Growing corn in the city: Here’s how a gardener does it

Nicole Obligacion has successfully grown corn three times during the summer. 

By Vina Medenilla

Corn plants are typically grown in the fields. They are planted in rows that are usually two to three feet away from each other. But in the case of Nicole Obligacion, an urban gardener from Pasig, she grows them in raised beds on her balcony.

Despite sounding like a challenge, Obligacion was able to grow corn thrice already. She recalls, “I did an experiment on our condominium’s balcony to see if I could attempt to grow my own corn at home even if I have limited space. After my first try, I was able to successfully grow corn in our container beds!”

Read more about Obligacion’s balcony garden here.

Her first corn harvest back in 2015.

Tips to grow corn in containers

Based on the three successful attempts of growing corn, here are some of her tips and discoveries:

Sunlight. Firstly, check how much light does your space receive in a day. Corn demands direct sunlight all day. In Obligacion’s experience, corn thrives best with eight to ten hours of sun exposure. In case your area receives six to seven hours of sunlight per day, she says it’s still possible to grow corn, yet, they won’t reach their maximum size.

Timing. Obligacion said it is best to grow corn during the summer. Growers can sow their seeds by January or February. After three to four months, corn cobs will likely be ready for harvest. She recalls growing corn during the rainy season saying, “It did not end well. The corn tassels got drenched, which made it difficult for me to do proper pollination.”

Germination. Corn seeds can be sowed directly on the ground or in small cups. Like melon seeds, these can germinate in just a week. 

“Sometimes, I give the plant’s main stem a light tap, so the pollen falls down. But, I also use my fingers to lightly gather some of the opened tassels and sprinkle them directly on the silk of the corn cobs,” Obligacion said.

Container. In one pot, you can sow two corn seedlings at a distance of 10” from each plant. If using deep five-gallon containers, place them together as this may also help in pollination, too. The wider space, the higher the chance to produce bigger corn plants and cobs. Obligacion grows corn in container beds and sets a one-foot distance in every plant. 

Soil. Prepare a well-draining soil for your corn. Loam soil is a great medium to use as they retain moisture and drain easily. Obligacion suggests adding compost, vermicast, carbonized rice hull, or chicken manure to the mix. Adding mulch atop the soil will also keep the soil moist and avert them from weeds and diseases. 

Water. Since corn has a shallow root system, it’s important to stick to your watering schedule to avoid inducing stress to the plants. Water them frequently to keep the soil moist. If corn silks (female flowers) and tassels (male flowers) are wet, pollination may not be successful, leading to the poor growth of kernels. With this, avoid drenching their leaves, cobs, and tassels by watering from above to prevent them from getting fungal diseases, too. 

Fertilizer. Once the corn plant has grown at least two feet, feed them with nitrogen and potassium-rich fertilizers for optimal growth and resistance to pests and diseases. 

Pollination. Successful pollination helps to produce a maximum number of kernels on cobs. Corn plants are typically pollinated by the wind, but since Obligacion only grows a few corn plants in container beds, she performs hand pollination instead.

To pollinate by hand, the silks (female flowers) must appear and tassels (male flowers) must be open and releasing pollen. Slightly wipe or brush the tassel into the strands of silk to make sure it touches all the silk. Each silk is linked to one kernel in a cob so it is crucial for them to receive pollen from the tassels to be able to produce kernels. 

Harvest. You’ll know if the corns are ready for harvest once their cobs are slightly tilting away from the stem. Touch the cob to check if the kernels have formed. 

If the silk hairs have dried up and turned brown, the corns are likely ready to be picked. Peel off a bit of the husk from the top to poke a few kernels. “If the liquid that comes out is milky white, then the corn is ready for harvest. If the liquid is clear, you’ll have to wait for maybe a few more days.” 

As per the balcony gardener, To know if the corn is ready for harvest, one of the signs is the cobs are slightly tilting away from the stem.

In harvesting, support the main stem with one hand and twist or pull the cobs downwards using your other hand until they detach from the stem. 

Storage. After reaping, corn eventually loses its sweetness even if stored in the refrigerator. If you want to enjoy their sweetness, consume them immediately after harvest. 

Even after several years of gardening, she still feels the excitement of growing crops that she didn’t expect to be producing on a balcony just like corn. 

Photos courtesy of Nicole Obligacion.

For more information, visit Anyone Can Garden.

This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s May to June 2022 issue.

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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