Zea Mays (Maize, Corn) Production: A Comprehensive Growing Guide
Zea Mays is the botanical name of maize also known as corn or sweet corn. It is an annual crop that produces white, yellow, or bi-colored seeds or kernels.
It is a member of the grass family and a native to North America. It has been cultivated for thousands of years.
They can take between 60 days to 100 days to reach full maturity for harvest depending upon variety and the amount of heat and care during the growing season.
According to research, corn was first domesticated in central Mexico and spread across North and South America.
They are traditionally grown in the Native American vegetable technique along with beans and squash… together they are called the “Three Sisters”.
However, each of them has a unique individual role to play when planted together, for instance:
Zea mays stem (corn stem or maize stem) serves as a support for the vining beans,
Squash on the other hand serves as a ground cover for all the plants while preventing weeds from growing and Beans serve as a natural fertilizer provider for all the plants.
As a warm-season crop, Zea mays are easy to grow in most gardens, and caring for them is also very easy as they require only a little proper care to grow.
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Types of Corn (Zea mays, Maize)
The major popular types of corn include:
(1) Sweet corn
This is likely what the word “corn” calls to mind. Yet before the development of sweet corn in the 1700s, corn was anything but sweet: think starchy or doughy or just plain tough.
Today’s sweet corn is harvested while still immature, in what’s called the “milk stage.” Poke a fingernail into a fresh kernel and you’ll see the milky liquid.
Now there are types of corn called Supersweet (sh2) and sugary-enhanced (SE), that stays sweet for days after picking.
(2) Dent corn or Field corn used for Cornmeal etc.
Named for the distinctive dimple in the top of each kernel as it dries, dent corn (also called field corn) is starchy and has low sugar content.
Much of the dent corn grown in the U.S. ends up in the animal feed, but it’s also used to make cornmeal, corn flour, corn syrup, corn chips, and tortillas.
And it’s the basis for good ol’ Kentucky bourbon. This is the workhorse variety of corn, used in a huge range of products.
(3) Flint corn, Indian corn, calico corn
The latter name refers to varieties with multicolor kernels. Although perhaps most popular as a fall decoration for front doors, flint corn can be used for cornmeal, cornflour, hominy, polenta, and grits. It’s also used as popcorn.
The corn is allowed to dry until the outer shell is hard, but there’s enough moisture inside the kernel that, when heated, it turns into steam, expands, and pops the kernel open.
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Different Types of Sweet Corn (Maize, Zea mays)
Zea mays often comes in early-, mid-, and late-season varieties.
However, the early-season varieties are usually the quickest to mature, while the late-season varieties may take the entire growing season.
The main four (4) types of hybrid sweet corn (Zea mays, maize) include the sugary (su), the sugar-enhanced (se), the shrunken (sh, sh2), and the synergistic (sy).
Each variety however contains a different level of sucrose which changes the flavor and texture of the corn.
It has also been discovered that sweeter varieties also stay sweeter for longer after harvest than other varieties.
Now let us further discuss each of the varieties in detail below:
Hybrid corn varieties are divided into four main categories based on their sugar content and genetics as mentioned above and they include sugary (su), sugar-enhanced (se), shrunken (sh, sh2), and synergistic (sy).
However, these categories are namely used to indicate a variety’s sweetness and are usually listed right on the seed packet.
It is therefore very important for you to be aware of which type of corn you’re growing -not only because of the sugar content but also due to how easily the types can cross-pollinate.
If the wrong combination of types cross-pollinates, the ears that are produced may be of great quality.
(1) The Sugary (su)
The sugary (su) variety is the classic sweet corn. Sugary varieties grow vigorously and are stress-resistant. The kernels aren’t too sweet and are said to have a “traditional” taste.
However, the sugars in sugary sweet corn quickly turn to starch after the ears are picked, so they need to be eaten right after picking.
They are also recommended not to be planted near shrunken or synergistic types.
(2) The Sugar-enhanced (se)
The sugar-enhanced (se) variety is slightly sweeter than sugary varieties. They keep their sweetness for a longer period after harvest (a few days) than sugary varieties.
