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Growing and Using Fresh Corn

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Growing and using fresh corn is easy. This warm-season vegetable makes for a great addition to any garden with sufficient light, ample fertility, a solid growing season, and enough space. It is especially popular with home gardeners because it tastes appreciably better when it is harvested and eaten fresh from the garden. Successive plantings can yield continual harvests from early summer until frost if the weather cooperates.

Corn

Spacing & Depth

Plant the kernels (seeds) 1/2 inch deep in cool, moist soils and 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep in warm, dry soils. Space the kernels 9 to 12 inches apart in the row. Plant two or more rows of each variety side by side to ensure good pollination and ear development. Allow 30 to 36 inches between rows.

All sweet corns should be protected from possible cross-pollination by other types of corn (field, pop or flint). If you plant supersweet or synergistic sweet corn varieties, plan your garden arrangement and planting schedule so as to prevent cross-pollination between these varieties and with any other corn, including nonSh2 sweet corns. Supersweet varieties pollinated by standard sweet corn, popcorn or field corn do not develop a high sugar content and are starchy. Cross-pollination between yellow and white sweet corn varieties of the same type affects only the appearance of the white corn, not the eating quality.

Care

Cultivate shallowly to control weeds. Chemical herbicides are not recommended for home gardens. Although corn is a warm-weather crop, lack of water at critical periods can seriously reduce quality and yield. If rainfall is deficient, irrigate thoroughly during emergence of the tassels, silking and maturation of the ears.

Hot, droughty conditions during pollination result in missing kernels, small ears and poor development of the tips of the ears. Side-dress nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are 12 to 18 inches tall.

Some sweet corn varieties produce more side shoots or "suckers" than others. Removing these side shoots is time consuming and does not improve yields.

Harvesting

Each cornstalk should produce at least one large ear. Under good growing conditions (correct spacing; freedom from weeds, insects and disease; and adequate moisture and fertility), many varieties produce a second ear. This second ear is usually smaller and develops later than the first ear.

Sweet corn ears should be picked during the "milk stage" when the kernels are fully formed but not fully mature. This stage occurs about 20 days after the appearance of the first silk strands. The kernels are smooth and plump and the juice in the kernel appears milky when punctured with a thumbnail. Sweet corn remains in the milk stage less than a week. As harvest time approaches, check frequently to make sure that the kernels do not become too mature and doughy. Other signs that indicate when the corn is ready for harvest are drying and browning of the silks, fullness of the tip kernels and firmness of the unhusked ears.
To harvest, snap off the ears by hand with a quick, firm, downward push, twist and pull. The ears should be eaten, processed or refrigerated as soon as possible. At summer temperatures, the sugar content in sweet corn quickly decreases and the starch increases.
Cut or pull out the cornstalks immediately after harvest and put them in a compost pile. Cut the stalks in one foot lengths or shred them to hasten decay.

Common Problems

  • Corn earwormsare a problem in sweet corn every year.
  • Corn rootworm beetles may cause extensive silk damage that interferes with pollination.
  • European corn borersdamage stalks, tassels and ears.
  • Flea beetlesoften attack early in the spring as the corn plants emerge through the soil.
  • Smut is caused by a fungus that invades the kernels.