You can buy fresh sweet corn in season at a farm stand or supermarket. So if you have a small garden, you may want to skip a corn crop and grow vegetables that take up less space. That would be the practical thing to do, but you would be missing out on an incomparable culinary delight. As a veteran gardener put it, “Fresh corn on the cob picked from your own garden and steamed right away for four minutes is delicious like nothing else.” Whether you grill it, steam it, boil it, or eat it raw, the key to outstanding sweet corn is to eat it within minutes of picking.
Corn is not the easiest crop to grow. Besides taking up a lot of space, it’s a heavy feeder, needs continual watering during the heat of the summer, and is susceptible to a number of insect and disease problems. But if you decide to grow it, following these tips will help make your crop a sweet success.
Corn Growing Tips
1. Choose a sunny spot in your garden to grow your corn.
2. Start with a soil test from your cooperative extension service. A soil test will tell you what you need to do to make your soil right for growing corn. Amend the soil according to the soil test results, preparing the soil about six inches deep.
3. Select varieties of sweet corn that grow well in your area. Your cooperative extension can tell you which of the hundreds of varieties are best for your climate and are resistant to the local common pests. For a steady supply of corn plant varieties that mature at different times.
4. Wait until the soil reaches at least 50 degrees F to sow the seeds. Plant the seeds every 12-15 inches in rows 30-36 inches apart. Corn is pollinated by wind; for good pollination, plant the corn in blocks rather than long rows. Water after sowing.
5. Fertilize when the plants are 12-18 inches high. Control weeds with mulch or hoeing, but be careful not to damage roots if you hoe.
6. Keep watering and keep an eye out for insects and diseases. Consult the websites listed below to help you identify and treat problems.
7. Ears are ready to harvest when the kernels are tightly packed and a milky substance leaks out when punctured with a thumbnail. This is usually about three weeks after the silk emerges. You have only a short window of time to harvest at this stage.
8. To harvest, grasp an ear firmly, bend it down and pull it down with a twisting motion.
9. Now run to the kitchen and cook it right away!
Want to learn more about growing corn?
Corn is an interesting and complex plant. The more you know about it the better your crop will be. Learn as much as you can from these and other reputable sources:
Illinois is corn country, and the University of Illinois Extension has good advice on growing corn.
Mother Earth News discusses the different types of corn for the home garden and how to grow them.
Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service has a comprehensive factsheet on growing sweet corn.
Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.