How to grow corn

How to grow corn is not rocket science but it does take some patience and a large garden. If you enjoy delicious, sweet-tasting, fresh food then you make the time.

Of course any food straight from the garden not only tastes better but is also more nutritious; once picked and exposed to air virtually all vegetables start to deteriorate.

Corn is known as maize in much of the world; in South Africa we call it a mealie. It is really a grass variant; so are wheat, barley and rye.

Corn cobs on the plant

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 6th January, 2024.

They all have their merits, though some people today are allergic to the new high protein varieties; particularly those that are genetically-modified.

There is a move back to the old "heirloom" varieties like Hickory King; then you can be sure they are non-GM which is still a thorny question. Actually they taste better too in my book though they may be lower in certain amino acids like lysine.

If you are enjoying well-rounded meals you need have no concern. Lysine is found in abundance in many foods. These new varieties were developed for animal feed.

The first step particularly if you are into organic gardening is to fork plenty of well-rotted humus into the soil; manure too if you can lay your hands on it.

If you are blessed with a worm farm then it is perfect to add a few shovelfuls of vermicompost to the rows before planting. 

A new way to do this which we will cover in another blog is the use of a chicken tractor. It is a portable pen which can easily be moved around the garden. The birds clean up old vegetable waste, fertilize the patch and give you golden-yolked fresh eggs.

It saves you weeding and deep trenching for compost; in short a lot of time and energy. The hens happily grub away after cutworms and the nuts of pestilent weeds with the patient, astute eyes that we lack. There are many chicken-tractor designs but I chose something very basic.

Once the corn is a metre or more high, the hens love to spend the day scratching in the shade of the plants, hiding from the raptors and hunting for grubs.

Do not let the hens in too soon or they will scratch out your seedlings; there's nothing like a fresh-egg.

Turn the sod for corn seeds.

In England they call them proper-eggs.

Though I confess I have no idea what improper-eggs are; those from hens reared in cages or a barn, I suppose. The presence of a cockerel may come into the equation too.

Unrefined mealies are a staple for chickens; corn on the cob for us but true wholegrain grits is difficult to find for human consumption.

Starches in general have come under attack in our obese and prediabetic world; it is our understanding that it is highly refined grits not corn on the cob that comes straight from the Devil's Pantry.

How to grow corn

How to grow corn gives you a taste of really sweet grain, fresh from the garden.

If you are fastidious put out a string to get the rows straight but corn grown in crooked-lines tastes just as good.

The rows need to be about a metre apart and I plant them quite close together; about 6" allowing for cutworm fatalities and poor-seed that does not germinate. Then you get a good cover which shades out the weeds.

For the average family, planting two rows every month from spring to midsummer should keep you in corn for about four months.

Personally I am not crazy about sweet-corn but you choose the variety you like. Some have longer growing seasons than others; talk to the nurseryman.

The seed remains vital for a few years, so it makes some sense to buy a large-packet; it's a quarter of the price.

Green-peas have just come out of this ground so it is rich in nitrogen. I have scraped away the mulch and made a small trench with the fork. It is not hard work, taking about half an hour to prepare two rows.

Just drop the seeds into the drills, not bending to save your back; and do not fuss if they bounce about. The corn will taste just as good.

Roughly 15cm apart is good.

Then using your hoe, cover the seeds with soil so that they are about an inch-deep; pat it down with the implement, or simply walk on the rows. They are virile and if the depth is not quite right, it makes little difference.

The corn puts down very strong anchors to keep the plant upright but even so if the seed is too shallow they may be blown over in a fierce-wind.

Corn seeds in a row11th September

My three-year old grandson knows how to grow corn so the plants will be prolific here and there.

cover the corn seed.

Then we took time to smell the poppies, minding the bees that love the pollen. Turning my grandson into a like-minded greenie who takes little or no medication and is disgustingly robust is one of my ambitions. He will be thoroughly brainwashed.

Poppies between the corn.

In about three-months we will be enjoying fresh mealies on the cob.

25th September (Southern Hemisphere, remember) is the day the first seedlings were getting me excited; I am just as enthused as my grandson when I see the plants poking their heads out of the ground. Have you started the green journey? It is worth the ride.

Corn seedlings just up.25th September.


Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself and Mother Earth for future generations; and your family too, of course. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books.

Here are the back issues.

