by Adam Pasco

In the past, either greed or wishful thinking has tempted me to cram far too many sweetcorn plants into my vegetable beds, resulting in very disappointing yields.

Sweetcorn plantsIn the past, either greed or wishful thinking has tempted me to cram far too many sweetcorn plants into my vegetable beds, resulting in very disappointing yields. This year I was determined to supply my family with a decent crop of sweetcorn, which they love, so I spaced the plants more widely.

Soon, the large bare areas between them started niggling me, and I planted a few compact courgettes in the spaces, along with some Tagetes 'Lemon Gem' to attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies. The adults feed on pollen from the open flowers, and hopefully breed and lay eggs. Developing larvae then feed on aphids, acting as a form of natural pest control.

When I experimented with the 'square foot vegetable plot' planting technique a couple of years ago, I placed my sweetcorn plants more closely together than is usually recommended, thinking that I could squeeze more in and get a bigger yield in return. This turned out not to be the case. I learned that although sweetcorn likes to be grown in blocks to encourage good cross-pollination between plants, each plant needs space to grow. This year each plant is at least 30-45cm (12-18in) from its neighbours, which should be enough.

I'm trying a few varieties this year, including 'Swift', which is described as "an early maturing, extra tender variety with a high sugar content." They claim you can eat it raw, although I don't quite know why you'd want to!

Despite relishing hot, sunny conditions I still believe sweetcorn mustn't go short of water, so this year I've installed a new underground watering system connected to a water butt. If it works well then I'll be featuring the system in my What to do now pages in Gardeners' World Magazine next year.

For now everything looks promising, but one thing still bothers me. Descriptions in seed catalogues often promise two or three cobs per plant, but I rarely get more than one. I wonder whether gardeners in other parts of the country do better?

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Gardeners' World Web User 08/07/2008 at 19:22

I had several plants providing 2 cobs last year, that is, before pigeons or mice or rabbits (I never did find out which) ate a dozen plants over the space of a weekend. Still, they did taste lovely picked and boiled within the hour.

Gardeners' World Web User 10/07/2008 at 22:37

Planted my white maize (seeds from South Africa!) 500mm apart - thought this was a bit far but they are doing very well though. I am keeping them well watered & well weeded. Will let you know how I get on when it comes time for the cobs - not holding my breath.

Gardeners' World Web User 10/07/2008 at 22:45

Last year my sweetcorn suffered from the usual wild life attacks and for some reason suffered from stunted growth which could possibly be put down to insufficient hardening off. This year I have enclosed their growing area with discarded shower doors (I'm a bathroom fitter) protecting the young plants from wind, rabbits/mice and, at the same time providing a micro climate. My plants are now romping away. Bubble wrap would probably serve the same purpose

Gardeners' World Web User 11/07/2008 at 08:37

I have a row of 4 sweetcorn plants at the edge of my plot. they are only about 2ft tall but are already developing the corn, they are spaced about a foot apart. I love going out every day to see how everything has grown its the first year i have tried to grow veg. i've also got a dozen cabbage, a dozen sprouts. potatoes, peas, garlic,spring onions and strawberries, tomatoes and herbs on the patio.

Gardeners' World Web User 11/07/2008 at 09:42

I'm sure my packet of seeds said 6 cobs per plant??... Maybe i was dreaming when i read that. Noticed last night that my plants have mini cobs on already...only 1 on each plant so far. What about baby sweetcorn? how many cobs could i expect from those plants?

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