Many of the memories from my youth are based around church, playing ball, working on the farm with the cattle and hogs plus working in the family garden. More accurately, I should say gardens. My grandfather from time to time would have more than one.
When it was time to put up sweet corn, I can still remember husking and removing the silk of what seemed like a mountain of corn piled in bed of the pick-up truck. Then, we would take the husks and silks and feed to the cows that enjoyed the treat. Still today, growing sweet corn in the family garden is an annual practice of many. One thing different today than from my youth in regards to sweet corn is the abundance of corn varieties to choose from in your gardening efforts.
Today, I will be sharing sweet corn basics by use of a UGA publication by UGA Extension staff, Bob Westerfield and Nathan Eason. Also, do not forget our upcoming NW Georgia Home Vegetable Garden Workshop on March 23 from 10 a.m. to noon with in-person and virtual options.
Pre-registration is a requirement. Call the office or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
For starters, sweet corn should not be difficult to grow if you follow the basics. One thing to keep in mind is that sweet corn is divided into three types based on genetic background. You have the normal sugary (su), sugary enhanced (se) and the supersweet (sh2). Note there are varieties that now contain a combination of either two or all three of these genes thus showing qualities of each. These are sometimes noted as synergistic (sy) or augmented supersweet (shA). There is not enough article space to go into tons of detail on types.
All I can say is do your homework and find what works for you. The standard sweet corn varieties contain a sugary (su) gene that will give the sweetness and creamy texture to the kernels.
The su’s are more fit for being picked, husked and eaten within a short time frame according to our information. The sugar in su varieties will covert over to starch quickly thus allowing them to be stored for only a few days. The supersweets (sh2) needs to be isolated from any other type of corn that is tasseling at the same to time to make sure the sweetness and tenderness.
The pollen of this type corn is weak so it can be supplanted by other types. Keep in mind that corn is wind pollinated so the isolation should be 500 feet or more and especially downwind.
Again, do your homework on varieties and pick what works for you. Corn variety selection may not be a selection process at all for some. It can be something passed down from generation to generation. For example, we grew Silver Queen corn on the farm for many years.
Do not plant corn too early. Sweet corn prefers soil temperatures between 60-90 degrees F. A rule-of-thumb is to wait at least two weeks after the last average killing frost before planting.
Traditionally, the last frost date is normally middle of April, but the weather can be tough to predict. Just do not plant in cool soils. If you plant too early, it can result in weak stands, stunted corn plant growth or frost injured corn seedlings. Our information states that the newer, sweeter varieties are even more sensitive to cool and wet soils.
Corn needs to be planted in a spot that will receive 8 to 10 hours of sunlight a day and also in an area where you can have clean water for irrigation. Planting close to a house with water access is important. It is suggested to plant seed approximately 1-inch deep in rows that are 3 feet apart with 8 to 12 inches between each seed in the row.
Remember that corn is wind pollinated so it is better to have four or more short rows of sweet corn side by side instead of one long corn row. The more and shorter rows will help with pollination and corn ear development. Plant (sh) and multi-gene varieties 400 yards away from standard varieties OR plant so maturity dates are one month apart to keep cross pollination from happening. Proper watering is important for the corn crop.
Corn has a one inch of water minimum per week for normal corn development. Keep in mind that the most important time for water is during pollination and during final ear filling. You need to water to get the soil moist to a depth of six inches. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation is ideal.
I only touched the surface on growing sweet corn.