so much fun.) Bloody Butcher Corn - Wow!

      And I have to add, I am quite impressed with the fact that you practiced dryland farming! We could learn a few tips from you!

  2. I grew some corn this year for the first time. When I picked it, it was beautiful, nice and shiny kernels just the way I like it. But then when I cooked it the same way I always do it was tough! I talked to my neighbor who is quite a vegetable grower, he said his was the same. I was so disappointed! He thought it was caused by the very hot weather we had here this year.
    What is your opinion? I would like to try again next year.

    • Hey, Marv – I’m no expert when it comes to growing corn — I would trust your neighbor! Local knowledge is always the best. Where we live (Pacific Northwest), not enough heat is usually our problem, not too much. That said, when I’ve had starchy corn, it was usually because either I waited too long to harvest it or because I didn’t cook it immediately after harvesting. I don’t really have the room for corn, but a friend gave me some seeds to try this year, so I stuck them in the ground. Zowie! The stuff is 15 feet tall! The kernels are red (“Bloody Butcher” is the variety) and are supposed to be dried and ground into flour. Can’t wait! This corn has been a real highlight in the garden. Maybe you should try a different variety? At least with this dried corn, I have more wiggle room when it comes to that “just right” time to harvest it. And we love having fresh cornbread and polenta over the winter. Course, I agree, when you get it right, there’s nothing like good sweet corn that goes from the garden to the cookpot or the griddle! Hope you have better luck next year!

  3. Hi, I live near Seattle, WA. I am a novice at planting corn. Last year my first time. This year planted a few more than last year. I used plants rather than seeds. I do not have a green house and as I live in an apartment not a lot of space. My area for my corn is about 6×6 feet. A little less than two feet between rows. At the west end of corn I have pole beans and watermelon and at the east end I have tomatoes planted. My corn both years has grown so tall everyone that sees it has been amazed. I use a soaker hose early in the morning and spray garden around six PM each day. I fertilize by spraying with Miracle Grow every week or two. I only get a couple ears per stalk and am pondering if this is proper yield or if I need to use different fertilizer. I add lime to soil before planting as well as chicken fertilizer.

    Can you share your experience and or opinion on whether I do or don’t need to changer fertilizer or if two ears per stalk is adequate yield?

    Thanks for your input. Really appreciate your article with ten tips.

    • I confess, I am no expert when it comes to growing corn. In fact, I didn’t even grow any this year–it is such a space, water, & nutrient hog, I consider it more of a luxury crop. You get more heat over there in Seattle (we are often 10 degrees cooler), so you might be able to make it work where you are. But there’s nothin’ like a fresh ear of sweet corn picked & thrown right on the grill or in a kettle of boiling water, so I see why even with limited space, we all like to grow it.

      The yields, however, will differ by variety, as well as by how well you take care of it, so I can’t tell you whether that’s a good yield or not. If the seed package doesn’t tell you, you might be able to find out elsewhere online.

      Personally, I am not a fan of Miracle Gro. It is, in my opinion, inferior to something like basic compost or fish emulsion, which offers organic nutrients that can feed the microorganisms in the soil. When you fertilize, you are actually feeding the microorganisms, which in turn, feed the plant. If you want to grow organically, ditch the Miracle Gro. It is made with cheap synthetics and chemicals. Plus, it is produced by Scotts, a company that does not have a good track record when it comes to labeling and that is in partnership with Monsanto, which I oppose on many different levels. When we buy their products, we are supporting their policies.

      It sounds like you have a really nice garden, though, for such a small space! Good luck, and thanks for commenting!

  4. I live in the Butte Falls area of Oregon. I have great results growing my corn in a raised bed. I start planting seeds directly in the soil about the last week of May and plant a couple rows every week for about 3 weeks. My bed is 4’x4′. We get great results. I buy my seeds and fertilizer from Gurney. Not great science just great corn.

