Let’s Talk: Corn

This ought to be entertaining for both of us since I’ve not grown corn since we lived in South Dakota 5 years ago. And those were in 5 gallon buckets that needed watering probably twice a day but only got water every other day. Oops. It would be fair to say the yields were sub-optimal.

Here’s what you need to know: First and foremost you’ll need to keep two things in mind as you decide if you can and want to grow corn. 1) they are wicked heavy feeders. You’ll need amended soil before planting and fertilize through the growing season. 2) they MUST be planted in a way that will allow them to be wind-pollinated. For me, this means deep rows running North-South as our primary summer winds are from the South- you’ll need to know this information to decide where to place them. And you’ll need a big enough block of them to ensure pollination- at least 8-10 plants deep. This is a big space commitment! The other option is the 5 gallon buckets, but you’d need a more dwarf variety and the fertilizing & watering requirements would at least double from what it would be planting them in the ground.

Type: Sweet, Popcorn, Field. Sweet is likely what you’ll want to grow, but popcorn varieties can be fun for kids, so if you have loads of space you might want to consider those. Field corn is only for if you are growing food for your livestock.

Time to Maturity: Anywhere from 70-90 days. This given a wide enough range that there is variety for wherever you live and however long your growing season is. The shorter day ranges are almost always for sweet corn, the longer are for popcorn varieties as the kernels need dry on the plants.

Diseases & Pests: Rust, Northern Corn Leaf Blight, Smut, and Stewart’s Wilt.  Corn borers and flea beetles are common too.

Key Words: Obviously you are looking for very sweet and tender, that is the whole point of sweet corn! But also look for comments about ease for harvest, vigor, and yields. For popcorn varieties look for good color and long storing types.

Use: Grilling or boiling them for eating on the cob is what its all about. Freezing sweet corn seems a bit of a waste of time and corn, as the store bought frozen stuff is just fine. Sweet corn shines when it is fresh- so my personal take is to grow only what you think you’d eat fresh. BUT, if you are into preserving it you’ll want to look for heavy yielding varieties with large ears to make processing easier.

What Seeds I Have: I won’t claim any of these as my favorite because I’ve only grown Blue Jade with any success, but here is what is in my seed collection.

Bloody Butcher. A red popping/decorative/milling corn. They are gorgeous and I’m considering throwing a few seeds up on the mound of dirt near the compost bin, just to have some of these stunners for decorating come fall.

Bloody Butcher Dent Corn
Bloody Butcher Corn, Image via Baker Creek

Blue Jade. Sweet Corn. This is a dwarf plant (3′ tall!) that can be grown in containers. The striking blue kernels will shock anyone and once you cook them the color turns even more beautiful. These are smaller cobs but quite fun to grow- especially if you have more limited space.

Blue Jade Corn, Image via Seed Savers Exchange

Golden Bantam Improved. This is a classic large eared sweet corn. The flavor is traditional in the best way and it is a strong grower and early producer.

Golden Bantam Improved Corn, Image via Seed Savers Exchange

What I’ve Grown in the Past: As I’ve mentioned earlier, I don’t usually take up the garden space with corn. I do enjoy eating sweet corn in the summer, but the space-to-harvest ratio isn’t great for a smaller garden or one where space is at a premium. Plus, here in the Midwest, sweet corn stands (in the summer) are more common than Starbucks making it incredibly easy to enjoy fresh sweet corn without handing over a huge chunk of the veg garden.

All that being said, I think sweet corn is one of those things that is incredibly satisfying to harvest fresh out of the garden and straight into the kitchen. That and the plants are impressive figures in the mid-summer garden! Do any of you grown your own corn? If so, what are your tips and what varieties are your favorite?


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