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Growing Garden Fresh Sweet Corn

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How to Grow Corn

To get full ears of corn, the tassels need to drop pollen onto the silks, shown up front.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview:

Corn has long been a popular vegetable and all the more so when freshly harvested. To get the flavor of fresh corn, you will have to grow your own. Although it is easy enough to grow corn in any warm, sunny garden, it is often difficult to successfully bring to harvest because of the competition from crows, raccoons, squirrels and assorted other pests who find corn as delicious as do humans. Many modern sweet corn varieties have been bred to mature early in the season, but later maturing types tend to be sweeter. Here are tips for how to grow corn in your garden.

Description:

Corn plants grow straight, tall stalks that produce husked ears of tender kernels tufted with silks. Most corn varieties look alike on the outside, but under the husks, sweet corn can be white, yellow, bicolor, and even red.

Latin Name:

Zea mays

Common Name(s): Sweet Corn

Hardiness Zones for Growing Corn:

Mature Size:

Varies with variety, averaging 6 - 8' tall

Exposure for Corn Plants:

Days to Harvest:

65 - 90 days

Suggested Corn Varieties:

  • 'Early Sunglow': Early and sweet. Good for shorter seasons and small gardens.

  • 'Silver Queen' - Another early producer with pale white kernels and very disease resistant. The new 'Silver Princess" is even earlier.

  • 'Golden Bantam' - An open pollinated heirloom variety, often called the original sweet corn.

  • 'Tuxedo: - One of the newer 'supersweet' varieties with extra long ears.

Harvesting Corn:

Traditional wisdom says harvest your corn the day before the raccoons do. Seriously, look for fat, dark green ears with brown tassels. Squeeze to test for firmness and a rounded, not pointed tip. A final test would be to puncture a kernel with a fingernail. If it spurts milky liquid, it's ready.

Growing Tips - How to Grow Corn:

Planting Corn: Corn is generally direct seeded, after all danger of frost is past. Because corn is pollinated by the wind, it does best when planted in blocks rather than rows. Pollen from the male tassels needs to make contact with the female silks and close planting means more contact.

Note to Seed Savers: Wind pollination also results in easy cross-pollination, so keep different types of corn separated by at least 25 feet or plant varieties that mature at different times.

Soil for Growing Corn: The soil should be loose, with a neutral pH (6.0 - 7.0). Heavy soils inhibit the long tap roots. The shallow roots you will see on the soil surface are predominantly there to anchor the tall plants.

Sweet corn is a long season crop. To extend the harvest, plant varieties that mature at different rates. You can expect one to two ears of corn per plant.

Growing Corn:

Fertilizer & Feeding: Corn is a heavy feeder, requiring rich soil. Nitrogen is especially important, since corn is basically a grass. The Native American practice of burying a fish head with the corn seeds was a practical means of supplementing nitrogen. An inch or two of compost or rotted manure will also work, as will feeding with fish emulsion Watering: Water regularly, especially if you notice the leaves curling and when the cobs begin to swell. Apply nitrogen fertilizer once the plants are about 8 inches tall and again when they start producing tassels. Keep the area free of weeds that will compete for food and water.

Pests & Problems

Animals will be the biggest pest problem. The native American method of planting squash under corn plants helps deter some animals, because they don't like stepping on the prickly squash leaves. But it also makes it difficult to harvest.

Corn borers can be kept in check with Bt and by destroying the stalks at the end of the season. Flea beetles will spread bacterial wilt. Combat that by planting resistant varieties. Be on the look out for a grayish black fungus called smut. Remove and destroy while young, before the mass bursts and sends the spores everywhere.

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