November is planting time for some favourite summer crops. Sarah O’Neil speaks from experience about sowing seed outdoors.
For some crops, it makes sense to sow seed in trays early, for planting out when the weather warms up. However, some plants prefer to be planted straight into the ground when the soil temperatures are perfect for them. Planted at the right time and in the right conditions, these plants will thrive and become much healthier than the indoor pampered ones.
The sweetest taste of summer has to be fresh sweetcorn, harvested and put straight on the barbecue in its husk where the plump, yellow kernels steam in their own juices. To experience this pleasure, you need to put in a bit of effort 100 or so days earlier.
Corn grows big and fast and this requires a rich fertile soil to feed the rapid growth. Adding lots of organic matter and well-rotted manure helps sustain this hungry plant, so it’s in the best interests of an abundant harvest to take the time to get the soil just right. Sowing sweetcorn seeds into a space that has previously grown beans or had a legume cover crop will also help towards a bumper harvest.
Not only should the soil be rich but it also needs to be well drained. It also needs the ability to retain moisture as corn is very thirsty and is shallow rooted. If the soil dries out, growth slows down. A good quality mulch (such as straw) will help keep the root zone moist between watering and keep weeds down. Care should also be taken when weeding so as not to damage the roots.
Because the shallow roots are easily damaged it is best to plant corn seeds directly into the garden, so they can grow a strong root structure for their top heavy plants. You will need to wait for the garden to warm up, as sweetcorn prefers soil no colder than 16-18°C and will rot if it is colder than that. November is a good month to begin to sow corn. Even then it can be a bit fussy, so pop a couple of seeds into each hole so you have a greater chance of success and then remove the weaker of the two seedlings.
Corn is pollinated by the wind and in order for a successful pollination rate, which on the plate looks like a fat cob with no gaps, it is best to plant them in a grid pattern to form a block rather than in a row, with plants spaced 30cm apart and the rows within the block 60cm apart. Even as a block of plants they are vulnerable to the wind, so try to make sure they are in a sheltered spot. If you want to grow different varieties, make sure they are in different parts of your garden or they will cross pollinate and your corn won’t taste as good as it should.
While corn loves a rich soil, beans prefer it a little leaner. This is because bean plants, like all legumes, are able to fix their own nitrogen. If the soil is too rich you may end up with lots of leaves and few beans. Before sowing beans you need to know if you have dwarf or climbing beans, as the climbing ones will need something to climb on - such as a trellis, teepee or other structure. It is much better to install the support structure first, rather than trying to put it in after and damaging the roots.
Despite it being easy enough to grow beans indoors in containers,
Sweetcorn ‘Honey and Pearl’