Growing corn can be an iffy thing in Alaska. Too often, the summers just don’t get warm enough. But this year we have hope. Last summer reached well into the 80’s (unusual for here!) and there’s a chance this summer will be warm too. So in hope, we’ve planted a short season sweet corn. To give it even more of a boost, we’re container planting corn and beans, and keeping the Three Sisters Method of planting in mind.
The three sisters method of planting is an old method. The Native Americans used this method hundreds of years before the European settlers arrived. They planted the corn, soon followed by climbing beans, and then surrounded by squash plants. The corn grew tall and gave the beans support to grow. The squash became a natural mulch, keeping the weeds down, holding in moisture, and the prickly leaves helped to keep predators at bay. This well established companion planting still works today.
Container Planting Corn and Beans
When container planting corn, the container needs to be at least 12″ deep. Corn is typically planted anywhere from 8″ to 24″ apart, giving it plenty of room to grow. I aimed for the 8″ when planting it in my containers, the larger with four corn starts and the smaller with three. Supposedly its hard to over water corn, but my containers have good drainage and I’ll still keep an eye on it. Growing the corn in containers will also help keep the soil warmer than our cool Alaskan ground is normally. We’re growing organic Golden Bantam Sweet Corn. “Midget” variety corn is usually best for container planting.
Corn is a very heavy feeder, taking a lot of nutrients from the soil. This could potentially be a problem when growing in containers; lots of fertilizer may been needed. This is where the three sisters method comes in handy.
We’re also trying out Scarlet Runner Beans along with the corn. Scarlet Runner is unusual in that it likes cooler temperatures. Plus its pretty. Beans are a natural soil fixer. They take nitrogen from the air and return it to the soil. So the corn provides a natural trellis for the beans, and the beans in return fertilize the corn. The Native Americans also often fertilized with fish, and I’ll do the same, recycling the leftovers of our yearly salmon catch (read my full article HERE).
I started our corn seeds in a seed flat (Do this five to six weeks before the average last frost date for your area). Once the corn was about 5″ tall, I transplanted it into the containers. At this point, I planted a couple beans on either side of each stalk. If I were to grow the squash with the corn and beans, I would plant the squash seeds with it about a week after the beans. I won’t be adding squash to my containers. There isn’t quite enough room. I’ll plant my squash directly into the garden using the Back to Eden gardening method. Read more about Back to Eden HERE.
I will be putting the containers outdoors and not in the greenhouse (unless its an unusually cold summer), after hardening them off. Corn needs to receive lots of direct sunlight and be protected from the wind. I’m planning on placing my containers near our garden fence in a corner (still inside the fence to protect it from the moose). If it gets too windy or it looks like the corn needs a bit more warmth, I’ll hang plastic on the fencing to create a greenhouse of sorts. Be sure to keep your containers fairly close together. Corn needs each other to pollinate. This can happen if you have only four stalks of corn together, but closer to a dozen will help ensure better pollination. Gently shaking the stalks once the corn has tasseled helps pollinate too. Read more on growing corn HERE.