The Garden Patch: Two months till corn planting time

What tells you summer is here faster than a plate full of hot, steaming corn on the cob? What reminds you more of summer than when you have a bowl of corn on the table in the middle of the winter that was preserved from the sweet corn patch last summer? Does this sound corny? Hope so! ‘Cause here we go with …

Sweet Corn

021614gardenpatchcornEars of sweet corn are a popular addition to summer meals! The flavor and quality of freshly picked sweet corn is outstanding! Sweet corn does not adapt well to small garden areas because closely spaced plants will produce only one or two ears. Space is a major consideration if you want to grow sweet corn. So sez K-State! I grow mine in a 4 feet by 8 feet raised bed and have more than the two of us can eat.

Varieties. New hybrid varieties of sweet corn are available. The colors range from yellow to white to bi-color (yellow and white kernels together on the same ear). Early varieties that require 65 to 75 days to mature produce smaller stalks and ears, while later varieties requiring 75 days or longer produce larger plants and larger ears. New varieties are available with resistance to several common diseases such as maize dwarf mosaic, smut and bacterial wilt.

Sweet corn differs from field corn by a single genetic factor called the “sugary” or Su gene. Several new varieties that have higher levels of sugar controlled by additional genes have been developed. Varieties with the shrunken-2 or Sh-2 gene are extremely sweet and produce a more watery, crisper kernel but must be isolated from other corn varieties that may pollinate at the same time. A newer class of varieties carrying the SE or sugary extender gene are moderately sweeter, tender and do not require isolation.

Common yellow varieties include Gold Cup, Merit, Miracle, Bodacious (my favorite), Incredible, Jubilee, Sweetie, Sugar Loaf, Sweet Time and Kandy Korn. White varieties include Quick Silver, Silver Streak, Sterling Silver and Silver Queen. Bicolor varieties include Sweet Sal, Carnival, Calico Belle and Candy Store.

When to plant. Sweet corn is a warm season crop and should be planted in mid to late April. New, sweeter varieties have a smaller, more shriveled seed and will rot in cold soil; DO NOT plant these types until early May. Successive plantings of corn are important to spread the harvest over a longer period. Make additional plantings when the previous planting is ½ to ¾ inch tall.

Spacing. Plants should be 8 to 12 inches apart in rows three feet apart at least. Do not crowd plantings, as weak, spindly, unproductive plants will result. Plant the kernels an inch deep. If many seeds fail to germinate, DO NOT attempt to replace missing plants; replant the entire planting!

Care. Sweet corn requires wind to transfer pollen from the tassel (male) to the ear (female). Plant corn in small blocks or several short rows rather than a single row to encourage better pollination. Sweet corn pollinates poorly in 100 degree F weather, and ears with missing kernels or gaps may result. Sweet corn may be cross pollinated by other types of corn such as field corn that pollinates at the same time. If there is a danger of cross pollination, a space of 40 to 50 feet may be needed as cross pollination can affect flavor. Sweet corn is a member of the grass family and needs considerably more nitrogen fertilizer than other garden plants. A side dressing of additional fertilizer sprinkled along the row every several weeks is important! Sweet corn needs regular watering as well because it’s sparse, inefficient root system does not reach deep soil water. Apply 1 to 1 ½ inches of water per week. Weed control is necessary and very important, especially in young plantings.

Harvest. Now we’re getting to the good part! Sweet corn is ready for harvest when the juice in the kernel appears milky as you puncture the kernel with your finger. The ear should be well filled to the tip. This ideal harvest stage lasts for only a few days in hot weather, and regular checking for maturity is important. The silks of mature ears are generally completely dry and brown. Twist and pull the ear from the plant by bending the ear down sharply. Use corn immediately or store it in a cold place immediately after harvest. Pick corn early in the morning when it is cool outside. Store corn for only a few days in a refrigerator before using. Corn is easily frozen for later use.

Side note on freezing sweet corn for storage! When I harvest my corn and plan to store some of it, on the ears that I am storing I peel the husks back, clean out the silk , then replace the husks, wrap them in foil and put them in the freezer next to the freezer wall so they will quick freeze. I’ve stored them for several months that way and they taste like they just came out of the garden when cooked. You might want to try it!

Common Concerns. Corn earworm and smut.

Next week we’ll discuss another favorite – sweet potatoes! Good thing I just had lunch, this stuff makes me hungry! These spuds are another warm weather crop and have some things in common with sweet corn! Stay tuned and we’ll fill you in on the latest in the next column! Enjoy winter – ha! Just think – in 60 days we’ll be starting the garden! Are you ready? I sure am!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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