Eating a fresh picked ear of corn is a summertime staple. Sweet corn is the most popular species in particular for eating “off the cob”. While this season’s crop is in full swing, here is how to grow corn for those of you who might want to add it to your garden/field next year.
Corn seeds should be planted in the spring after the last frost. It is recommended to wait a couple weeks after the last frost since the seeds/young plants are very sensitive to cold and frost could kill the crop. Ideally, the soil should be about 60 degrees for planting. If it has not yet reached that temperature, the soil should be covered to help protect the seedlings. Sweet corn grows best in warm, sunny areas. The plants thrive on heavily fertilized soil, especially if it is rich with nitrogen. The plants need these nutrients to grow tall and strong stalks.
Plant a few seeds about an inch in the ground, and about 6-15 inches apart down a row. Rows should be around a yard apart. It is best to plant corn in a block formation to make pollination easier later on. Once the seeds start sprouting, thin out the sprouts so there is only one plant every 6-15 inches apart. This gives the plant enough room to grow and collect nutrients and water from the soil. Corn plants have very shallow roots that spread far, so it is important to allow enough room for the plant to “breathe”. Weeds can often be an issue with corn, if they are hand-picked; oftentimes corn roots come up with the weed, which can severely damage the plant.
While the corn is growing, it should receive about 1” of water a week. Watering should be done low to the ground to avoid interfering with the pollination process. Heat and cold snaps that appear in mid-summer could affect the moisture or pollination process of corn if it lasts longer than a day or two. Inconsistent water is one cause of missing kernels. Once the corn starts to tassel, it is getting close to being ready to eat! The silk from the corn is the female reproductive parts of the corn. The silk catches pollen from the tassel, or male reproductive part of the corn, and attaches to the silk. The pollen travels down the silk and fertilizes a kernel of corn.
Ears can be harvested about 3-4 weeks after the silks appear and begin turning brown. That means the kernel has been fertilized and the silk has detached. The inside of a kernel should be plump with a milky liquid. Corn will start losing its sweetness very quickly after harvest, and should be eaten right away for the best taste.
“Corn.” Gardening Know How
“How to Grow Corn.” Rodale’s Organic Life
“Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Sweet Corn.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac