Corn spacing in raised beds

drscottr(7)January 5, 2010

I've searched the previous posts and find lots of discussions from the square foot garden enthusiasts about corn spacing as tight as 4 plants to a square foot. I doubt that is optimal for my garden.

I have raised beds filled with good quality loose soil which I amend every year with manure and or compost. Last I grew several types of corn with 28" spacing of rows and 10" between plants. I'm curious if anyone has good experience with raised beds using row separations under 2 feet?

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laceyvail(6A, WV)

My beds are not raised, but they are permanent beds and are 4 ft wide. I raise Golden Bantam corn in hills--circles actually about 14 inches diameter, three plants to a hill. The "hills" are staggered up the bed about 2 1/2 ft apart. I plant 3-5 circles at a time. This has worked very well, but I'm not sure how it would work for the newer varieties of corn.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 6:09AM
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Good question drscott.

Actually - I did a bunch of reading last night about this very same topic.

Last year I tried to grow corn spaced 10 inches apart and one foot in rows. While the corn grew over eight feet tall, only about 50% of them had a decent ear on them. I attribute that to me planting them late - and the tassels began shedding pollen almost a week before the silk emerged on the corn!

This year I'm going to try and grow some Silver Queen as it seems to be very well taken. I've read it can put on four ears of corn and most put on two ears - which I'm hoping for.

This year I'll be planting the corn about 16" in rows and one foot apart - I'm hoping this will be a better yield myself.

Here is a link that might be useful: BsnTech Gardening Blog

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 2:17PM
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As far as planting density goes, there are numerous ways to achieve it, the method you use to get the best results will depend to some extent on the variety planted. Obviously, soil fertility plays a big role but, ultimately, the individual plants' ability to intercept sunlight is paramount. Sunlight is the energy source for corn plants, if you crowd them at high density the ears will suffer to a greater or lesser extent depending on the density. There is a top end limit to how much sun a plant meeds to do the most it can (the ear you want), giving it more open space than it needs is a waste of space. Giving the plant less than what it needs will reduce it's yield.

On the other hand, with more plants in a given area who cares if your individual plants don't each yield quite as much as they would have if given more space (fewer plants total in the same area) as you might get a higher yield for the area. But then again you might not and/or you might not like the quality of the ears you harvest. And there you have the crux of what all commercial farmers have to decide, what planting density is the best for my location and market. Not to make it sound too problematic but, what works one year may not work the next.


    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 4:14PM
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Thanks for the suggestions. My beds are raised and the soil is excellent but obviously sun exposure is a limiting factor. Might try 2 feet between rows and 8" between plants. Anyone else have any experience with this?


    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 5:53PM
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mrs.b_in_wy(5a WY)

My rows are 2' apart, and I usually space "hills" of four seeds 18" apart. (For sentimental reasons, I plant corn the way my aunt does and my great aunt did: "One for you; one for me; one for the worm; and one for the crow. This is how our garden grows.") Neighboring rows are staggered/offset. As laceyvail noted, different varieties react differently. Last year's varieties were Northern Xtra-Sweet (sh2), Mirai 421 W (shA) and Gotta Have It (sh2).

We put a lot of corn in the freezer (lots of Northern, quite a bit of Mirai, zero Gotta - didn't even get any of that for fresh eating), but not as much as I expect for the amount of space I devote to corn, which is practically the only veggie my husband will eat.

Next year, I'm planning to keep the 2' space between rows but change the spacing between groups to 4'. While I haven't definitively decided what to put in the 4' spaces, I'm thinking of mini rows (maybe 18-24" long) of lower-growing things like lettuce/greens, carrots, beets, etc. I'll probably slip in a few squash and sweet potatoes, too.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 9:25PM
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jwstell42(5 NY)

I grow my corn in raised beds. The one I had it in last year, was about 3 feet by 7 feet.

I spaced at two per square feet, so 42 plants in 21 square feet, and I had excellent yields (all stalks had at least 1 decent ear, some had two). If you can picture - plant one stalk in opposite corners of a square foot, in a staggering pattern, so all stalks are about 10 inches from each other in all directions (tough to explain without a picture!).

Could you plant them farther apart and guarantee two ears per stalk? Sure, but that takes more space :)

This was my experience this past year. As far as varieties, I planted two varieties in that bed. The first was a random bi-color earlier maturing sweet corn (70 days or so), the second was Silver Queen, so they came in about two weeks apart (which was perfect for me).