They grow well although with few issues.
They are recommended however not to be planted near shrunken types.
(3) The Shrunken (sh, sh2)
The shrunken (sh, sh2) also called “supersweet” is the sweetest variety, containing 2 to 3 times more sugar than sugary varieties.
The sugar in their kernels lasts even up to 1 week longer after harvest than the other types, but kernels tend to be more crunchy and not taste as “corny.”
Shrunken types are also more finicky overall. You should not plant them near any other types; hybrid kernels turn out starchy and tough.
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(4) The Synergistic (sy)
The synergistic (sy) variety combines sugar-enhanced with one of the other two types to create varieties that have the best of both worlds.
Synergistic types tend to have very sweet, tender kernels with a good taste and some synergistic varieties can keep up to 1 week after harvest. However, do not plant near sugary or shrunken types.
Below are the recommended varieties:
- ‘Argent’: sugar-enhanced variety, good taste. White kernels.
- ‘Iochief’: midseason, sugary variety. Yellow kernels.
- ‘Luther Hill’: dwarf, sugary variety. Produces 4- to 6-inch ears on 4- to 5-foot stalks. White kernels. Grow at least nine dwarf plants in a block of three or four rows.
- ‘Silver Queen’: sugary variety. Resistant to some bacterial diseases. White kernels.
- ‘Sweet Sunshine’: shrunken variety, disease resistant, high yield. Yellow kernels.
Also, you can check out these ornamental varieties:
- ‘Glass Gem’: Sporting multi-colored, semi-transparent kernels, this is a favorite for kids.
- ‘Painted Mountain’: Looking for the classic “maize” colors? This variety has a great diversity of natural tones.
Zea Mays (Maize, Corn) Care
Caring for corn is pretty easy, all you need is to ensure to keep to their rule: They can’t compete with weeds and are also very susceptible to frosts. Therefore ensure you always keep around their stalks free from weeds.
You can apply mulch to protect their shallow roots once they start developing as it is very easy to damage them if not careful.
Their shallow roots often spread out to about 1 foot from the stalk after some months of growth.
Meanwhile, the following are some tips I will want you to keep in mind when considering growing and caring for your maize (corn) farm.
Zea mays corn is a warm-season crop and requires a daytime temperature that needs to be consistently above 15 degrees C (60 degrees F) for planting and growing sweet corn.
You should ensure to keep corn well-watered, as it has shallow roots and can become stressed by drought.
An inch of rainfall per week is sufficient; water more if conditions are especially hot or if your soil is sandy.
Always water your sweet corn as needed to keep it from wilting. Do not let corn suffer from a lack of water most especially when the kernels are forming.
Zea mays perform better with a normal soil temperature, the soil should be at least 60°F (16°C), or 65°F (18°C) for super sweet varieties.
They prefer organically rich, loose, well-draining soil with a pH of 5.5-7.0 to encourage optimal growth and performance.
While in sandy soils or soils with a low pH, corn may suffer from magnesium deficiency.
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Zea mays (Corn, Maize) Complete Sowing Guide
When planting for early plantings, you should sow your corn seeds only 1 inch deep; in the hot weather of midsummer, plant them up to 2 inches deep.
The average germination rate for sweet corn is about 75 percent, so plant three seeds together every 7 to 15 inches.
They should germinate anywhere between 4 to 10 days. Thin to one plant every 15 inches.
To avoid disturbing remaining plants, remove unwanted seedlings by cutting them off at the soil level.
Here is a complete procedure to plant your corn for optimum performance:
First, Sow your corn seeds about 1 inch deep into the soil and about 4 to 6 inches apart in each row.
The distance between each row should be spaced 30 to 36 inches apart.
If the soil has a high nutrient composition, you may choose to skip the fertilization part else you can fertilize the corn plants at a certain planting time.
However, if there is a need for fertilization, you can fertilize with a balanced product, such as 10-10-10 NPK, every two to three weeks
Adequate watering of the plants should be provided during planting and growing time.
