Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to grow corn on a balcony

I never thought it was anything out of the ordinary, put seedlings in a pot and voila - corn! Though from everyone's encounraging and heartwarming reactions to last Monday's harvest post I guess it isn't the oft done thing. I do recall, when first deciding to 'corn-pot' that I googled around and only found a little info on the subject. One person grew it in a converted bathtub, and another in a big container, so I knew size mattered. Other than that I just stumbled in and hope for the best. After two seasons and a few good crops a few failed crops I am beginning to get a handle on this corn growing thingo. So here are a few tips, pointers and other things I've worked out about growing corn on your balcony. (I do note I blogged about this ages ago, but the post wasn't very informative, though it does contain a tonne of great pics and shows just how far I have come.)

1. Size does matter

Corn needs good soil, and lots of it, so you need something large enough to grow it in. The bigger the better, but given this is a balcony you also need to consider weight. The bathtub idea, while romantic when considering the claw footed beauties I'd seen in home magazine pictures of million dollar bathrooms weren't going to cut it here. Not even your standard bath, simply because of the weight. The solution ... polystyrene boxes. And the best thing was they were free! Lots of people grow in these things, and a regular one could fit about 5-6 corn stalks. That wasn't big enough for me, and I found they dried out pretty quickly so I put two and two together, and when I say that I mean I put two polystyrne boxes together (with their middles cut out) and made myself a megapot. Now this held even more corn and gave it enough nutrients to survive.

This is megapot above, when filled with this winter season's crops -broccoli, kale, lettuce and carrots.

2. Potting Mix

Same as I say for tomatoes, and for any vegetables, use the best potting mix you can afford/make. Corn seems to like to be fed, so do it.

3. Hand pollinate

Not with a toothbrush like you do tomatoes, (wierded out by that statement, then visit this blog post to get an understanding) but with the wind. The pollen from the tassels or corn flower (the bit that comes out of the top and has flowering sorts of things on it) needs to rendezvous with the silks (the lady bits) on the top of the little itty bitty corn (and yes the corn inside there pretty much is baby corn, give or take a few days.) Still confused, see below, the bits in exhibit A (left, flowers/tassels) need to meet the bits of exhibit B (right, silks).

 You need to do two things to help this along, and one is not to play Barry White on the balcony and leave glasses of wine lying around to set the mood. What you do need to do is to plant the corn in clumps so it has buddies nearby (another reason why megapot is the best) and then shake it a little when the flowers and silks are visible. Sometimes the tassels/flowers appear a lot earlier than the silks, just hang tight, and usually things work out. If not (which has happened) it could be because the temperatures are wrong for corn and unfortunately there isn't much you can do short of hoping someone else has a corn crop on the balcony next to you.

Each silk that is pollinated is a kernel so you want to make sure you  get that pollen where it is needed. If not you might end up with a sad looking corn like this:

or worse, you might end up with no corn at all. (the pot pictured well below with the 3 sisters technique is an example of weather causing odd growth, it sometimes happens, and you just have to go with it.)

4. When do I pick it?

Once they're pollinated they'll grow and fill out. You will see this happened over the next week or two until they look pretty big and juicy. The silks will brown off and you may even see kernels sticking out the top of it. That's when you know they are ripe. They'll also stick out at a greater angle than before, even up to 90 degrees, (see maths does come in handy in real life, thanks Mrs Fleet and Mr Kennelly for giving me the mathemetastical grounding to work out the ripeness of corn!) The corn below is almost right, it is starting to move away from the stalkm but needs to get a little fatter.

Once ripe just rip it off the stalk, or twist if you feel like being delicate. You can eat it without cooking if it is this fresh. It is great in salads or just as is. If it is a little old or mealy then cook it, just remember to remove the husk before serving.

5. Other little tidbits.

Try the 3 sisters technique ina really large pot (I did.) It is corn and beans and squash/pumpkin. In the first three sisters pot the corn went really well, the beans were tasty but the pumpkin died. I might try this experiment again next summer. Below is the only picture I have of of the second 3 sisters pot. The corn in this pot struggled as the weather was too hot and it got too straggly. I got a few ears of corn from this one, but not many. However, in this case, at least the zucchini thrived.

Also, corn isn't just yellow. I grew the most amazing yellow and white version last season and there are also fully white versions.

 If you want to go exotic you could grow other kinds of corn, red, black, blue, multicoloured. These versions aren't sweet and are often used dried, popped, ground or decoratively. Still they can look amazing and I am sure you could have all kinds of kitchen fun with these veggies. If anything this post proves that with the right knowledge and plannig you can grow just about anything on a balcony! Ever grown corn? Got any more suggestions? 


Daphne said...

I usually don't think of corn as a balcony crop, but I have seen it done in containers before. I always struggle with it even in the ground.

Bangchik and Kakdah said...

Balcony gardening is no more about small leafy veggie!!

Georgiana said...

Hi, I love your blog and I'm so inspired by it! I have a small balcony garden myself and was thinking about planting corn for the first time. The problem is, I already have tomatoes in some earthboxes nearby. I was wondering what your experience was growing both of these at the same time in terms of pests. I am trying to be organic and don't want to use any pesticides or insecticides, so I was wondering what your experience is. Thank you again for sharing!

prue said...

Hi Daphne - hope you don't give up, corn is sooooooooooooo delicious when fresh! I think anything can be a balcony crop ... well almost anything!

Bangchik and Kakdah - it sure isn't!

Georgiana - thanks for the kind words. You can definitely grow both corn and tomatoes at the same time, I do it every Spring/summer. Just make sure they are in different containers to each other as corn and nightshades aren't really the best of friends. I never have problems with pests with corn, and tomatoes I usually just have to spray for aphids and green caterpillars (which you can pick off with your hands if you are game.) Pests are always trouble on the balcony, but are definitely manageable in organic ways. Good luck with your balcony garden.