My beds are very fertile (I plant in 100% composted cow manure and leaves), so I'm sure that attributes to my success, but I thought I would share.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 9:46AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Sweet corn needs about 2 to 2.5 sq ft per plant in large plantings. People get away with closer spacing in small areas because outside plants intercept a lot more light. If you have 2-4 plants per sq ft in large plantings, most plants won't have a usable ear. It's all about light interception. It takes a certain amount of light to make a good ear. The light that falls on about 2 sq ft will make a large ear.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 3:43PM
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Having grown up on a midwest grain farm, when I planted corn in my garden I looked to a corn field, and planted the plants 4" apart in 18" rows. I was planting Nothstein Dent, an heirloom for grinding and I had a great yeild. Typically 2 ears per stalk. This is in my backyard garden, lots of compost and mulch. This was in a block of about 20' x 20'.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 11:16AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Well people can believe and do what they want. I really don't care. But for a new grower I hate to see some of the recommendations that appear here. A spacing of 4 inches by 18 inches equals two plants per sq ft or 87,120 plants per acre. That's at least twice what any commercial field corn grower would want. And sweet corn is grown at about 1/4 that density. As I'll say again, you can plant thicker in a small area. But in a large area you are better off with at least 2 sq ft per plant.

I'm not talking seeding rate. I'm talking actual plants that grow to full size. I measured two of my plantings this year. They were about 10 ft by 20ft with four rows. My plant density was 16,000 to 18,000 plants per acre and there was about 18 to 20 plants per row. So my spacing was about 12-13 inches apart in 30 inch rows.

This was very highly managed corn. I was watering with about two inches every 3-4 days. And applied 3-4 applications of nitrogen. My harvest averaged about 1.5 ears per plant.

I've grown sweet corn in Illinois, Indiana, California, and Texas. My corn this year was the best managed and most productive of any I've grown.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 1:46PM
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I guess that's the difference between Texas and Wisconsin. You go with what works for your location. That density was determined after a number of years of trying closer and closer spacing specifically to increase density w/o cutting production. Any closer than this and I wouldn't be able to get down the rows to harvest, so that has been my ultimate limiting factor.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 3:27PM
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jwstell42(5 NY)

Fruitnut, I completely believe you (and I believe we have gone back and forth in other threads as well) for large scale production.

However, the first poster, clearly says, that they have raised beds, which screams to me, it's a grower for home consumption, not to produce thousands of ears for market.

In this case, I do honestly believe, My recommendation is far superior. If someone has 21 square feet (or even 100 square feet) to work with, I would bet my house on the fact that spacing two to a square feet will out perform (in numbers of ears) 2-2.5 square feet per plant recommendation you give, purely due to the fact, that in my 21 square feet, I will plant 42 stalks, and you will plant 8-10.

If we are talking large scale production, where sun will not be able to hit all sides of the "bed" - then I am positive you are 100% correct.

It all depends on the person asking the question, are they looking to plant a small space for home consumption, or plant on large scale - that will determine which method will have the best yield.

Basically what I'm saying is, I don't think I'm disagreeing with fruitnut, just my solution is to a different question than fruitnut's solution is. I believe both recommendations are good - just one is for small scale, the other is for large scale.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 4:23PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I've stated often that you can plant thicker in a small plot. So my plot is one inch wide and 20 ft long. I'll plant 40 plants and they'll do OK if they pollinate and they aren't shaded by something else. So that's one plant per 6 sq inches or 24 plants per sq ft or one million plants per acre. Is that anything like a reasonable recommendation? No. So if you are stating anything other than what works on a large area, then please state the conditions.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 5:38PM
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fruitnut, slow down.

Corn is easily shown to yield best at 1 plant per two square foot for all large varieties of corn. Nothstine Dent is a smaller variety that does well with higher density, even as close as 1 plant per square foot. If you are planting a dwarf variety like Early Alaska in very very fertile organic soil, you could make a crop at 4 plants per square foot.

1. determine if the soil is highly fertile
2. Know the size of the corn variety you are planting
3. Allow for the light on the sides effect of most raised beds.

For my purposes, I want corn grown at 2 plants every 15 inches and rows 3 feet apart. I am using chicken manure to amend the soil so it is very fertile. My variety is Silver King which is a large variety that typically makes 2 ears 9 inches long if grown in excellent soil


    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 6:52PM
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I grow corn in rows spaced 27 inches apart (reducing that distance this year) and usually go with 2-3 inches between each plant. Last year, I had over 200 ears with at least one on each stalk. Some had 2. It was a good corn year.

I've grown corn at 4 per square foot and it works fine. I only did one square of them, but they all grew fine and produced a large ear.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2010 at 11:18AM
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Thanks for all the advice.It sounds like fertility is purely a factor of soil condition and sun access - which we all know intuitively. Think I'll repeat my soil tests (last done 3 years ago) and if the organic content, etc is still good will plant rows 2 feet apart with 8" between plants after thinning. Will also supplement the plants during the growing season.


    Bookmark   January 10, 2010 at 10:52AM
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eileen_nv(Z9 Homosassa)

I've successfully grown sweet corn (EH varieties) in an enclosed 4 x 4 box (box has sides and impervious bottom - drainage at edges) spaced at 1 ft x 1 ft. I do plant "alternating" so the plants in one row line up between the plants in the neighboring rows. I go for early corn, and usually have short plants. I get 1 1/2 ears per plant on average. It's such a small block that it does help if I go out during tasseling and pick a tassell and hand shake my outside plants to improve pollination.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2010 at 9:07PM
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