  • ´╗┐Lifestyle and ideal body weight
  • ´╗┐What are ultra-processed foods?
  • Investing in long-term health
  • Diseases from plastic exposure
  • Intensive lifestyle management for obesity has limited value
  • A world largely devoid of Parkinson's Disease
  • The impact of friendly bacteria in the tum on the prevention of cancer
  • There's a hole in the bucket
  • Everyone is talking about weight loss drugs
  • Pull the sweet tooth
  • If you suffer from heartburn plant a susu
  • Refined maize meal and stunting
  • Should agriculture and industry get priority for water and electricity?
  • Nature is calling
  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
  • Comfort foods
  • Create a bee-friendly environment
  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
  • Harvest and store your rainwater
  • Create a cyan zone at your home

Here is the corn at 6-weeks; 21st October to be exact. We are in the midst of the worst drought in 100 years apparently in South Africa; nevertheless the plants are looking strong, largely due to the water from our underground reservoir. It's replenished by rain from the roof.

How to grow corn21st October, 2015.

It is easier to plant monocultures together but you'll notice we allow the potatoes and leeks from last year to continue; and the compost heap in the background. It is time that was turned and more horse manure added. Corn in particular is wind-pollinated so they should not be too far apart; always at least two rows.

Having said that I do see the bees busily collecting the pollen.

Three more rows of corn have now been planted in another part of the garden; that makes eight in all, with two more to come in the next few-weeks.

We like to enjoy fresh-corn from the garden over a 4 month period; January to April.

They need just one good weed; thereafter your corn for the most part shades out the opposition. We eschew all herbicides in our green garden; it does mean some extra work hoeing but worth every hour to preserve our wellness from the influence of noxious-chemicals.

Have you seen the price of Roundup-ready seed as compared to heirlooms? These large agricultural companies have us completely fooled.

Young corn plants

Corn in flower

Mealies in flower is one of the finger-licking moments; it is nine months since we have had corn on the cob and just cannot wait to get our hands on them. Patience is a virtue, right?

Corn in flower is a beauty to behold.

Corn on the cob

Corn on the cob, fresh from the garden and dropped into a pot of boiling-water is a delight for tired eyes and a discerning tongue.

Finally after 3-months we are about to reap our first mealies, as we call them; they are filling out fast and with luck within a week we'll have our corn on the cob.

It has been quite a long wait, about fifteen weeks but most of the plants have two cobs; mouth-watering stuff. It is the end of December so we now have four months of corn to enjoy.

On January 2nd we enjoyed the first cob; they were planted on the 11th September. How to grow corn isn't difficult; nearly 4 months in our cooler climate above 3000 feet.

Should you get bored with plain corn on the cob, which I doubt if they are young and fresh from the garden, then grilled mealies are always popular.

corn on the cob

"The earth has yielded its increase;

our God has blessed us."

- Psalm 67

Each of these ears of corn has around 800 kernels; some plants have two or even three cobs. It strikes me again how terribly blase we have become and take it for granted that you can plant one pip and get 1,000 or more back a few months later.

The earth has yielded its increase. To me it is a wonder; something sacred. Critics will shortly be asking me if I have also seen fairies in the garden!

In part it is perhaps because most folk have become divorced from the land. I wonder how many people on the planet have never once planted a mealie pip, as South Africans call them; or any other seed for that matter.

They can never grasp the wonder of it all. How to grow corn is a spiritual matter. Be blessed as you read these psalms of victory lyrics; success over hunger and even starvation. What's more mealies are rich in a nutrient called zeaxanthin that helps prevent adult-onset blindness.

"What if a walk in a green environment could reshape brains, recalibrate sense of time and stave off mental health conditions? If the research trends are true, doctors might soon find themselves writing prescriptions of 20 minutes of nature per day."

- Dr William Bird, MD, MBE

Do not believe the silly notion that mealies are fattening. It's the refined starches like white rice, cornflakes and cakes that make us obese; cookies and dainty bread-rolls too. I have been eating a cob every day for the whole summer and not put on a pound.

Well if you eat too much of anything, I guess it will eventually make you obese.

Because we have quite a large garden, with 600 plants in five-generations, we look forward to corn on the cob every day for the next few months; and plenty over for friends and family.

Not to be forgotten, we'll have a surplus to feed our chooks. Our chicken tractor design has been a great success but now we also have to feed the birds. A surplus of corn will go a long way to caring for them.

They love the young kernels but once the cob gets dry, hard and mature then we turn to sprouted corn for chickens.

In midsummer we are blessed with the problem of carbs galore from our green garden; that means eating much less bread.

Stuntedness in children

A staggering 27% of children under the age of five in South Africa are permanently stunted. The reasons are complex but the invader brown-rat gets a lot of the credit, by forcing rural folk to feed their children on maize meal from which the germ and bran have been extracted.

