The first time you grow sweet corn you quickly appreciate it’s full flavor when it goes directly from your garden to your table. Fortunately, growing it is pretty easy if you have enough garden space.
My summer isn’t complete without fresh sweet corn from my vegetable garden. The flavor of an ear of sweet corn eaten within an hour of being picked is light years better than supermarket sweet corn. Growing the perfect ear requires a bit of work, but it’s worth every ounce of energy you exert.
The first requirement is sufficient space in your vegetable garden. Sweet Corn pollinates best when it’s grown in a block as opposed to a row. This is because corn is a member of the grass family and like grains, it’s wind pollinated. So if you’re using raised vegetable garden beds you’ll have to use at least two adjacent beds (or adjacent sections of beds) to see successful pollination. If you grow your corn in just one row, you may end up with ears that have only cob where kernels should be.
One of the key requirements of successful sweet corn is getting the seed to germinate quickly. This is strictly a function of soil temperature. Plant too early and the corn seed will not warm enough to germinate. Plant too late and the heat of the summer will fry the young plants. According to the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, soil temperature (not air temperature) should be 80 degrees when you plant sweet corn. I’ve found it sufficient to be in the 70 degree range, which here in USDA Zone 6 is usually the week after Memorial Day, unless we have an unusually hot May.
Corn seedlings do not like to be transplanted (only those using soil blocks and greenhouses seem to have success with this), so I don’t suggest you start the seed indoors early like tomatoes and peppers. Also check the weather forecast before planting. If you sow just before heavy rains, the excess water may cause your corn seed to rot in place. Allow four days of fair weather for corn seed to germinate.
The amount of sweet corn you’ll harvest from just one packet of seeds can be overwhelming. If you’re just feeding your family, plant 1/3 of your seeds ten days apart (in adjacent blocks) over 30 days. I do three plantings throughout June and the harvest works out perfectly-we can eat it all. The first year I planted corn, I planted all the seed at once and I ended up giving away most of it because we couldn’t eat the corn fast enough.
Sweet Corn also like more than its fair share of water and nitrogen – it’s a very heavy feeder. Right after planting, add an organic fertilizer to the bed, so the plants get a steady feed through the season. You should also prepare your corn beds at least one month beforehand by working in plenty of composted manure or compostfrom kitchen scraps and yard waste. Make sure your corn is irrigated on a regular basis. For how large the corn plant is, it has a surprisingly shallow root structure, which allows the roots to dry out very quickly. When seedlings, three days without water under the summer sun and they start to droop.
Follow these basics and you’ll experience the flavor of sweet corn like you never have before. For more detailed information, here’s an excellent fact sheet from the University Of Illinois Extension on growing corn and recommended varieties.