Upper West Side Corn Gardener Figures Out the Trick to Growing Ears in A Sidewalk Plot: ‘Lord Be Praised’

The corn growing in a plant bed on 101st Street started as an experiment by local resident Racey Gilbert, who may be a resident of the concrete jungle but also knows terms like “tassel and “go to term.”

Racey’s Covid hobby may be the best one we’ve encountered in the past five months — yes better even than the wonderful baked good you all made — and it appears likely to yield a real harvest. Not only that, it looks like he’ll be doing this again. “Now that I know it works, that scraggly patch will look better next year,” he said.

Here’s his whole email to us.

Hello-I am the mysterious corn farmer of 101st Street. The corn was planted as an experiment: would seeds germinate, would they grow, would they tassel and go to term?

The first planting was covered by trash bags for few days and only a few seedlings made it.

The second planting was better.  By then, I had the sign up as well, which helped a lot.

June brought a 30 day drought.  Hauling water got tough quick.  I started meeting all kinds of people who loved the idea, and were very supportive.

A man down the street offered me the use of his hose, the last piece necessary for the experiment to succeed.

The corn was growing well now and, lord be praised, some of the old seeds, had decided to germinate.

Then I had a stem problem, they started to buckle, and those plants died.

Finally, out of 14 plants 5 have made it to tasseling, and are now healthy and will set ears. The experiment was a success.

Thank you for your interest in these difficult times, enthusiasm makes the world go around. Wait ’til next year! Cheers, Racey Gilbert

Cheers to you Racey!

ABSURDITY, OUTDOORS | 28 comments | permalink
    1. nemo paradise says:

      Maybe he should talk to that guy who wants to turn 1/4 of the Great Lawn into a cornfield. This seems like a reasonable compromise. Corn is the ideal crop for sidewalk planters; by the time it starts to bear produce, it’s too tall for dogs to piss on.

    2. Sarah says:

      Ha! Nice work, Mr. Gilbert.

    3. Doug Corrigan says:

      This will just get eaten by rats.

    4. Westender says:

      I live nearby and the corn makes me smile every time I walk down 101st St. Happy to see it succeed and looking forward to future plantings. Thanks for sharing the details!

    5. dc says:

      Love this! Wondering about the lack of full sun on a city block…does it matter?

    6. George CPW says:

      Fortunately 5 have survived. Without at least 4 stalks in close proximity it is unlikely that the ears will be pollinated and have kernels.

    7. Betty says:

      I really like the idea of city plots growing veggies.

    8. Paula Whitfield says:

      YEEEAAAA!!!!!

    9. 285 RSD (x 101st st.) says:

      Perseverance pays off! I walk by this corn field all the time. It’s very pleasing to see.

    10. linda hacker says:

      a lovely new york story
      bravo

    11. Lauren says:

      LEGEND.

    12. Abe Goteiner says:

      Where on 101st St. is this? Between Broadway and West End? West End and Riverside?

    13. EL says:

      There’s also corn growing on Bway at LaSalle!

    14. Grant Duers says:

      I just reported him to Monsanto. He’s illegally propagating intellectual property.

    15. Deborah Brown says:

      I loved growing corn on the cob in garbage cans, in my first apartment’s fourth floor Walk up on West 69th Street in the 1970’s & ‘80’s. Potting soil came from Woolworth‘s on Amsterdam Ave. was carried up one bag at a time by me and friends, hand watered with jugs and empty plastic bottles. There was a small yield every year.
      Cost of each ear: $4.00. The fun experience: priceless!

    16. Barbara B says:

      Nice work, Racey Gilbert!
      I tried so-called “patio-size” corn on my terrace last year but got only skinny, pathetic ears with few kernels. I think the pot I used was too small, or I planted too late in the season, or made the wrong offering to the Corn Goddess.
      Urban farming is always an adventure — win a few, lose a few. But you have the touch!
      May your tassels wave happily and your ears grow full.

    17. Paulap says:

      Fantastic. We walk by often and happy to see your success. You have done a great job!

    18. Mary D. Brust says:

      As a 101st St. neighbor I delighted in the watching the progress of this lovely project. I’ve been out of the city for the past two weeks and have often wondered how the corn was coming along. Thanks for this heartening news. All good wishes and much support for your efforts. Looking forward to more reports.

    19. D-Rex says:

      Was happy (and curious) when I first walked past mini-Kansas on 101st.

      The limited sun will be a challenge to get this to the point of producing ears suitable for dinner, but I am still jealous.

      I will have to be content with my potted tree I planted from my breakfast orange when I was in kindergarten, 45 years ago. It is surviving, but never any oranges.

    20. Kathy Slawinski says:

      Good luck, Racey! This is a great idea, and keep us posted with corn updates–

    21. Mary Ann says:

      I love it. It amazes me how creative people have been during
      this time.

    22. julie sandorf says:

      Racey Gilbert is a living example of why NYC will not only survive but thrive.
      He is a true inspiration!

    23. jean mensing says:

      Every attempt towards “life” is a plus for us. Now I have to find a place to plant something. Maybe secretly in Central Park.

    24. Maybe Don't Eat the Corn? says:

      With apologies in advance for being a downer: decades of leaded gasoline use left NYC with dangerously high lead levels in its soil. Growing veggies is great, but they probably shouldn’t be eaten unless they were grown in a raised bed with fresh dirt. https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/11/04/new-york-city-gardens-soil-lead-concerns/