Nothing says summer like fresh-picked corn on the cob, lightly salted and slathered in creamy butter. Believe it or not, you don’t need a whole lot of room to grow your own, and now is the time to get started for a late summer harvest. A 10x10-foot patch is enough room to grow up to 35 plants and each one typically yields two ears. That’s not a bad harvest for such a small area.
You can just as easily grow sweet corn in raised beds or containers. Sweet corn is grown from seeds sown directly into the soil.
Before purchasing seeds you’ll need to know what to look for on the packet label. Sweet corn is classified by color and sugar content. The color varieties are yellow, white and bicolor. Sugar content is distinguished as standard (su), sugar-enhanced (se) and supersweet (sh2). Heirloom varieties make up for their standard sweetness (the least sweet) with the most authentic old-fashioned corn taste.
Get the water boiling before you pick them because heirlooms start to lose their sweetness right away. At most, they’ll keep for a few hours. Sugar-enhanced varieties have the most tender kernels and creamiest flavor, and may be the easiest to grow. They’ll store in the refrigerator for two or three days.
Supersweet varieties are the sweetest, but their kernels aren’t quite as tender as the others. Rachel and I prefer supersweet varieties because they keep for up to 10 days without losing much flavor or sweetness. This gives us more time to enjoy our harvest.
Corn is a member of the grass family. Just like the grass in your lawn, these heavy feeders need generous amounts of fertilizer. In order to grow the best corn, you need to understand how the plants are pollinated.
Each plant has a separate male and female flower. The male flowers, called tassels, are located at the very top of the plant. The ears and their silks are the female flowers.
Pollination occurs when pollen grains are transferred from the tassels to the silks. Each silk will transport a grain of pollen to each ovary located on the cob.
Once fertilized, each ovary can become a kernel of corn. If all of the ovaries are fertilized, then the entire cob will be completely filled out with delicious kernels of corn. Each ear of corn has the potential to produce up to 800 kernels.
In large, open fields, corn is pollinated by the wind. In a small garden patch you’ll need to pollinate each plant by hand. This will help each ear of corn fill out completely. When there are missing kernels on a cob it’s because some of the ovaries weren’t fertilized.
Hand pollinating is easy. Simply rub your hands along a tassel, collect the yellow powder, and sprinkle it on the silks of another plant. Do this for three or four days as soon as the tassels and silks emerge. It’s just that simple. Remember, corn plants don’t self-pollinate. They have to cross with another plant. Plant corn in compact squares instead of long rows so the pollen can fall from all directions onto the silks.
Sweet corn is ready for harvest about 20 days after the first silks appear, so pay close attention and mark your calendar. Peel back a small corner of the husk when the ears start to fill out and feel plump. Puncture a kernel with your thumbnail. You’ll know it’s ripe and ready to eat if the liquid is white and milky. It’s best to eat fresh corn right away. The sugars begin to turn to starch as soon as the ears are removed from their stalks.
Enjoy garden-fresh sweet corn boiled, roasted or grilled.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org