Growing Sweet Corn
By Penny Ossowski
Eden Seeds sells only non-hybrid old traditional open pollinated Heirloom seeds of corn. Australian corn seed can be purchased online from Eden Seeds/Select Organic.
I really look forward to the hot weather so I can plant some sweet corn. Nothing tastes better than that first cob of the season. Spring is the best time to grow sweet corn, during summer months when it is delicious to eat with our summer meals.
The original corn or maize (Zea mays ssp. Mays) was cultivated over 8000 years ago by the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and Peruvian Indians and was grown as animal fodder and for grinding into a meal or flour. When the Spanish invaded the Americas in the area from central Mexico to Peru they found corn being cultivated. Christopher Columbus took seed back to Spain from where it spread throughout Europe and Asia. It was originally known as maize but is now referred to as corn in the United States, Canada and Australia. While corn grown as grain is allowed to mature before harvesting sweet corn is harvested while young and juicy. The first recorded sweet corn was during the late 18th century in America and since then has been especially cultivated to enhance its sweetness. There are currently hundreds of varieties of sweet corn, with more being developed for greater sweetness and a wider range of colours.
Everyone you speak to has a different way of planting their seeds.
Some ways are
- plant seeds singularly 20cm apart in rows about 30cm apart
- plant seed in pairs 20cm apart in rows about 30cm apart
- plant corn in a circle of 6 seeds with a garden stake in the centre to tie them for support
- grow in two long rows, stake them and tie them with wire
(It is possible to protect newly planted seeds by leaving plenty of seed on the surface each day along with other seed, like sunflowers, to feed mice – once seeds are germinated mice will not eat them but bandicoots will).
However you plant the seed, remember the corn is pollinated by the flowers (male) from the top of the plant. Each silk (female) of the corn cob has to be pollinated by the pollen falling from the flower to make its corn kernel grow. The more pollination, the bigger and better cobs you will grow. Therefore corn plants need to be planted fairly close together so as to share their pollen. Basically each silk is connected to one corn kernel, if the silk isn't pollinated that kernel won't develop. Pollination can be by wind or shaking by hand.
To ensure a successful germination of seeds it is a good idea to soak them overnight before planting also any inferior seeds will float. Sweet Corn needs to grow in full sun (requiring at least 8 hours per day), in most types of soil which has been prepared with plenty of compost, manures and blood and bone with the preferred soil pH 5.5 - 6.5.
Lightly dig the soil. And create trenches about 5-10cm deep. Plant seeds directly into the soil in the trenches.
After you plant your seeds it will take 7 to 10 days for the plants to appear. At this stage, watch out for snails, slugs and cut worms attacking the juicy plants. When the plants are about 20-30cm tall fill the trenches about halfway with soil and cover between the plants with a good layer of mulch. Corn is a big feeder and needs plenty of water while growing so give it plenty of liquid fertilisers and mulch it well to conserve the moisture. Make successive plantings throughout the hotter months to keep up a continual supply for your family. As the plants grow to full height (height depends on variety) very few pests will attack them, other than grasshoppers. When the tassels start to appear, make sure you are watering regularly and don't let the soil dry out between watering. If the weather becomes hot and dry, water more frequently. Corn will not grow well if it becomes too dry for long periods. As the cobs start to form we have to watch out for the corn ear worm, which eats the cob from the top down. The best way to protect against this is to spray with Dipel or use derris dust.
To save seeds from open-pollinated varieties, allow perfect cobs to dry on the plants until the husks turn tan then continue to dry them indoors until a few kernels fall away when you twist the ear between your hands. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place for up to two years. If you are going to plant different varieties of corn and wish to save the seeds it is important to keep them separate, as they can cross pollinate.
Sweet corn cobs freshly picked from the garden are far tastier than those from shops. The reason for this is that the sugar in sweet corn quickly turns to starch giving a very dull flavour after only a day or so.
American Indians are said to "walk slowly to pick, and run back to cook".
The hardest thing with sweet corn is how to tell when it is ready to pick. Some ways that have been suggested are
- when the tassel turns dark brown/black
- feeling firmly along the cob to feel the size of the corn kernels
- puII back part of the sheath and pierce a couple of grains using your fingernail, if a water liquid squirts out the cob is unripe, if the liquid is creamy then it is ready to pick
Sweet corn tastes best when it is freshly picked just before cooking. It can be boiled in a saucepan of water for about 5 - 10 minutes after stripping the leaves and tassels from the cob then served bare or with plenty of butter dripping from your chin as you devour it.
Corn can be steamed, boiled, stir fried, barbecued used in soups, stews and casseroles or leftovers can be added to fritters, omelettes or frittatas.
If you have an over abundance of sweet corn it can be blanched, then frozen either on the cob or strip the kernels and freeze separately. It can be made into Corn Relish and bottled for year round use.
Sweet corn can be under planted with other crops. When doing this don't plant them until the corn is about 15 to 20cm tall. Plants suitable to under-plant include dwarf beans, radish, lettuce, zucchini, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, green manure plants, sunflowers (said to reduce the incidence of army worm) and most herbs. I have tried climbing beans but found them too invasive.
Balinese - Two light yellow kernels, medium sized cobs per, tall 2m plant. Thick stalk and heavy foliage also make it a good fodder and cover crop plant.
Golden Bantam - Golden kernels, two or more 15-17cm cobs per plant, excellent flavoured, early cropping, plants usually 1.5m.
Anasazi - Multi coloured with red, blue and white kernels in varying combinations .Anasazi means "ancient one". Eat when young and still yellow.
Early Gem - Sweet yellow cobs on a medium sized plant, quick maturing and usually 2 cobs.
Following are some interesting Corn Facts from the Iroquois Museum
- Corn, together with Beans, and Squash are referred to as the Three Sisters who grow from Mother Earth. The Three Sisters are the staples of the traditional Iroquois diet.
- An ear of corn averages 800 kernels in 16 rows
Consider Heirloom corn seed varieties. You can buy corn seeds online. Eden Seeds/Select has the best range in Australia.