I have to dispel the myths about growing corn in colder climates -- because there are new varieties that wipe out all the rules about growing corn in Northern/Central Alberta!
The trick to sweet corn in Northern Alberta is NEVER buy corn seeds just "off the rack" in whatever store... "Early Canada" varieties refer to being early ...in Toronto.
Which is NOT early for here!
We have a much shorter growing season here than they have there!
The Early Canada off the rack seeds require VERY warm soil in order to sprout, and by the time our soil here warms to the right temperature, it's barely the nick-of-time for sowing those kinds that will give them enough time to grow & ripen decent ears of corn.You have to be able to trust planting super-early (mid-April, IF the snow is gone yet) for our area, since the May Long Weekend is usually the cut-off -- corn seedlings will not survive a hard frost, and since it won't sprout in cooler soil ... well it's the main reasons for people thinking they "have no luck with corn".
So, right off the starting line, germination can be VERY spotty with the pop-up garden centre or grocery store seed-rack corn seeds. Even if daytime temps are really warm & the soil seems warm, if the nights are cool, then the soil will chill considerably. PLUS the sun's rays aren't that strong yet, and the back & forths just make the seeds rot (even treated ones will rot in those conditions) or stalls the seedlings. And, even if the corn seems to be going well, sprouted & a few inches tall, a cold spell or late frost or even a late blizzard (as we tend to get here sometimes) can severely stunt it, and it takes time to catch up again, IF it ever does.
So, that is a huge part of what makes growing corn so difficult, because you cannot really plant those seeds in April, without taking a huge risk -- UNLESS it's an El Nino winter, like last year, and spring is in full swing by early March.... and even then, it's still a gigantic risk, because they are very sensitive to frost on the other end of the cycle... fall. And whenever we have an El Nino winter, it's extremely mild, often not a lot of snow, then there is an early spring, and a gorgeous summer, with plants kinda going crazy because of having so much more time at the start of their growing cycle... but what always seems to happen on the other end of an EL Nino is an early fall with harder frosts coming much earlier... then a very hard winter the year after El Nino. This past winter was the perfect example of how harsh of a winter we get the year after EL Nino (lots of -30Cs, lots of snow, and we tend to lose more perennials, bulbs, trees & shrubs to winter-kill because they can't hack the cold after being used to be so warm!)
The last time I planted a regular SE/SU Early Canada kind of corn, it was an early spring, and summer went well, it was growing and forming ears.... then we had a severe frost on Sept 6 -- so I lost EVERYTHING
And since corn requires A LOT of space and fertilizing (&/or soil amending) and time, it just wasted so many of my resources*.
*Hours of checking each stalk for pests, watering every second or third day through our usually very dry summers, weeding, obtaining grass clippings to mulch the corn bed, fertilizing once per week, not to mention the space it takes to grow corn -- well over half of my 50' x 20' garden space.
I almost cried.
A few years ago I started requesting seed catalogues from a few companies, one of which was Vesey's Seeds in PEI. And they all have a lot of interesting things that regular stores do not have.
Which is where I first heard of Synergistic corn... I did a lot of reading on the various new Synergistic corn varieties... there are several that are "specialists" for sprouting in colder soil, AND they are much earlier than SU or SE varieties... PLUS, another added bonus, is that they remain sweet on the stalk (OR once picked!) A LOT longer than the SE/SUs... so you can pick a cob here & there, you're not waiting on pins & needles for harvest day & having to drop everything because the corn's ready.
I ordered one of the SY's called Espresso Synergistic Bi-Colour Corn, because one of the things the catalogue said was "great cold soil vigour".
I got a package of 200 seeds 3 years ago -- what struck me first was that I got 100% germination on them -- utterly unheardof in "Early Canada" & other SE/SU varieties (one of the "rules" of growing corn was always "start with brand-new seed every year").... so I was royally impressed right off the hop. Of course, having experience only in the Early Canadas before that, I over-sowed, expecting only half of them to sprout. Who knew?
