Picking Corn

By Lisa Ray, The Gardening Advisor, Grow Something Today For Tomorrow

In America, corn dates back to the Indians.  To them, it was gold.

Tender and succulent, fresh sweet corn is a classic summer treat from the garden.  It’s well worth growing.

Sow after last spring frost.  Corn seed germinates poorly in cold, wet soil and may rot.  Plant 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart in blocks at least four rows wide, rather than in long, single rows, to ensure good wind pollination.  Rows should be 18-24 inches apart.  Thin seedlings to stand 8-12 inches apart.  Mulch or cultivate shallowly to avoid damaging roots near the soil surface. 

Corn grows rapidly and needs adequate fertility and water.  Apply fish emulsion or compost tea after one month and again when the tassels appear.  Water is most critical when corn is in tassel.  For continuous fresh corn, plant successive crops every 10-14 days through midsummer, or until about 90 day before first fall frost. 

Choose an early-maturing cultivar for the last planting.  Modern hybrid corn cultivars include some known as “super sweet,” which have been genetically modified to slow the conversion of sugar to starch.  If these cultivars cross-pollinate with other sweet corn cultivars, though, tough kernels result.  Separating corn plots by 25 feet or more is recommended, but not always practicable in home gardens.  Instead, time the plantings to ensure that at least 10 days elapse between pollination periods for the cultivars.

Also, there is the “old” or heirloom corn.  Some farmers still grow this reliable corn because they prefer the taste.  This corn is open-pollinated and should not be planted near sweet corn.  This type of corn can eaten while in the milk stage, or left to dry on the plant to grind for corn meal, to make hominy, to roast, or to feed animals.  Here are a few favorite types of corn:

Sweet Corn Early Sunglow, Golden Jubilee, Kandy King, Peaches and Cream, How Sweet It Is, Serendipity, and Bodacious.

Open-Pollinated Hickory King, Trucker’s Favorite, Black Mexican, Bloody Butcher, Blue Dent, Howling Mob, Golden Bantam, Country Gentlemen, Pencil Cob, and Six Shooter.

Plant in warm soil to avoid wireworms, which destroy seed.  Late plantings, at spring’s end, are less prone to corn earworms.  They eat the kernels, and reduce your harvest.  Buy lures and sticky traps to attract the earworms.  You can also drop mineral oil at the opening of each ear just when the silk starts for form.  Rotate corn plantings and shred or bury crop debris to reduce overwintering pests. 

Matures in 54-94 frost free days.  Zones 3 and warmer and plant in full sun.

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