Let's talk about laying out corn and friends

As I’m planning my corn for 2023 I’m giving thought to spacing and to companion planting. My smallest corn likes to be tight (10"-1’ depending) and only grows a couple feet tall; last year my first foray into corns taller than my head suggested that they liked/ripened best at much bigger spacing, in a larger grid than 1’ x 2’ certainly.

With much bigger spacing I can see why a three sisters style companion planting might be really desireable. I planted squash around the edges of my corn patches and it didn’t bother to go in, staying instead on the south edge or crawling away from the east edge towards the sunrise.

I did some smaller blocks of corn and squash (maybe 10’ x 10’) and those seemed pretty happy, though again the north edge of the corn didn’t ripen as well.

I’m going to keep my gaspe in a grid this year, probably 10" x 1’. I’ll let my saskatchewan rainbow do 1 x 1’, which worked well for it last year (though it was a little thinned by crows).

I’m thinking of giving my biggest corns (Cascade Ruby Gold, Montana Morado) 5’ between rows, with the rows running east to west, to mimic that south edge that seemed to make everything so happy last year. Maybe 5’ between double rows? The feet will be very shady though, maybe too shady for squash, though it could take favas or peas? A hill or checkerboard pattern of 10’ x 10’ patches with a 2’ x’ 2’ grid for the corn might be good, and squash or tomatoes in the alternating grids?

It really surprises me how much of a difference the spacing makes on my corn’s ability to produce ripe seed, and though I know I can select it to fit my cultivation preferences, I love that my garden is big enough now that I can play around with cultivation to figure out what my preferences are.

What do you all do? Rows? Grids? Hills? Something more organic? If you companion plant, do you intersperse individuals with individuals of corn in a sort of checkerboard, or alternate groupings, or edge plant, or some other design? Do you thin? To single plants, or do you let a clump grow together, as in a hill? How many plants per clump?

What do you find works well with your corn, and what’s worked poorly? How big is your corn, compared to your spacing?

Do you have pictures? I know Julia has some beautiful milpa pictures but I haven’t managed to look at those closely enough to understand what exactly is going on, not well enough to diagram it at least.

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I’ve never grown corn, but I find Carol Deppe’s system of planting corn with very loose spacing on one end of the block that gradually tightens up more and more at the end to be very interesting. She says she finds that to be the best way to evaluate which spacing gives her the highest yield.

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This season I planted corn at 40cm (just shy of 16”) in the row and 50cm (19.5”) between the rows. Initially, I planted pumpkin (winter squash for the North Americans) between the corn in the eastern most row and planted cowpeas next to and on either side of the corn in this same row. I later planted one more row of corn to the east so the pumpkins and cowpeas are no longer east most.
A number if the pumpkin varieties are similar in habit to Jarrahdale, i.e., large, ranging plants intent on climbing the corn. I have to go out every few days to cut the tendrils lest the huge vines pull the corn down. Not what I want to be doing but this is the first year for both in our landracing efforts so I want seed of both. Next season I’ll let the corn get to around 30cm (1ft) before sowing the pumpkins which will again only be on the edge. For some corn rows I’ll sow cowpeas (or mung beans or adzuki beans) along with the corn as I don’t grow any climbing types and on other rows I’ll sow common beans, probably pintos or similar, when I sow the pumpkins.
I’m happy with the in row spacing but I’d like to widen the between row spacing to 80cm (just over 31”). In future years, I’d like sow broad beans (favas) or peas (both for dry seeds) and possibly oats in autumn in this area to keep something growing in the soil, provide a bit of nitrogen, as well as get some sort of yield.


I’m too new to growing corn to suggest that I know what I’m doing, but I can at least share what I’ve done and how it worked out. In 2022, I grew a 5x50’ field corn patch planted at roughly 1x1. It was maybe 1/3 boughten diverse kernels and 2/3 grown on this land from the two years before. My strip ran roughly NE-SW due only to the layout of the bramble and the house (for the rest of this I’m going to pretend it ran E-W and when I call something north, it’s really NE). Once the corn was a couple inches high, I planted a pole-habit common bean right next to each corn plant that was on the outside edge.

To the north of the patch is ~10’ of grass with some very young trees (apple, hazel, and locust) and a mass of bramble north of that. To the south there was another 5’ strip where the weedy lawn had been killed with black plastic, divided in half. On the west half, I dropped four mounds of compost (about two wheel-barrows each) and planted five random winter squash in those mounds – one squash in each mound was started in an Aero-Garden and the other four were direct-seeded. On the east half of that strip, I planted a bunch of corn plants that I started hydroponically, 3-4 weeks later than the main corn, and it mostly failed to thrive (which wasn’t a surprise…I’m just including it for completeness)

You can see several pictures here of the patch and corn it produced. (One that I’ve pulled out and attached below shows beans climbing corn and also a squash blossom up over the height of my head (I’m 5’10")).

I didn’t get as much corn as I’d have liked, but I also got over 30 lbs of beans and ~200 lbs of squash.

I’m thinking about giving them a lot more space this year to see if it encourages earlier maturation and more tillering.


Thank you for the pictures, that’s super interesting. You say you didn’t get the corn you hoped for: did it set ears but not ripen? Did you not get pollination on all of them? No ears? Small ears? There are some very pretty ones in those pictures!

I was surprised at how easily squash climbed into my corn and didn’t seem to pull it down, but that was only in the more spaced-out areas and those squashes never ripened.