Observation is also required during the growing season because when the young corn plants are around 3 to 4 inches tall, you should thin them to become about 7 to 12 inches apart in a row.
Weeding the plants is necessary to ensure the maize farm is always neat and free from weeds which may likely cause pests and diseases on the farm if left unattended. However, you need to be careful not to damage the roots when weeding.
Keep corn well watered, as it has shallow roots and can become stressed by drought. An inch of rainfall per week is sufficient; water more if conditions are especially hot or if your soil is sandy.
You also need to mulch your corn stem because mulching your Zea mays helps to reduce evaporation.
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In summary, here is how to plant your corn:
a) Sow seeds about 15 mm (3/4 inches) deep in seed trays or directly into the soil after the last frost. Plant 2-3 seeds in each hole and thin out as required. Plant out after 4-6 weeks.
b) Space the plants about 20-25 cm (9-12 inches) apart. Space rows 30-40 cm (12-15 inches) apart. The same applies to spacing in blocks
c) Small gardens can successfully yield 15-20 plants in a four-by-six-foot bed with proper spacing.
d) Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged, until germination, which can take anywhere from 4 days to three weeks.
e) Once each plant has two sets of leaves, pinch off the smaller one or two seedlings every 7-12 inches to allow the strongest one to thrive.
f) Harvest in about 10-14 weeks.
How to Harvest Corn
- Your corn can be harvested when its tassels begin to turn brown and cobs start to swell.
- The matured corn kernels should be full and milky.
- When pulling, you should pull the ears downward and twist to take off the stalk.
- However, the sugary (su) varieties usually begin to lose their sweetness soon after harvesting, so use them as soon as possible.
- Harvested corns should be prepared for eating or preserving immediately after picking.
Harvested corns can be stored using either of the following methods:
Sweet corn can be stored by freezing, they freeze well, especially if removed from ears before freezing.
Harvested corn kernels can also be harvested and be used for other purposes, like Zea mays (corn) starch.
Zea mays starch (Zea mays corn starch) is often used to produce other end products like the popular pap we often take.
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(1) Corn Pests
Corn can be is attacked by pests like cutworms, wireworms, flea beetles, corn earworms, and corn borers.
You need to be very observant as a maize farmer because you often need to look out for pests and handpick to destroy them.
Corn earworms deposit eggs on developing silks; later the small caterpillars will follow the silks down into the ears, where they feed on the tips.
To control this, you can place a drop of mineral oil inside the tip of each ear to coat and suffocate the earworms.
Corn borers will tunnel into stalks and ears to begin feeding and the best control measure for this is handpicking.
You should keep the garden free of debris where earworms and borers can live.
For raccoons and many rodents which will also attack corn, use traps or fences to exclude these pests.
(2) Corn Diseases
Corn is susceptible to “smut” which is a fungus disease and “Stewart’s wilt” which is a bacterial disease.
Corn smut’s attack will cause the kernels to turn grey or black and to swell.
Therefore, you should destroy the affected plants, and do not replant them in the same place for two (2) years because smut spores can survive in the soil for two years.
Stewart’s wilt is a bacterial disease spread by flea beetles. Stewart’s wilt will cause leaves to yellow and plants to become stunted.
Plant disease-resistant varieties and control flea beetles by placing wood ash or agricultural lime around plants.
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Other pests and diseases that attack corn include:
Cutworms that sometimes attack corn seedlings and flea beetles that may chew holes in the leaves of young plants.
Corn earworms are one of the best-known corn pests. They also attack other crops like tomatoes and are most prevalent in the southern and central states.
Earworm moths achieve this by laying eggs on corn silks and the larvae crawl inside the husks to feed at the tips of the developing ears.
The yellow-headed worms grow up to about 2 inches long and have yellow, green, or brown stripes on their bodies.
To prevent earworm problems, use an eyedropper or spray bottle to apply a mixture of vegetable oil, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), water, and a few drops of dishwashing liquid to the tip of each ear several days after the silks emerge.
Or you can try pinning a clothespin to the tip of each ear once the silks start to turn brown to prevent the worms from crawling through to the ear.
