Sweet corn, feed corn, and popcorn, there is a huge number of corn varieties the home gardener can choose to grow, from dwarf to standard and sweet to sweeter.
In the small home garden growing sweet corn is often overlooked because, like potatoes, it takes up a lot of space.
Corn is vulnerable to wind, especially in small plots, hates the frost, demands a big share of any soil nutrients and is often plagued by weeds and disease.
To compound those issues, corn and has more than its share of pests and critters waiting to beat you to the first bite.
So, why bother growing sweet corn? Because there truly is no sweeter taste than that of corn that is eaten within minutes of being picked.
Sweet corn is a warm season vegetable that, for good growth and yields, needs to receive the maximum daily sun possible, protection from wind and never experience the chills of spring or fall/autumn frost.
Corn should not be planted until the soil is warm enough. This will be no earlier than 10-14 days after the last spring frost date, but not before soil temperature are consistently 60 F (16 C) or above.
Sweet corn is hungry for nutrients and thrives best in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.that is enriched with lots of well-aged manure, compost or a good complete fertilizer.
Although garden preparation for growing sweet corn is pretty basic, don’t skimp on the weed control. They will haunt you later on. There is no need for a super fine seed bed but the soil should be worked to about 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) deep and make sure the clumps are broken up and debris, such as rocks and twigs, are removed.
For a steady supply of sweet corn throughout the season, use successive plantings that include early, mid-season, and late varieties every 2-3 weeks and you will be continuously harvesting sweet corn from early summer until the first fall/autumn frosts.
Direct sow, sweetcorn is one of those vegetables that should only be direct sown.
Direct sowing sweet corn seeds - 1 to 1 and 1/2 inch (25-38 mm) deep - 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) apart in row that are 2 feet (60 cm) apart. Young seedling should be breaking the surface in 7-10 days.
Sweet corn is susceptible to wind and will benefit from being planted in blocks of at least 4 rows.
This will not only give the corn plants support, but will also help with pollination.
The most important aspects of caring for sweetcorn are;
Do not thin
As always, use mulch to maintain an adequate level of soil moisture. Water is especially important when the tassels begin to form, through to maturity and during the hot summer months. Using a soak hose or trickle irrigation to supply deep water penetration once a week is the best method.
Weeds can be a problem with corn if the spacing’s are too wide and there is bare soil exposed. The beauty of home gardening is that you aren’t normally growing corn by the acre, so mulching is do-able and will save you lots of work later.
Sweetcorn is a very nutrient hungry crop, don't skimp on the fertilizer.
2 weeks before sowing, apply 5-6 quarts per 100 sq feet (5.5-6.6 liters per 9.3 square meters) of All-Purpose 5-5-5 Organic Fertilizer.
Side-dress with the same fertilizer rate when plants are 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) high, and again when first silk appears
Corn is safe to plant with beans, celery, eggplant, onions, peas, peppers, squash and tomatoes preferably after the bed has been green cropped the previous year.
While there are a couple of diseases that affect growing corn, they are not usually a major problem. However, in many areas, everything that crawls, walks, slithers or flies will be after your crop from the seed to the cob and every stage in-between.
Aphid, birds, corn borer, corn ear-worm, corn maggot, corn root-worm, cucumber beetle, cutworm, garden webworm, Japanese beetle, june beetle, leaf hopper, sap beetle, seed-corn maggot, thrips, webworm, white grub and wireworm.
Bacterial wilt, mosaic viruses, rust, corn leaf blight, stewart’s wilt.
Every cornstalk should produce at least one ear, or cob, of corn. Under good growing conditions, many varieties produce a second cob, this is usually smaller and will develop later than the first.
Corn is ready for eating when the corn silk starts to turn brown; the cobs feel full to the touch and produce a milky white fluid when broken.
This stage occurs about 20 days after the appearance of the first silk strands. Unfortunately sweet corn remains in this prime eating stage for less than a week.
To harvest sweet corn, snap the ears off the stalk by hand with a quick, firm, downward pull and twist.
Soon after picking, sweet corn quickly begins to convert sugars into starch, losing flavor, quality and most of all its sweetness. The best thing about growing your own sweetcorn is for the taste explosion that takes place when eating sweetcorn straight from the garden.
It is important to cool the ears of corn as soon as it has been picked. Under ideal storing conditions of 32F (0 C) and relative humidity of 98-100% corn may last up to 4-6 days. Leaving the husk on the cob until just before cooking will help to keep it fresh.
Sweet corn can be blanched and frozen for longer term storage. This should be done as soon after harvesting as possible. While losing some of its freshness and sweet taste, frozen corn will still bring back the memories of warm summer days.