Starting Early Corn in 72-Cell Packs

March 3, 2022

By Jonathan Mitschele

Corn seedlings, dibble and planting frame. Courtesy of Jonathan Mitschele

Years ago, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener published an article about starting corn in mid-April in forestry trays from Stuewe & Sons, and I have used this method for growing early corn ever since, transplanting seedings in mid-June. There are downsides, however: (1) the trays with shipping are an expensive initial investment, though after 20-plus years they are still as good as new; and (2) they require a good deal of potting soil.

Recently I have begun using 72-cell pack inserts with 2-inch deep cells that fit standard 10-by-20 trays for later plantings. Two to three weeks before the last frost date, around the first of June where I live, I measure out 80 to 90 corn seeds into a glass or jar, cover them with water, soak overnight, then drain and spread the seeds onto a moistened paper towel in a plastic sandwich box and cover with the lid. If placed in a warm spot the corn will germinate in a day or two. When germination is complete, I fill each cell with moistened potting soil and plant one seed in each cell. (Don’t wait too long or seedlings will become fragile and entangled with each other.) I cover each tray with the transparent cover that fits the tray, but if you are attentive to keeping the cells moist, a cover is not necessary. Seedlings will be ready to transplant into the garden two to three weeks after the last frost date. While it may seem like a lot of extra work, there are zero weeds when I plant my seedlings, and I use this method for all of my subsequent corn plantings. (I really like corn, so I plant more every couple of weeks so that I have corn right up to the first frost!)

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