When it was ready I picked the biggest cobs, and they were so sweet that we were nibbling cobs raw. I stored the picked cobs in my fridge and they were just as sweet a week later as they were the day I picked them! Which is also unheardof in regular SE/SU varieties -- with those kinds, once you pick it, it starts to degrade rapidly, it has to be eaten or frozen or canned within 2 days MAX. By three days post-harvest, with regular sweet corn, it's already getting mealy & bitter (or at the very least, not sweet).
I got the most amazing harvest that year! I was sold on Synergistics! The cobs were beautiful. Espresso is a bi-colour corn just packed with sweet corn flavour, not a mealy kernel to be found!
Last year, I messed up... it was too dry at first to till my garden & prep the corn bed, then too wet. By the time I was able to prep it properly it was already the end of May, and by the time I got the seeds in the ground it was June 5... and I double-sowed again because one thing corn is famous for is having terrible germination rates on everything but the absolute freshest of seeds...
Umm, yeah, every single one sprouted.
So I had to quickly dig up & carefully separate them & replant. Which probably also set them back, because corn doesn't take well to having any root disturbance, but they sure weren't going to do well so close together, and I really didn't want to just cut one of every 2 off at soil level, I have a very difficult time killing something I've nurtured & grown. So dig & transplant it was.
The corn did beautifully, but I planted too late -- totally my own fault! By the time we were starting to get frosts most of it just wasn't quite ready. I got a few really good cobs off it, but it was a learning the hard way lesson that you just can't wait to sow with ANY corn. It needs to be in the ground early enough.
This year I had 41 seeds left, and the same too wet/too dry thing was going on, so I sowed in peat pots with potting soil... and even with 3-year-old seeds, every single one sprouted! I ended up losing 2 to cutworms (the little bugger crawled right up the side of the plastic bin I had the peat pots in, and up the sides of the peat pots! JERK.). I didn't have the bins indoors or under light or anything like that, I just set them in a warm sunny spot in my back yard. And when I went to plant them, I was THRILLED with all the good strong roots coming out the sides & bottom of the peat pots! That's big. And there was NO transplant shock at all, despite those roots that were sticking out getting somewhat disturbed being put in the ground. I put a plastic cup around the seedlings as I planted them int he ground, because cutworms were AWFUL again this year -- people in local groups losing everything, plus I had already lost 2 corn seedlings, a gladiola, a specialty dwarf iris I'd just divided, a day lily baby, 2 muscari (and a clematis last fall) -- wasn't willing to lose more!
I will never EVER again plant anything other than a synergistic variety that says "cold soil vigour" in the blurb! And I will probably order from Vesey's again, because I know their seed is extremely fresh, whereas I don't know for sure about seed from other companies.
Three Sisters ... Another thing to note about growing corn here ... the wind. A storm moved in here early yesterday evening, and it brought rain, high winds, and COLD air. Corn is VERY shallow-rooted, and part of the reason the Native Americans planted beans around the corn is not only because beans are a legume that pulls nitrogen from t he air & puts it in the soil (thus feeding the corn) it also is more deeply rooted, and helps anchor the corn stalks on windy days.
I have really bad luck with most beans -- I spent $$ last year on beautiful unusual beans, like Purple Peacock (I don't eat beans but I think there are several varieties that are too gorgeous to pass up), and not one ever sprouted. I had gotten others and they didn't grow either. (NONE of which were from Vesey's! They were all off the rack, however the rack was in a local pricey greenhouse).
I'm not sure why they didn't sprout or grow -- it is possible cutworms got them before they popped through the soil surface, since I know plenty of people that thought their seeds didn't sprout, then dug around & found some very fat cutworms and sprouts that were cut off below ground.
I had saved Scarlet Runner beans a few years ago, and I really should have planted them with the corn, but I was taking too much time getting the bed tilled & amendments in & holes dug, and by the time I was done that I needed to get other stuff planted. I planted them last year in the corn, but since the corn was planted late, so were the beans & I didn't get any seeds from them (they froze solid before they were mature enough, whoops).
Lesson learned: plant the damn scarlet runner beans.
