Monday, April 13, 2009

How to raise tasty sweet corn

By David Burton
University Extension

Sweet corn is a home gardener’s favorite vegetable because it tastes better when it is harvested and eaten fresh from the garden.

“Sweet corn is easily grown with sufficient light, fertility, growing season and space. Successive plantings can yield continual harvest from early summer until frost if the weather cooperates,” said Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Sweet corn may be divided into three distinct types according to genetics: normal sugary (SU), sugary enhancer (SE) and super sweet (Sh2).

“For the typical gardener looking for outstanding quality, flavor and refrigerated storage, the sugary enhancer is typically the best choice. Fresh from the garden, virtually all SE releases have eating quality that is superior to others,” said Byers.

Yellow varieties that Byers has personal experience growing and rates as “outstanding” are Bodacious (72 days), Incredible (83 days), Kandy Korn (89 days), and Miracle (84 days). Ambrosia (75 days) is a bicolor variety that is excellent.

According to Byers, the super sweet varieties should be planted when the soil temperatures have reached at least 60 to 65 degrees to insure quick germination and even stand of plants.

“Plant the kernels about one-half inch deep in cool, moist soils and one to one and a half inches deep in warm, dry soils,” said Byers.

Byers recommends planting two or more rows of each variety side by side (with 30 to 36 inches between rows) to ensure good pollination and ear development.

Irrigation is the key to controlling weeds in corn. A lack of water during critical periods can also seriously reduce quality and yield.

“If rainfall is deficient, irrigate thoroughly during emergence of the tassels, silking, and maturation of the ears. Giving each plant a side-dress of nitrogen fertilizer can also be beneficial,” said Byers.

Sweet corn ears should be picked when the kernels are fully formed but not fully mature. This stage occurs about 20 days after the appearance of the first silk strands. The kernels are smooth and plump, and the juice in the kernel appears milky when punctured with a thumbnail.

According to Byers, the pest most damaging to corn is the earworm. Unfortunately, the home gardener does not easily control the corn earworm.

Research does show that earlier plantings are not as badly infested by earworms as later plantings. Byers also recommends an insecticide like Sevin that can be applied as the silks begin to emerge.

“My advice is to counsel with the earworm and compromise how much of the ear tip they may devour. They can have an inch of the tip, but no more. Cutting the worm infected tip off at the time of harvest is not too difficult and can be sufficient,” said Byers.

Information on growing sweet corn and other vegetables is available from the nearest MU Extension Center or online at You can also get answers by calling the Master Gardener hotline in Greene County, (417) 862-9284.

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