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 more nutritious; once picked and exposed to air virtually all vegetables start to deteriorate.

Corn cobs on the plant

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 6th May, 2021.

Corn is known as maize or mealies in much of the world; it is really a grass variant, like wheat, barley and rye. They all have their merits, though many people today are allergic to the new high protein varieties, particularly those that are genetically-modified.

There is a move back to the old varieties, like Hickory King; also then you can be sure they are not genetically engineered, 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 platters you need have no concern. Lysine is found in abundance in many foods.

The first step particularly if you are into organic gardening, is to fork in plenty of well-rotted humus; 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 row 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 material, fertilize the patch and give you golden-yellow 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 patient and 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 their shade, 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.

How to grow corn

How to grow corn gives you a taste of really sweet vegetables 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, about 6" allowing for cutworm fatalities and poor-seed that does not germinate. Also 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 from Christmas until late autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

Personally I am not crazy about sweet-corn, but you choose the variety you like. Some have longer growing periods 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 is 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, and probably took 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, and pat it down with the implement, or simply walk over it. They are virile and if it is too deep, or shallow, 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, 2015.

My three-year old grandson helped to show me how to grow corn, so the plants will be prolific in a few places in the row!

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 no drugs and is disgustingly robust is one of my ambitions. He will be thoroughly brainwashed.

Poppies between the corn.

This is a page under construction. Every few weeks I will add an update showing how the corn is progressing. In about three-months we will be enjoying fresh mealies on the cob.

25th September is the day the first seedlings are getting me excited; I am just as enthused as my grandson when I see the plants poking their heads through. Have you started the green journey? It is worth the ride.

Corn seedlings just up.25th September.


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Here is the corn at 6-weeks; 21st October, 2015 to be exact. We are in the midst of the worst drought in 100 years apparently in South Africa; nevertheless the plants are looking healthy, largely due to the water from our reservoir. It's replenished by rain from the roof.

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 cannot 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 3 to 4 month period; January to April.

How to grow corn21st October, 2015.

They need just one good weed, and 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 you have had corn on the cob, and you just cannot wait to get your 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 mealie, 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, a touch over three months, but most of the plants have two cobs; mouth-watering stuff. It is the last week in December, so we now have four months of corn to enjoy.

On January 1 we enjoyed the first cob; they were planted on the 11th September. How to grow corn isn't difficult; near 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 telling you to ask 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 plant 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 the psalms of victory lyrics; success over hunger and even starvation, and nutrient deficiency of phytochemicals like zeaxanthin that help prevent adult-onset blindness.

Do not believe the silly belief that mealies and the like 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 have 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 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 it gets dry, hard and mature then we turn to sprouted corn for chickens.

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 the children on maize meal from which the germ and bran have been removed.

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

That is where the protein, fats, vitamins and phytochemicals  are stored; the result is malnutrition.

Corn eaten by rats.


Phytochemicals 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 the phytochemicals, corn is high in vitamin B3 which helps with cracked skin, and vitamin B6.

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 sugar like white rice and potatoes. Certainly it should be eaten only in small quantities if you have a serious weight problem, or are banting.

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 healthy product.

As a healthnut, I, Bernard Preston, 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 phytochemicals 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, and hence the name for this very important carotene, zeaxanthin; the yellow pigment in corn, and absolutely vital in the eye. Read more at zeaxanthin macular degeneration which you can find using the site search function at the top of the navigation bar on your left; 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 be blind if they simply ate fresh kale, spinach, broccoli and corn on the cob on a regular basis. How to grow corn is not "small beer".

I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to
grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,--

William Shakespeare, King Henry VI

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 bore into the stalk.

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 compost before planting.

Healthy colon

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

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, or colon, as it's called.

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

Probiotics are the solution to a healthy colon and you can either pay a lot of money for them, or make the time to prepare your own. It takes me about five minutes every day to be able to enjoy 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 how to make your own kefir, so that the 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.


If you can find freshly ground unrefined corn, or mealie-meal as we call it, it must be the cheapest grain available. Wheat is at least double, and oats far more.

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.

Mealie 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. 

Well, 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, or beta-carotein, or this or that vitamin. Instead, we enjoy a wide range of foods, mostly from the garden, but then it's 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 minds young and old. I'm 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 is one way to ensure 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 is 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 and vegetables. 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 worm wee, 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 row 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 different vegetable waste from your 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 more healthy, the ears larger and the mealies, as we call them, sweeter.

To grow the healthiest 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 this search engine for more information.


Succotash is another of our delights; a healthy traditional corn and beans recipe. The limas also have a long growing season but they too are looking great and it won't be long before we will be thriving on succotash recipe.

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

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, and 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 the work.

The mealie stalks make an excellent foundation for any compost pile by allowing proper aeration. Remove them with a strong garden spade, shaking the soil off the roots before moving them; 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