Looking out the window at the corn right now ... I'm probably going to have to go back out in the rain & wind & pile up some soil around the base of each corn stalk (I was already outside for an hour, bailing out overflowing rain barrels & putting the water on the lawn). It's VERY cold, and VERY windy right now, and I don't want to lose it all to this wind!
Anyway.... I really would love for everyone else to have the WONDERFUL corn-growing experience that I've had with the Synergistic corn and wonderful experience I've had with all of the Vesey's Seeds items I ordered!! (I got several types of seeds, as well as a Jump-Start 4' grow-light system that I adore, and spare bulbs once mine burned out.)
PLEASE NOTE: My blog isn't sponsored by Vesey's Seeds, I receive nothing from them for this post, I just simply love the company and their products and hope others would, too.
You can request a free catalogue from Vesey's Seeds here -- https://www.veseys.com/ca/en/catalogue
Vesey's also has a separate website for USA customers -- https://www.veseys.com/us/en/
When you request a catalogue, you will get your seed catalogue in January (-ish), plus they send out Spring Bulb catalogues (usually they send one every second month or so for spring), then they send out the Fall Bubs catalogues starting in June-ish, and you often get more than one of that one too. I think they expect that people will loan them out & never get them back, haha. Their prices are really good, especially compared to other mail-order bulb companies and especially because they always run a special offer on the bulb catalogues of free shipping for orders over $25 OR $50 off purchase of $150* (33% off) OR $100 off purchase over $250* (a savings of 40%). It puts the price per bulb or perennial really reasonable! And if you're like me & you don't drive, having them come right to your door is awesome!
Updated in Fall 2017 to show more pictures of the 2017 corn....
A huge wind & rainstorm knocked most of the corn over in late July ... I had to go out to carefully prop them back upright again & pile dirt (mud) all around the stalks. It was kinda fascinating how, within a week, the corn stalks started growing finger-like roots right at the soil line! I always knew corn was shallow-rooted, but I didn't know that they insisted on being shallow-rooted!
Another shot of the new roots
Aaannnnddd another shot of the new roots.
The corn really likes the heat in my garden -- the garden faces south, and the sun & heat gets reflected from the stucco of my house. There is no shade in this garden after 8am for most of the summer. When it's 25C it will be at least 35C in this garden! I usually have to wait till later in the day to work in here, or get out there before 9am, before it heats up in here.
Summer 2017 has been extremely dry (no rain of any consequence since July 24/25), and while corn always attracts aphids, hot & dry weather makes for billions of aphids, ugh. This is the underside of one of the leaves on the corn stalks. I don't use pesticides in my garden for the most part, I usually hand-pick, but I left the aphids alone so the ladybugs would have their food source.
This is the underside of a leaf that had a huge wrinkle in the middle. Thankfully, the ladybugs that I so carefully gave winter accommodations to also had a population explosion. I'm not positive, but I think the little white wormy things are newborn ladybug larvae. Isn't it just disgusting, all those aphids???
This is a more mature ladybug larvae. I had never before seen ladybug larvae, but once I saw one, I saw them everywhere! They have absolutely voracious appetites for aphids, eating their own weight every day. They were all over the leaves, and especially a lot of them between the layers of husks, and many were right in the silks. I had to be really careful harvesting the corn that I didn't squish any! I made sure to drop the babies on other parts of the corn plants so they could continue eating & growing. I think they are so beautiful!
As I was harvesting corn, I was finding huge clusters of ladybugs huddling together to stay warm overnight. I'm just thrilled to find so many! I moved them to other parts of the corn stalks and some to other areas with aphid issues (yarrow for instance, were just covered in aphids, ugh!)
As I was peeling outer husks of the corn, I found a ladybug that was so young it hadn't developed its spots yet! So cute, and a rare sight indeed!
So, one thing's for sure ... I'm getting Synergistic again. And planting beans with them next year! Anyone reading this ... what's your favourite corn? Do you plant the Three Sisters? When do you sow? I'd love to hear from you :)