A mealie a day for most of the summer would go a long way to restoring the well-being of our children.

The protein, fats and vitamins are stored in the germ and bran; and phytonutrients like zeaxanthin too. It is a precursor of vitamin A; a deficiency causes over half a million children worldwide to go blind. How to grow corn is not just for crazy greenies.

Extraction of these nutrients can only result in malnutrition.

Corn eaten by rats.The work of destructive rats


The phytonutrients in fresh maize, as we call it down in the very deep south, are particularly rich in antioxidants giving us protection against the many malignancies seeking to invade our bodies. If you have the garden space, how to grow corn should be on the agenda.

In addition to these phytochemicals, corn is high in vitamin B3 which helps with cracked skin; and pyridoxine too.

Corn has been shown to help stabilise blood sugar in diabetics, having a large amount of fibre; and perhaps surprisingly has only a medium GI rating. It's not rapidly digested into sugars like white rice and potatoes from cold storage. Certainly you should have only half a cob if you have a serious weight problem or are banting; keep down the Glycemic Load.

How to grow corn gives you a measure of control of the food you are eating. Fresh from the garden, organically grown with no pesticides, herbicides or inorganic fertilizers you know you have a treasure.

As a food nut I was excited to see the research showing that eight to ten coloured foods per day will reduce the all-cause of death by a massive one third.


Much of it is because of phytonutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin; a deficiency increases the likelihood of going blind from macular degeneration by 40%.

The botanical name for corn is Zea mays; "xanthin" means yellow, hence the name for this very important carotene.

The yellow pigment in corn is absolutely vital in the eye.

Read more at "zeaxanthin macular degeneration" which you can find using the site search function in the navigation bar above; copy and paste.

There's a second important phytochemical needed to prevent adult-onset blindness; read about this at lutein macular degeneration. Five million Americans wouldn't have lost their sight if they simply ate fresh kale, spinach and corn on the cob on a regular basis.

How to grow corn is not "small beer."

Top Grub

White maize is attacked by top grub.

Top grub as it is known, the maize stalk borer is endemic in Southern Africa. The adults caterpillars emerge from pupae in early summer attacking the young leaves and then dive into the stem.

We regularly find these pupae in the compost heaps but have little problems from the caterpillar as we allow the hens to sift through the land before planting.

Happy colon

Refined grains are rapidly digested and absorbed in the small intestine, forming glucose that is quickly taken up into the blood stream. Many have a high glycemic index, causing a dangerous surge and consequent outpouring of the pancreatic enzyme; constantly snacking on high GI foods like crackers, colas and candies eventually causes insulin resistance, leading to diabetes.

However whole grains have far more resistant starch, known as prebiotic; it feeds the bugs in the gut.

A fermented wholegrain maize porridge is used by traditional Zulus to provide probiotics for the alimentary canal; healthy starch plus those essential bacteria that inhabit the happy colon.

A happy tum is central in all our lives; plenty of fibre and natural broad-spectrum probiotics are vital.

Whole grains

Whole grains are another story; in general they are quite difficult to get. Corn on the cob is one of the exceptions; much of the starch is resistant to digestion in the small intestine, instead reaching the large bowel.

Wholegrain cornmeal also known as grits is difficult to get; mostly it's been refined.

The longevity diet proposed after studying those who live long in the land is that they enjoy moderate to high unrefined carbs; which do not cause the toxic blood sugar rush. The exception is those who are obese or diabetic; they must reduce all starches, even the good ones until their body mass index is within normal limits.

In today's world, many of us suffer from inadequate microflora that are required by a happy colon to ferment these resistant starches; and prevent the so-called leaky gut syndrome. Research is abounding; it is interesting that many of the neurodegenerative diseases appear to emanate from an unhappy large intestine.

Probiotics are the solution to unhappy colons; you can either pay a lot of money for them or make the time to prepare your own. Five minutes spent several days each week means we can enjoy these kefir benefits.

It is purely anecdotal but this fermented dairy product has almost eliminated the bowel pain and discomfort that I have suffered from for years. Heartburn and indigestion are largely history. If you want to find out how to grow corn, then investigate too your own kefir so that the resistant starch can be properly digested.

It's been reported that black South Africans have one tenth of the bowel malignancies of their white counterparts; this is often attributed to the large amounts of "pap" that they eat. It is corn turned into a dry, crumbly porridge.

For true 100% whole grain one really needs a corn flour milling machine.