That is a lot of beans! Maybe I should give them another try. Did you notice a significant difference in bean performance on the different aspects of the corn patch?

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I love those big sprawling pumpkins! Have you had them pull down corn in the past?

Very interested to know how the shade/etc impacts your cowpea crop. Is there a particular reason you stay away from climbing beans (I have in the past for dtm, but this year I’m trying runner beans since they’re supposed to do well in cool).

Those spacings sound pretty in line with what I imagine my corn would like.

That sounds like a pretty great harvest to me.


My dissatisfaction with the corn stems from the fact that when I buy corn to plant, they’re typically big fat kernels full of vitality, but when I harvest they’re small like commercial popcorn and sometimes kind of shriveled. I had some large cobs but many were small, which I can accept as part of the landracing process of zeroing in on the ones that do well. But honestly, I’ve never produced a big lush kernel. I am not at all dissatisfied with the prettiness of them – they and the beans are my jewels and sometimes I get them out just to admire them. :slight_smile:

I had these two raccoons visiting my corn and pulling stalks over, so it’s hard to know whether the squash would have toppled them without that help, but it did seem to bring some down. The squash in the corn, as dense as I had it planted, didn’t produce fruit that could be kept, but we ate it young. Some of them grew north through the corn and then started rooting and fruiting on the other side and a small number of keepers grew there.

I didn’t pay enough attention to the beans to answer your question. And when it was harvest time we were racing against an oncoming wall of arctic air so I didn’t even think to consider productivity of placement.


I’m experiencing this, too. I chalked it up to everything being a little underripe when picked, dough stage rather than hard in most cases. I’m curious about how well many of them will grow for me; the gaspe have done fine in the past, but they’re small to start with and not as shrivelled.

This year I’m getting a scale for measuring my yield and conveniently ignoring that all my squash was harvested by headlamp in a rush that one night before the snow.


First time I’ve grown them together. Most of the pumpkins are large, like Jarrahdale, so I don’t want fruit forming attached higher up in a corn plant so I cut the tendrils that attach themselves to the corn

I’m hoping the wider between row spacing will provide enough light for the cowpeas. Only one way to find out. As far as climbing beans go, in the past, corn has never grown all that tall, no matter the variety. Not sure why, perhaps our generally cooler nights. A true climber might swamp a corn plant that’s not so tall. Semi-bush types (half-runners) should work well though hence the choice of pinto as the ones I have access to are semi-bush types.

I’ve had good success with ripening squashes indoors. Much better than I expected. As long as the rinds are reasonably hard, it doesn’t seem to matter how big they are or how close to maturity. This is definitely true with my pepo squashes, but I’ve also seen it happening with my lagenaria gourds, and it worked with my unripe melons, too (although they didn’t get sweeter, the flesh got softer and nicer to eat, and the seeds grew all the way to maturity).

Maybe that’s something to give a try, with squashes that don’t mature all the way for you? If the rind is soft, I’d eat them as summer squash because they’d probably rot after a week or two, but if the rind is pretty hard, it might work to stick them on a shelf and wait to eat them until much later.

I’ve harvested unripe melons and kept them for a couple of months to get seed which worked well. No reason to expect pumpkins to be any different I guess.

Oh, cool, I’m happy to hear that worked with melons! Have you found any that have tasted great after being harvested unripe and ripened indoors? Winter squash seems to have its full flavor and deliciousness when I ripen it indoors, but I’ve heard melons don’t tend to get any sweeter.

The unripe melons I saved for seed were quite tasteless by the time I harvested their seeds. They ‘matured’ but did not ‘ripen’, if that makes sense.

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Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Maturing off the plant is good, because that can help you select for shorter days to maturity – I imagine that gives the plant a clear sign that it should be ripening its fruit sooner. But ripening off the plant, ah, that’s nice.

Revisiting this thread as I review the garden plan for the millionth time.
My corn block is 16x35ft. Plant corn on 1ft grid. Rows run east-west. Corn grex is 60-100 days but I’m expecting it to be 80-100 days and leaving cobs to dry on stalks as long as I can.

I’m going to plant cover crop between the corn. It’ll be shaded out but I’d like to have ground cover between the corn til it’s big enough. And if it gets too competitive for the corn I can cut it back to mulch at least.
Cover crop blend: dwarf essex rape, purple top turnip, daikon radish, forage pea, forage oat, clover.


If you’re planting on a 1ft grid, do you even have rows? What does it mean for them to run east-west?

I recommend 2.5 square feet per corn plant. (Rows 30 inches apart with corn spaced one foot within the rows).

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I plant corn in different ways depending on which garden bed(s) I’m using. If using the three-foot beds, I thin to 8-10 inches apart across the bed and about 18 inches on the length. It’s really what I guess might be called a doubled or compound row but then there’s a full 3-foot path to the next bed. When I plant in one of my larger bed’s rows are 2 to 2and 1/2 feet apart and plants about 10 to 12 inches apart in the row.

Overall, I plant a bit crowded by most standards, but it works well for me, I generally get at least three nice ears per stalk. A 1x1 grid seems a bit crowded even by my standards, but I have planted even thicker than that when growing what I call a pollen patch, and don’t care if the ears are puny. Of course, any decent ears found in the pollen patch are saved for seed, in hopes they will help move the corn to better production in overcrowded conditions.


I like the double row concept, it lets everyone have an edge while being a little more resource-efficient.