Growing Indian Corn for Profit, a how-to guide

Indian corn is a common ornamental plant, and it has good food qualities. It can be a lucrative and profitable side-crop for any farmer or market gardener. You just need to know what you are doing.

Is Indian Corn Profitable?

Indian corn can be profitable, or it can be a financial loss. It really depends on your ability to market and sell it. Generally, Indian corn sells well enough if you make it pretty. Most of the growers I’ve talked to consider it highly profitable for a fairly simple crop to grow.

All you have to do is grow a half-decent crop, have a venue to sell it at, and know just how to prepare it for your market.

How to Sell Indian Corn

Indian corn is sold in three main ways: ears only, on the stalk, or shelled and ground. Each of those three ways has the same basic requirement, it has to look good. That’s really what it’s about to most customers. The most common way it’s sold is by the ear with the husk pulled back.

To do this, pick it when it’s brown, but not super dry because you want the leaves of the husk to pull back fully without breaking off. Pick the corn, pull the husk all the way back, and tie it or use a rubber band to keep it that way as if finishes drying.

You can dry it in the sun, as long as critters don’t get at it. A garage or barn usually works well too. don’t stack them up while they are drying. They need good airflow so they don’t mold. Once the husk is dry, crispy, and staying in position, untie them and they are ready for sale.

To sell entire stalks with ears, you need to let them mostly dry out in the field, then pull back and tie the husk, just like if selling the ears only. This time, you have to be careful that the ears don’t snap off the stalk. The key to selling ornamental cornstalks is to have them super dry, and the colorful ear in full view.

Generally, these are sold in bundles of three to five. That means you have to arrange them like a bouquet and tie or wire them together. You can tie them together in the middle or just above. Brown twine with a bow makes a nice touch. Then, use a wire threaded through the stalks to hold them in position.

Wire them together in a few spots and they should hold together pretty well. I’ll admit, that part takes some practice. If done nicely, a bundle is worth twice the value of the same number of ears.

If you’re going to grind it or otherwise sell it for human consumption, first check to see if you need a permit in your state. it may or may not be covered under cottage food law, depending on what you do with it.

Personally, I love a good Indian cornmeal. The grits takes a bit longer cooking time, but it’s got a lot more flavor than what I can buy in the store.

What Does Indian Corn Sell For?

Indian corn usually sells for $2-$4 each, depending on what you do with it. Clean shucked ears often sell for $2, while ears with the husk pulled back, still attached might sell for $3. Bundles of Indian cornstalks can sell for $2-$5 per stalk, depending on how nice it looks.

I save my own seeds, which allows me to selectively reproduce what works best here.

When to Plant Indian Corn

Indian corn is usually planted around or a few days before the last frost date. Plant Plant it in May/ early June to be ready mid-September The seedlings usually will emerge in 9-14 days. Indian corn will take an additional 80-110 days before it naturally dies back and dries out. Some varieties are shorter season.

It’s generally planted 1-2 inches deep. I prefer 2 inches myself. it just seems to grow better that way, as long as you have good soft dirt. I always used to plant it by hand. I’d just run a string to keep straight rows, poke a finger in the dirt, and drop a seed. Of course, cover the seed up too.

This year I’m going to use an Earthway seeder. I don’t know how I ever did without one. I’ve used it for my beets, peas, and radish so far, and it’s crazy fast compared to planting by hand. I can plant a full bed of radish, that’s six 50-foot rows, in under minutes with it.

Fertilizing Indian Corn

Indian corn needs a lot of Nitrogen and Potassium. Basic figures are 200-lbs. Nitrogen,100-lbs. Phosphorus, 170-lbs. Potassium per acre. For best results, send a soil sample to a lab and fertilize according to the recommendations for a 200-bushel field corn crop.

Corn also uses quite a bit of magnesium, Calcium, and Sulphur. If growing in a smaller plot, it may be worth it to sprinkle some Epsom salts (magnesium and sulfur) and baking soda or eggshells (for calcium) into the dirt. If you pay for a $30 soil test, it will tell you if any of those minerals are running low.

Most home gardeners simply use an even NPK fertilizer, like 13-13-13 or 20-20-20. Fertilizer applications are generally based on getting enough Nitrogen because that’s what all crops use the most. Trouble is, an even NPK fertilizer ends up having too much P, pr phosphorus.

The ratio of an even NPK fertilizer is all off for most things and usually needs tweaking with additives like Urea, which is 46-0-0 ( high nitrogen). A ratio better for corn is usually more like 10-5-8. I can use an even NPK fertilizer and add some urea.

A basic method is to apply an even NPK at 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre just before planting (3-1/4 lbs. per 1000 square feet), then apply 25 percent as much urea when the corn is knee high. But, like all things farming it depends on your dirt. Every field and garden is a little different.

I use mostly manures for my corn, and add urea when I need to boost the soil nitrogen. It’s pretty simple with just a couple DIY soil tests throughout the year.

This mature ear of Wade’s Giant Indian Corn grew almost 18-inches but took 125 days to fully mature.

How Long Does it Take for Indian Corn to Mature?

Most Indian corn falls between 90 and 110 days to maturity. Some varieties are as short as 75 days. Larger varieties take longer to mature, and the weather can alter the maturity date by up to two weeks.

Good varieties of Indian Corn to Market

Wade’s Giant Indian Corn and Cherokee Long Ear are great varieties for ornamental Indian corn. Both grow good-sized, colorful ears that appeal to most buyers. Be sure to consider the days to maturity for any variety you want to grow.

Here in mid-Michigan, I can grow up to 120-day corn if I’m smart and don’t procrastinate about planting time. If I was an hour further north, I would have to go down to 110-day corn at the longest. Be sure to consider the growing season of your area, because it does matter.

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I practice what I preach. Here in rural west Michigan, me, my wife, and 5 young kids work together to grow food, raise animals, and grow aninmal feed on just 1 acre. I teach homesteading classes locally, and help people where I can.

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