Planting Sweet Corn

Planting sweet corn is easy, just follow these simple instructions to ensure a strong crop.

When growing sweet corn, it is important to have plenty of space in your vegetable garden. The most important parts about growing corn are, correct planting, adequate soil moisture and nutrients, and harvesting at the right time.

When choosing corn seed, make sure you pick the type you like. There are essentially three types of corn, normal sweet corn (abbreviated Su, Su+, or Su++), sugar enhanced (abbreviated Se, Se+, or EH), and super-sweet (abbreviated Sh2). The normal corn can be planted very early (in soil which is just 10 degrees Celcius) but the sugars convert to starches very quickly after harvest unfortunately. The sugar-enhanced brand is known for the tender kernels and higher sugar content then regular sweet corn, and the conversion of sugar to starch is slowed. The drawback is that it can only be planted in soil at least 17 degrees Celsius or warmer for proper germination. The Supersweet or shrunken (hence the Sh) sweet corn has kernels which are even sweeter, with sugars that don't convert to starches as fast as in normal and enhanced corn. But this type also needs the soil temperature to be at least 17 degrees Celsius for proper germination.

Many people plant their corn in a row at the edge of their gardens, getting a small crop and short cornstalks. This is because they didn't plant their corn in the optimum configuration, which is in a square, where each cornstalk has lots of contact with other cornstalks. This is essential since corn is wind pollinated. A minimum of at least 100 plants per block is suggested for successful pollination. The soil should be rich with ample nitrogen and moisture. Aged manure and/or compost mixed well into the soil is helpful. Also helpful would be to plant the corn where beans of peas have been grown in previous years since they put nitrogen into the ground.

The time to plant the corn is after every chance of frost is over, and the soil has reached at least 10 degrees Celsius for normal sweet corn and 17C for the other types. Make sure the seed is fungicide treated if you plant the corn in cool wet soil, since these conditions favor the growth of fungi which can rapidly rot the seed. Plant the seeds about 20-30 cm apart (2-3 seeds at each spot), in rows about 30-40 cm apart, about 3-4cm deep, except for the super-sweet variety which should be planted only 2cm deep. Water them thoroughly and wait for the seedling to come out. If more then one seedling grows our of one spot, weed out the weaker or poorer seedling, further increasing your chances of a great harvest. Make sure the corn leaves don't curl up which is a sign of lack of water, and if they do water the corn immediately. Usually once the corn reaches a height of 50cm it isn't necessary to water it anymore unless the leaves curl up, and you should fertilize the plant at this time. Proper weeding also increases the chances of a good harvest.

When the corn begins to develop tassels at the top of the plant, don't remove it; this is the male portion of the plant which supplies the pollen. The female portion of the plant is on the silk of the cob, where each thread is attached to a kernel. Each silk hair needs the pollen in order for the kernel to grow, so shaking the plants a bit when the pollen is ripe is a good idea to help increase the chances of pollination.

If you check on the corncobs once in a while once they are about 20cm long, you can check if they are ripe. The ripe corncobs should have soft white kernels beginning to turn yellow. When you puncture the kernel a milky white substance should be produced which indicates the cobs are ripe for harvest, still tender and soft. When harvesting the cobs, they should be immersed in ice water right after picking to ensure they keep all their natural sweetness since this slows the conversion of sugar to starch.

If you want to keep some of the corn for the winter you can boil some cobs in slightly salted water and then freeze them in airtight bags until you want to use it. To serve the frozen corn, you should either boil it for about 10 minutes, or microwave it. Often people boil corn for a long time, but when the corn is fresh it only takes about 5-10 minutes until the corn is ready. If you prepare the corn in this way the vitamins are still in the corn and it is perfectly soft and tender.

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