My young daughter sleeps with a seed catalog under her pillow all winter, and it is opened to the section touting sweet corn seed. The ears are perfectly filled out, and look good enough to eat right off the page. As we planted corn this spring, as with all other springs in her young life, she was ready to pick it the next day. And every year she is disappointed to learn that she has to wait for what seems like an eternity before the ears are ready.
However, now that she is old enough, I explained to her some of the things that we can do to hurry the corn along. I also told her that there are things that can really stunt the corn’s growth, and I knew she didn’t want that. I now have a very willing helper in the garden, at least in the corn rows. Let’s look at some of these ideas.
Corn can be planted in rows, evenly spaced. But our favorite way of planting it is to have one person with a shovel and one with the seed in hand. The person with the shovel sticks it into the ground at an angle, just deep enough to put the seeds about an inch into the ground. The seed person then tosses in five seeds, no more, no less. Then, a foot away, the process is repeated. I have seen our children make incredible time planting five long rows of corn in just a few minutes.
Corn doesn’t need a lot of water as it grows, but it does need more to sprout. In fact, we like to presoak our seed overnight before planting. It comes up faster, which is just fine with our younger gardeners.
Once the little plants are a few inches high, we fertilize it with lawn fertilizer. We don’t use much of it, but it sure kicks in the growth and also deepens the color of the leaves, which makes me think that there is a lot more photosynthesis going on. We also worked manure into the soil before planting, and will mulch with more manure later on. Corn likes a lot of nitrogen. But remember not to use that lawn fertilizer (21-0-0) on anything else. Garden fertilizer would be much better for the rest of the crops.
Then we do something that many people overlook. After the fertilizer is spread, we take a hoe and hill up the dirt around the stalks. This half buries them, but it will give them greater strength later on when they are more top-heavy. It also buries the weeds. It’s a great way to weed! Once this is done, and they are well-watered, the plants can put on several inches of growth in short order.
Watch the corn carefully during the growing season. If it gets too yellow, it needs more nitrogen. Quite often this is caused by overwatering. Fertilize more, water less. But don’t let it get too dry. Also remember to keep the weeds from interfering with their supply of water, sunlight and nutrients in the soil. Then just watch it grow.
Once the corn tassels, keep a close eye on it. Start checking ears when the tassels are drying out. You will want filled-out ears, but not so much that the corn is overripe. There is a very small window in which it is at perfection. If picked before that, the kernels will be somewhat small, although very flavorful. After that, they are starchy and not very sweet. Check by pulling back part of the husk and visually inspecting the ears. Then carefully fold the husks back up if that ear isn’t ready.
Once you have found an ear worthy of your dinner table, the very best way to have the very best corn is to pick it, husk it as you run, not walk, to your kitchen, quickly rinse it and drop it into a pot of water that is already boiling. Only have about two inches of water in it, though, so the corn will steam instead of boil. You will preserve many nutrients if kept out of the water. Steam for 3-4 minutes, top it off with butter and salt, and enjoy! Another idea is to roast it in the husks over a campfire or grill. Whatever your method, it’s hard to go wrong with fresh sweet corn.
To freeze it, simply steam it to stop the ripening, put it in cold water to cool it quickly, then drain it, cut off the kernels, and pop them into freezer bags. I like to cut it right in a 9×13 pan, then scoop it into bags. We usually pick what is ready, eat all we want for dinner, then freeze the rest. If we do this every day, it’s never a big job.
If you live in a rural area, there are probably plenty of little critters that would like you to share your corn with them, and I am not talking about children. These four-legged thieves are usually skunks or raccoons. They can really decimate a patch in short order. My neighbors are full of ingenious ideas for outsmarting them. Each swears by their own particular method, so if you are plagued by these furry invaders, you might consider trying one or more of these:
– Radio. Country Western only. If tuned to a classical radio station, they will consider it part of the fine dining experience. But if it’s Country Western, they run and hide. As a disclaimer, this tip was given to me by my neighbor who used to work as an announcer for a classical radio station.
– Short electric fence. Put it only about 4-6 inches off the ground. It won’t keep out the deer, but can be a deterrent to the smaller creatures. You will have to put it all the way around your corn patch, though.
– Squash. I mean the plant. If squash plants are growing between your corn rows, the animals generally won’t bother them. I don’t know why. Maybe they don’t like the feel of the leaves. But it works. It will make weeding more difficult, though.
Other people have suggested motion sensor lights. It is suggested (by my husband, after a nearly unfortunate experience) that you don’t go walking out in the corn patch when it’s dark. Fortunately for him, the little lump of black and white fur was trying to get away from him just as fast as he was trying to get away from it, but that little skunk sure gave him a scare.
Perhaps at that point one has to realize that even fresh corn isn’t worth that much, but it’s a tough decision.