    • I have a tendency to make things too complicated! Maybe I have room for a little corn patch this year after all. I think I could do 4’x4′. You get quite a bit more heat and rainfall in Butte Falls than we do here in Sequim, but with the right varieties and a good year, we can make it work. Nothing like picking an ear of corn and dropping it right into boiling water or putting it immediately on the grill! Mmmm…I think I am hungry for summer! Thanks, Michael, for stopping in to our site!

  5. Hi, I teach homeschooled children a gardening class and I was very interested in you corn growing page, but I’ve looked for this …Washington Climate Series, WSU Cooperative Extension information on HU for different locations in Washington State, that you referenced in your article, and have not been able to find it. We live in Eastern Washington and I believe this information you reference would be very valuable to the organic gardening notebook we are making.

    • Thanks for bringing the broken link to my attention. It appears the link has slightly changed, but I am pretty sure the information I used was based on research for growing grapes, which many people are trying to do over here on the Olympic Peninsula, despite our low HU rating. Try this one: Comparative Heat Units (base 50) from WSU Extension Research. (and I updated the link in the article – thanks again!) Unfortunately, the list is very western-based; it doesn’t go very far east. You don’t say how old the students are, but maybe it would be a good project to calculate the heat units for your area by adding up the differences between the mean daily temperature and 50° from March through October. Perhaps a NOAA weather site would provide those daily means?

      I wrote another post on the 3 Sisters Corn Patch that you might find interesting. As mentioned above, we planted sunflowers as a windbreak; fava beans (rather than climbers) amongst the corn for nitrogen input; squashes as a border; and lots of herbs and flowers around the edges to attract insects. Not the 3 Sisters idea in the strict sense, but still quite effective.

      I used to live in the Okanogan Valley – love that area of Eastern Washington. They definitely get more HUs over there! Teaching about organic gardening and the importance of healthy foods is so important! And this year, with our forecast of severe drought, is perhaps an opportunity to learn about various water conservation methods. Best wishes to you and your students, and thanks for checking in to my site!

    • Hi John – Not sure where you are, but the general recommendation is about 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Some folks plant them in hills; some space them out in rows. For me, I’m not usually very good with transplants, but in the case of corn, I’ve had the best luck with first starting them indoors in a greenhouse. Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are many years that we just don’t get enough “heat units” over the summer to ripen corn. Plus, the soil outside doesn’t warm up very early, so anything direct-seeded has a high risk of rotting or not germinating. One year, I planted about 100 seeds a couple of inches apart in trays in the greenhouse. It’s not much of a greenhouse – but it does the trick of getting the temps up during the day. They really took off! The roots grew like crazy – and even though there was just a little sprout on top, beneath the soil was a long network of roots! It would have been much better to plant them in pots! I managed to carefully pull them apart and put them in the ground about 10″ apart and in rows about 30″ apart (30″ seems like a lot, but it really helps to be able to get in there and hoe, fertilize, & water – amazing how big they get!) I was surprised that almost all of them made it! Last year, I started the seeds near the end of May and transplanted about the middle of June, so it doesn’t take long to get them going if they have a little warmth to begin with. I can’t remember how deep I transplanted them – but up to their necks, spreading out the roots as much as possible. I probably could have seeded them earlier, but we had a really cold, wet spring last year – so I waited. Once they’re growing, though, it’s surprising how tough they are. The corn tends to be rather shallow-rooted, so you have to be careful on how you hoe around them – plus, they have a tendency to blow over in strong winds – and they’re always hungry, so you have to feed them. Last year, I planted a 3 Sisters-type garden with the corn, beans, and squash. I used sunflowers as a windbreak on the west side. I fertilized mostly with blood meal early on, and worm tea and fish fertilizer later in the season. They did quite well, and we were still picking corn late into the season. Ah – I just read over my 10 Tips post from a couple years ago, and I see I just said some of the same stuff. Oh well – hope it’s helpful!

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