Sweet Corn

We’ll reserve a spot for sweet corn in next year’s garden.

Sweet corn is one the essential tastes of summer. We grow Silver Queen, a classic white corn. I read recently that most growers have switched to sweeter, faster-maturing ┬ávarieties, although they call it (and market it as) Silver Queen. I’m surprised every year at how many varieties of sweet corn are available in the seed catalogs. No doubt there are some great ones out there. But if it ain’t broke, I don’t fix it. So I’m sticking with Silver Queen for now.

For the past few years we’ve only grown sweet corn for ourselves. We don’t bother trying to grow it for market any more. There are a few reasons for that.

In the first place, sweet corn is a hot seller at the market so larger farms often grow it and bring it to the market by the truckload. They push the envelope on the planting date and choose the faster-maturing varieties in order to try to be first at the market with it (it commands the highest price then). We don’t want to bother trying to compete in that game.

Secondly, we grow ours organically. So there will almost certainly be an earworm in every ear. While many folks understand that reality (especially people who grew up on farms growing sweet corn), some don’t. It’s not worth it try to explain to the masses why they shouldn’t eat corn that doesn’t have a worm in the end of the ear.

Finally and most importantly there is the raccoon factor. The classic answer to the question ,”When should I pick my sweet corn?” is “Before the coons do.” Two out of the last 3 years we’ve lost our entire crop to coons. Last year we were lucky that they waited until the corn was mature to start eating it, so we were able to harvest most of it. But I don’t want to put in a lot of it, just to feed the raccoons. And that is always a significant risk.

So we only grow sweet corn for ourselves. But we love it, so we still grow a lot.

I aim to plant it as soon after April 20 as the soil permits. I have an Earthway planter but lately I’ve preferred making a furrow and dropping the seed by hand. I have an unconquerable fear that the planter isn’t working right. Our son found my preference for hand-planting silly so one year, at his insistence, we did a side by side test. The row planted with the planter and the row planted by hand came up identically. Nevertheless, I continue to hand drop the seeds, rake the soil over them and tamp it down. I plant beans the same way. Just hard-headed I reckon.

When the corn is ripe it will spit in your eye. If it’s starting to feel firm and full in your hand, peel back the shuck and poke a thumbnail into one of the kernels. If it spits at you, it’s ready.

We prefer to keep our sweet corn on the cob. So when we’re going to pick corn, we set aside “corn day.” I’ll pick and shuck the corn as Cherie preps, blanches and freezes it. For the best possible taste it’s important to freeze the corn immediately after picking it. We enjoy sweet corn all year and it’s a good in February as it is in August.

An interesting bit of corn trivia–what we call “corn” here in the U.S. is (more accurately) called “maize” elsewhere in the world. In the U.K. “corn” means grain generically and would include maize, wheat, etc. Early American settlers called maize “Indian corn” (meaning “Indian grain”) and eventually just shortened that to “corn,” and that name for it stuck in the colonies, while it continued to be “maize” elsewhere.

Just four more months and it will be time to plant!

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