European corn borers are 1 inch long, flesh-colored worms marked with tiny black dots that feed on foliage, especially near the top of the stalk where the leaves emerge.
They also bore into the developing ears. Bt and spinosad are effective controls if applied early before the borers tunnel into the stalks.
Corn borers overwinter as full-grown larvae in weed stems and old cornstalks. Pull up and destroy such winter refuges to break their life cycle.
Cucumber beetle larvae, also known as corn rootworms, feed on corn roots, causing plants to weaken and collapse. Adults are yellow beetles with black stripes or spots.
To kill the rootworms, apply Heterorhabditis nematodes to the soil.
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Seed-corn maggots attack kernels planted too deeply in cool soil. These yellowish-white maggots are ¼ inch long, with pointed heads. If they attack, wait until warmer weather to plant another crop at a shallower level.
Animal pests can seriously reduce your corn yields. Birds may be a problem at both seeding and harvesting time, while raccoons are fond of the ripening ears.
Clean garden practices, crop rotation, and planting resistant hybrids are the best defenses against most diseases, including Stewart’s wilt, a bacterial disease that causes wilting and pale streaks on leaves.
Corn smut makes pale, shining, swollen galls that burst and release powdery black spores.
Cut off and dispose of galls before they open. If necessary, destroy affected plants to keep smut from spreading. It can remain viable in the soil for 5 to 7 years.
Culinary and Medicinal Uses of Corn (Zea mays, Maize)
According to research, below are the culinary and medicinal uses of corn (maize, Zea mays):
Before the cultivation of sweet corn in the 1700s, field corn was cooked and used for loaves of bread, puddings, ground into cornmeal, and stored for the winter. Field corn was also fed to livestock, as is the case today.
Corn is highly versatile, and can be boiled, roasted, grilled, blended, ground, and steamed.
Sweet corn is most commonly used in culinary dishes. Cornmeal is the dried and ground-up form of corn and can be used to make cornbread.
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Cornmeal is used to make variations of flat loaves of bread in various cultures, such as Makki Ki Roti bread in Indian cuisine and Tortillas in Mexico. Boiled is the classic way to prepare corn. Roasting corn on the grill infuses the ear with a smoky flavor.
There are many cornmeal recipes to enjoy with like cornmeal pancakes, cornmeal mush, cornmeal porridge, cornmeal waffles, cornmeal muffins, etc.
However, although there is another cornmeal substitute available out there, cornmeal always remains the best at what it produces.
A simple combination of butter, salt, and pepper are common corn toppings. In Mexico, corn on the cob is often prepared by brushing corn with melted butter and sprinkling it with cojita cheese, chili powder, and lime juice.
Corn contains a high amount of thiamin (vitamin B1, which helps the body convert carbohydrates into glucose and strengthens the immune system), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), folate, niacin (vitamin B3), and vitamin C.
The kernels are also a hearty source of fiber and the minerals phosphorus and potassium. The fiber content of corn makes it an aid in the reduction of colon cancer, as well as a blood-sugar regulator that provides slow-burning energy.
Corn is a preferable grain for diabetics. Corn’s supply of niacin, folate, and magnesium support heart health.
The yellow color of corn indicates its beta-cryptoxanthin content, a carotenoid that may significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer.
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Corn, though known mainly as sustenance, contains numerous medicinal qualities, even beyond the kernel. Corn silk (cornsilk color, cornsilk powder, or cornsilk tea) is used for its healing properties, working on the urinary tract, kidney stones, and cystitis.
Cornsilk is prescribed in Chinese medicine to treat fluid retention and jaundice. Due to its high potassium content and diuretic properties, cornsilk can be used for most problems afflicting the urinary tract.
Cornsilk is used for frequent urination, and soothes the lining of the urinary tract, relieving irritation and easing urinary flow. For this purpose, cornsilk can be used for urinary tract infections.
Cornsilk tea helps in prostate diseases where there is difficulty passing urine. Cornsilk is also used to heal Temporomandibular joint syndrome.
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This is where we will be ending our discussion for today.
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