Have you tried to grow sweetcorn yet? How did you get on? We have noticed that a lot of people have been asking for advice on how to grow it, or about issues they have had growing it. On the back of that we decided to do a little blog on the subject which we hope will help you.
There are many variations of sweetcorn but we will only concentrate on the most popular. Shown above is the traditional eating cob that we are familiar with along side a variety called Flint Fiesta, this and Glass Gem Organic are most often grown for popping or decorative purposes. The first nations of the USA would have grown them for grinding into cornmeal. In fact, they were an integral part of their growing system "The Three Sisters" where Squash, Corn and Beans were all planted together to form a symbiotic relationship. The squash provides ground cover to suppress weeds and conserve moisture, the corn grows tall and strong and provides support for the beans to grow up. We had a test bed at home this season and this system worked to perfection for us, cropping heavily. They still are!
Other varieties include Minipops, where the cobs are small and cooked and eaten whole - much like the ones you would expect to be part of the veg in your Chinese meal and Red Popping Corn, the name is self explanatory. Grow, dry and pop!
To recap here are the varieties that you can purchase from our website:
Sweetcorn Incredible a lovely juicy eating cob
Sweetcorn Glass Gem Organic stunning, really does look like glass. Pop/Grind
Sweetcorn Flint Fiesta as above decorative and you can pop or grind it.
Sweetcorn Minipops F1 a tender, sweet baby, eat the whole thing, variety
Sweetcorn Red Popping Corn grow it, dry it, pop it and start your movie!
One of the first things that you need to understand is that sweetcorn is wind pollinated and therefore needs to be planted in a block formation, fairly close together. The more you have the more you are likely to be successful. See the downloadable sowing guides on each sweetcorn variety for information on spacing. Even the quoted distances could be tightened up a little without risk to your crop. The next time you are driving past a field full of corn have a look at how closely Farmer Brown has planted them.
Many say that sweetcorn does not like to be transplanted and should be grown in situ. We, however, out of necessity, start in a heated propagator, transplant, very carefully, into toilet roll inners when large enough to handle and then plant into final position after all danger of frost has passed. We planted 24 x Incredible this year and had 100% success. The only thing we will change next year is to plant more of them for the space we have.
- Feed your plants with any good tomato feed once or twice fortnightly.
- You can aid pollination by giving the stems a gentle tap or shake once the male flowers have developed. You plants can reach up to 1.8 meters tall.
- Make sure your growing site has plenty of organic matter. Sweetcorn are hungry plants and not enough could result is small cobs.
Do not grow alongside the following:
- Aubergine/Egg Plant
- Brussel Sprouts
How does the pollination work? The three images above can help you with the answer to this.
- Image 1: The plant has grown and is displaying a top of grass like flowers - these are the male flowers, that will, aided by wind, pollinate the female tassles.
- Image 2: The cob displayed is properly matured and ready to pick. The crowning female tassle has turned brown, which is an indication of maturity. It is important to realise that each fine strand of the female tassle is potentially a sweetcorn kernel.
- Image 3: Shows under pollination, where not every fine strand has been pollinated and therefore some kernels have not fully developed. This can happen to a lesser, or greater extent, than shown here.
When To Pick
We touched on the signs of maturity a little earlier but here are the main things to look for.
- The tassle on the developing cob will have turned dark brown
- The size and swell on the cob is a suitable size
- Strip back some of the outer leaves until you can see some developed kernels. Press your nail/finger tip into it. If the kernel releases a milky fluid it is good to go.
- The colour may be paler than you are used to seeing in the supermarket but they will go a glorious butter yellow once lightly cooked.
How To Dry Popping/Grinding varieties
- Pick the ears of corn when ready
- Remove the husk/outer leaves
- Hang in a cool dark location until dry. Alternatively you can dry in a low oven. 1 - 2 hours at 65°C then reduce to 55°C for a total drying time
- Remove the kernels when hard and dry by pushing each one off the cob
Why Grind Corn
- To make cornmeal - loads of recipes for it
- To make cornflour - as above but much more finely ground
- To make your own polenta
- Yellowing leaves on plant: This usually depicts a lack of nitrogen. If it is only the lower leaves that are showing signs of this then you do not have too much of a problem. Ensure enough organic matter and feed regularly as mentioned above
- Lack of female tassle development: Stress can cause this, especially if the plant is stressed at the point it would be trying to develop the tassles. Lack of water and high temperatures can cause this. Water regularly and mulch to retain even levels of moisture
- Slugs & Snails: The usual enemy. Protect seedlings as you would any others from these two critters.
- Birds: Net your seedlings to protect them until they are large enough to cope. You could also cover with horticultural fleece. Birds may also eat your kernels if you have sown direct.
- Mice/Rats: Will eat your kernels if sown direct but will also try to get to the mature cobs. We are lucky enough not to have an issue with this but if you do some advocate placing a plastic bottle over the ear of corn to protect it.