Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Corn Growing: Getting Started (page 2 of 3)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Fertilizer -- A Fish Story?

Many gardeners have heard that colonists learned from the Indians to plant each corn kernel on top of a dead fish. This is no "fish story." Decaying fish contain nitrogen, which corn needs for good growth. The Indians and colonists may not have known why it worked, but they liked the results, so continued to do it.

Because it needs a steady supply of nitrogen throughout the growing season, corn is called a "heavy feeder." It's logical that a plant that can grow over six feet tall and produce hundreds of seeds needs lots of food. It's not so much the amount of food that matters as a steady diet while corn is growing. In fact, at planting time, corn needs about the same amount of fertilizer as most other garden vegetables. During the growing season, however, you give corn additional feedings by side-dressing the crop. There's quite a selection of fertilizers available today, and you should use whichever seems best for your garden and you.

Going along with the notion behind the dead fish of early American times, you can use an organic fertilizer such as well-rotted compost, aged or dehydrated animal manures or concentrated animal or plant extracts like bloodmeal or alfalfa meal. These materials may be available at little or no cost to gardeners in some areas. In other areas they may be prepackaged and sold at garden stores and the prices can be high. An advantage of these fertilizers is their ability to condition the soil as well as to feed plants. They also provide nutrients over an extended period of time, which helps corn. On the other hand, because their nutrient content may not be known, it's hard to judge exactly how much of some of these materials to use for best corn production.

Many gardeners use a balanced commercial fertilizer such as 10-10-10. The numbers indicate the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K), and they're always listed in the same order on the label of each bag of fertilizer. Corn does best with high amounts of nitrogen, so pay special attention to the first number when selecting a commercial fertilizer. It should be equal to or higher than the other two elements listed. Chemical fertilizers are fairly inexpensive, and it's easy to use them in accurately measured amounts.

To achieve the best of both worlds, try combining equal parts of an organic fertilizer such as dehydrated chicken manure or compost and 10-10-10.

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