Zea Mays

Mais – Corn – has been cultivated by Native Americans long before the discovery of America by Columbus around 1400’s. They call it Mahiz which is probably where we get the name, mais. Corn is probably one of the vegetables introduced to us by Spanish settlers in the Philippines.

We enjoy eating mais or corn on the cob either grilled or boiled. When traveling in the Philippines, you will find sellers of boiled corn on the cob almost everywhere, just like the peanuts. Vendors will ride the bus and when inside will try to persuade you to buy. In the public markets, there are stalls in every corner with the steaming cauldron full of corn on the cob. Corn is also an important ingredient in making tamales, Filipino version that is. Our tamales is wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks like the Mexican tamales. We also have the corn kernels we call “binatog” which is mixed with freshly grated coconut and a little salt. It is good for snack. Corn is also used for desserts like “halo-halo” or “mais con hielo” (corn with ice and cream) and “maja blanca” which is a mixture of corn, rice flour and coconut milk and cooked in medium heat until thick, we sprinkle coconut “latik” on top after it is placed on a mold or a pie pan.

I never really have a chance to see how the corn grow in my hometown. I guess because it really requires a big area to plant and most homeowners do not have big backyards for the corn to grow.

I have tried growing corn in my garden once and I was glad to have a success in the process. The only thing I regret is not planting more to satisfy everybody. I did not know that you can only get one or two ears of corn per stalk. I could have done successive plantings to keep fresh corn coming. The weather here in Hawaii is ideal for growing corn because it really needs full sun and heat in order to thrive.

During the course of my gardening, I learned that corn needs a lot of nitrogen that is why experts plant beans alongside the corn stalks as a companion plant. Actually, the native American Indians have been doing that for centuries. The beans or any legume would have fixed nitrogen in the soil where they are growing which the corn would really like. Phosphorus is also an important nutrient that corn would require in order to thrive so before planting, it is best to amend the soil with lots of compost and organic matter. Fish emulsion and compost tea would be beneficial for the corn plant especially when you see the tassel forming.

Before planting corn, prepare the soil by amending with lots of organic matter like composted manure. Experts say it is better to plant the seeds in blocks rather than a single row because the corn is wind pollinated and so the success in pollination is higher. Also they say try not plant different varieties in one plot (at least 400 yards away from each other) to avoid cross-pollination especially if you want to maintain the sweet corn variety. Add lime to the soil if it is acidic. Other organic fertilizer you can use are blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and soybean meal.

Seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days. You need to water the seeds constantly to ensure germination. Depending on the variety you select to plant, early or late, corn can be harvested in about 68 to 100 days. I will try the early variety this time to make it to Christmas because my family from California will be here.

You know that the corn is ready to harvest when the silks have turned brown and the kernels are full at the top. It is best to cook the corn right away as soon as you pick them, to savor the sweet taste and to avoid being starchy.

The types of corn are popcorn, (used for popping), flint corn for grits and cornmeal, sweet corn, for eating on the cob, Indian corn for Thanksgiving/holiday ornaments, and baby corn for Chinese stir fries. Hope you try to plant any of these varieties just for the fun of it. Enjoy!