Corn (Zea mays ssp. mays), or Maize is a native American grain. The word corn once referred to any old grain. Most old European references to “corn” (such as the corn dolly) actually refer to other types of grain.
Folk Names Corn, maize, give of life, sacred mother, the seed of seeds
Corn was domesticated more than 5000 years ago in Mexico. It is descended from a native grass called teosinte Zea mexicana. Wild teosinte has a few edible grains but ancient peoples must have selectively grown those plants with the most grains for many generations to finally get corn as we know it today.
Corn should be planted during the first phase of the moon when the moon is in Cancer, Pisces or Scorpio and when soil temperatures are at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night, plant corn seeds in rows about a foot apart and at least five deep and five across. Choose a very sunny location with well-draining soil. Corn does very well sown directly in the ground. If you want to start your corn early, you can cover it with plastic to keep it warm. You should only plant one type of corn, especially if you plan to save the seeds to plant again next year. Corn is wind-pollinated and can easily crossbreed. This should not be a problem if you’re just growing corn for eating that season, but if you wish to save seeds to grow again next year, it is recommended that fields be separated by at least 1/2 mile. If you can’t manage that, trees, hills, and buildings between fields are helpful and you’ll want to collect seeds from the middle of your field. You may also get some benefit from hand pollinating, especially if your field is small. Just break off the male flowers at the top of the stalk and shake it over the silk of the female flowers; do this early and often.
Traditional companions for corn are beans and squash. The corn provides a natural trellis for beans to climb while squash shades out the weeds and helps retain moisture in the soil. Meanwhile, the beans inject nitrogen into the soil to feed both the corn and the squash! You can plant beans along your rows after the corn is about six inches tall and squash between the rows at the same time. Or you can plant your corn, beans and squash in hills. Drop a few corn seeds into the top of the hill, after the corn sprouts, surround these with bean seeds and then plant squash seeds around the base of the hill! When choosing varieties of corn, beans, and squash to plant together, be sure to check the maturity dates on your package. You’ll have an easier time if all of your crops are ready to harvest at the same time so your harvesting activities don’t damage your as yet immature crops.
Remember that corn needs corn to ripen, so make sure your rows of corn or rows of hills are at least five deep and five across. The more corn you have, the better it will ripen.
A Note About GMOs
It is well known that maize is one of the most genetically modified crops in the US. Many people prefer to avoid GMOs in their food supply and this may be part of the reason many people wish to grow their own food. However, new gardeners often worry that they will inadvertently purchase and grow genetically modified seeds. There is very little chance of this. Genetically modified seeds are made in a laboratory and they are proprietary. The companies that make these seeds have strict rules regarding their use and require growers who use them to sign something like a licensing agreement and you cannot save seeds for the next generation.
Some people equate hybrid seeds with GMOs. They are not. Hybrid seeds are simply two different varieties bred together to produce a seed that has the qualities of both parent plants. If you save these seeds, you may find the next generation has some surprises for you, but if you are just growing corn to eat, hybrids are often a good choice for the home gardener. Heirloom and open-pollinated seeds will breed true, however, and you should look for these if you’re hoping to save seeds for the next season.
Harvesting & Storage
Your corn will be ready to harvest about 3 weeks after the corn silk appears. When the silks start to turn brown and dry out you know it’s time to check your corn harvest! Just pull back a bit of the husk and see how it looks to you. Then, just twist and pull. Store your corn in the fridge and eat it as soon as possible for the best flavor.
If you are growing corn for making flour or to have dried kernels for decorative or ritual use or to plant again next year, or if you’re growing popcorn, you will want to wait until the ear is fully mature before harvesting. It will be several weeks before the above-mentioned stage until the whole stalk is dry. Then you can pull off the cobs, pull off the husk and rub the cobs vigorously until all the hard seeds fall off.
Corn and cornmeal is a popular offering for harvest rituals, shamanic rituals and rituals honoring Nature.
Corn and cornmeal are useful in spells related to luck, prosperity, and abundance.
Corn silk is used in a tisane or dried and powdered in tablet form as a diuretic and for supportive treatment for urinary tract infections. It is said to be helpful for preventing kidney stones for those people who are prone to them. Corn silk is also touted with health benefits preventing high blood pressure, lowering blood pressure and regulating blood sugar as well as general anti-inflammatory benefits. People who take diuretics or medications to regulate blood pressure or blood sugar should approach corn silk with caution. Pregnant and lactating women should not use corn silk.
Immature corn is good roasted, boiled or creamed. Mature corn may be made into cornmeal or corn flour to make cornmeal mush, cornbread, corn pudding and more. Parched corn is also made out of mature corn. Popcorn is a delicious corn treat that may be eaten plain, salted and buttered or made into tasty treats like caramel corn, popcorn balls, chocolate covered popcorn, toffy popcorn and more!
Other Uses for Corn
Corn is used to make ethanol for fuel, corn syrup, corn starch and more.