We have learned how to make homemade cornbread; absolutely scrumptious, nutritious and good for us. It's a whole grain; low GI.


If you can find freshly ground unrefined corn, or maize-meal as we call it, it must be the cheapest grain available. Wheat is nearly double and oats far more. We have our own little mill; it costs about R6,000.

Choice foods

Choice foods from when we are young make us confident that we can approach old age with aplomb. Something will get us all eventually but how about at 90 instead of 50? How to grow corn is only for those alas who are fortunate enough to have a large garden and are willing to spend the time.

Maize meal porridge, if made from the whole grain, makes in my book a nutritious and tasty recommended breakfast. However the staple in South Africa is highly refined making it into a junk food no better than cornflakes; it is in my opinion one of the chief reasons why more than a quarter of our children are permanently stunted. All the nutrients have been extracted and instead used for animal-feed; our kids are left with the empty calories. 

Exercise is important too as we know from reading about blue zone longevity; and if you have a stressful job, taking proper holidays.

Choice foods in a lunch including corn on the cob.

Our thoughts are that it is frustrating to be worrying each day whether we've had enough lutein, beta-carotene or various vitamins. Instead, we enjoy a wide range of foods, mostly from the garden.

But then it is impractical to grow chickpeas and sesame seeds, so for our authentic hummus recipe we have to buy in these commodities; they contain the vital amino acids for brains young and old. I am not enthusiastic about that senile dementia! Bernard Preston would rather enjoy choice foods on a daily basis.

One way is to make sure there are some fresh mealies on your plate. How to grow corn in the summer is one way to be certain of that.

Bernard Preston

Bernard Preston's Stones in my clog.

Bernard Preston's mother, in competition with three siblings and five cousins once apparently ate thirteen-cobs at a sitting, winning the trophy. Perhaps it is to my grandfather that I really should attribute my love of how to grow corn; and before him one of his forebears. These glorious habits and hobbies are handed down from one generation to the next; are you teaching your little people?

Is it any wonder I love corn on the cob?

Her family was vegetarian and though I eat meat, I have a great love for fresh salads, vegetables and whole grains; and plenty of fruit. It's because of them that my cholesterol is "dangerously low" as I kid my friends who open their eyes when they see how much butter I spread on our low-GI bread.

How to grow corn is one small part of the solution; it's definitely on the menu in our modified Banting diet. Again, use the site search function.

Worm farm experiments

Just for fun, combining different fascinations, this month I'm trying some worm farm experiments on our corn. Does the leachate, an organic fertiliser really perform like it is cracked out to do?

Let us find out. Twice a week I am going to water two rows of corn with worm-wee, the third getting an equivalent amount of water. I wonder what the result will be? In theory it should introduce a wide variety of nutrients back to the soil from all the vegetable waste from our kitchen.

Follow me every few weeks as I update our rainbow worm farm experiments. Today it is the summer solstice, 2016 in the southern hemisphere; just a few days before Christmas.

I am interested in whether the corn is taller and obviously stronger; the ears larger and the mealies as we call them, sweeter.

To grow the the most nutritious corn you also need to know about starting a compost pile.

It's all about getting your garden soil ready for planting. We use a minimum of tilling now to reduce the carbon loss to the atmosphere.

Copy and paste "banting for vegetarians" into Site Search for more information.


Succotash is another of our delights; a nutritious traditional corn and beans recipe.

The limas also have a long growing season but they too are looking great; it won't be long before we will be thriving on this succotash recipe.

You really need fresh lima beans and know how to grow corn; only the very lucky can enjoy the best succotash!

Milky oats infusion

Another grain perhaps worth growing is oats; it's too fiddly to collect the seeds for porridge but the young green pods make a wonderful infusion.

Growing milky oats as the young pods are called is no more difficult than corn.

Starting a compost pile

Starting a compost pile is essential in every garden; when considering how to grow corn organically, there are two considerations.

  • The amount of nitrogen in the soil.
  • Sufficient water especially when they are in flower.

Just add some extra wrigglies from the worm farm and allow the chickens in the garden to scavenge and add nitrogen; you'll find that starting a compost pile is not rocket science. It is hard physical work, though but there again the hens do half of the scratching.

The mealie stalks make an excellent foundation for any compost pile by allowing proper aeration. Remove them from the ground with a strong garden spade, shaking the soil off the roots before moving them; do it after rain and you'll find it much easier. This takes more time than you think; allow for it.

Then harvesting and storing sufficient rainwater during the wet season is the backyard permaculture solution to a prolonged drought.

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56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa