Some people may think that growing a staple food crop in their backyard is complicated and difficult. However, it is not applicable for all staple food crops. Sweet corn is one of the crops that you can grow at home. It is easy to grow and requires a little care. Therefore, you will likely gain a success in growing sweet corn.
History of Sweet Corn
This type of corn is the result of traditional corn’s mutation that happens spontaneously in the 18th century in the U.S. At that time, the Native American tribes, such as Iroquois, cultivated traditional corn. But, the corn in this field suffer from genetic mutation that resulted in sweet corn. After that, it became a popular food in the central and southern regions of the U.S.
However, the sweet corn wasn’t widely available in the United States until the 19th century. These days, farmers in various countries are growing sweet corn. In addition, this corn is available in many cultivars. They have better quality than the 18th century sweet corn. Moreover, they are more resistant to disease.
More about Sweet Corn
If you want to try growing sweet corn, it is necessary for you to have better understanding about it. Zea mays or sweet corn has some interesting facts.
1. The difference between sweet corn and traditional corn
Sweet corn is one of the staple food crops. However, it is not cultivated for the grain as in the traditional corn. When you are growing traditional corn, you will need to wait for the kernels or grain to mature before you harvest it.
But, if you are growing sweet corn, you will grow them as vegetable. This type of corn must be harvested when the corn is immature. In addition, it is best eaten fresh, frozen, or canned because it does not store well. If you store it too long, it will be starchy and tough.
2. Growing season and size
A Zea may is an annual plant. This crop will mature in between 80 to 120 days. It depends on the cultivars. A sweet corn plant has a simple stem that contains internodes and nodes. When it is mature, it can reach 2 to 3 m tall.
The leaves of this plant are long, between 30 and 100 cm. Each of them has obvious primary vein in the middle. Moreover, they grow in pairs at the internodes.
When the plant is mature, it will produce flowers. The female and male flowers bloom separately. The female flowers or ears bloom between leaves. You can find 1 to 3 ears in one plant. Meanwhile, the male flowers or tassels bloom at the top of the plant. The pollination of these flowers is aided by the wind.
5. Corn ears
After the female flowers are pollinated, it will develop fruits or kernels. They are attached to the corn ear. The corn ear has a husk or layered leaves as its cover. On the end of the ear, there is a pistilate flower called silk.
Basic Requirements of Growing Sweet Corn
This crop can only grow in certain environment because it is a warm season crop. As a result, you need to make sure that your backyard has everything needed by the crop before you start growing sweet corn.
1. Hardiness zone
Sweet corn can grow in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 11. However, not all cultivars are adaptable to all those hardiness zones. Therefore, if you live in cooler climate with short growing season, you must choose early season sweet corn cultivars.
Temperature plays important role in your success of growing sweet corn. This particular corn will grow well when the soil temperature is warm enough. It can grow in temperature of 15.5oC to 35oC. However, corn seeds germinate optimally when the soil temperature is about 24oC. In this temperature, they will sprout in 10 to 14 days.
If you want to have a healthy sweet corn plant that yields corn ear optimally, you must grow it in full sun. It is essential for the plant to get 8 hours of direct sun on each day. In consequence, you have to choose a sunny spot in your backyard before you begin the process of growing sweet corn.
It is necessary to grow this crop in rich fertile soil because sweet corn is a heavy feeder. In addition, the soil must be able to drain water well. Sweet corn loves neutral or slightly acidic soil with pH level between 6.0 – 6.8.
A sweet corn plant needs lots of water during its growing season. However, it cannot stand wet soil. Therefore, it is important to keep the soil moist not soggy when you are growing sweet corn. In addition, you must water the soil and not the plant. Watering the plant, especially when it is flowering can cause bad harvest.
Steps of Growing Sweet Corn
The only way to propagate corn is through seed propagation. Therefore, you need to get the seeds before you start growing sweet corn. Once you have the seeds, you can do the steps below.
1. Working the soil
The best place for growing sweet corn is in a sunny spot. Once you decide on the planting location, you need to work the soil. You must do several things in this step. They are loosening the soil, amending it with compost or aged manure, and adjusting the soil pH level.
Sweet corn prefers warm soil. Therefore, you must sow the seeds at the right time. If you live in cooler regions, you can warm the soil by applying black plastic mulch beforehand. In consequence, it will be warm enough for the seeds to germinate.
2. Sowing the seeds
It is recommended to sow corn seeds directly to the ground because corn seedlings do not transplant well. To sow the seeds directly to the ground, you need to:
- Plant the seeds 5 cm deep.
- Space the seeds 15 cm apart between seeds and 0.75 m apart between rows.
- Water the soil and keep it moist until the seeds germinate.
If you live in areas with shorter growing season, you can germinate the seeds in peat pots indoors early in the season. In this process, you must use high quality starting mix. Once you sow the seeds in the pots, you must place them in a warm area. Then, when the seedlings is 5 cm tall you can transplant them in the backyard, but you must harden the seedlings off beforehand.
3. Caring for the plant
When you are growing sweet corn, you need to do several things to take care of the plant.
This process must be done when the seedlings are 10 cm tall. Remove the weakest seedlings so that you have healthy seedlings 30 cm apart.
Sweet corn must be well watered, especially in dry condition. To water 1 sq. yard of sweet corn, you need 19 L of water. Moreover, you may need to maintain the moisture of the soil by mulching the soil.
You must fertilize the sweet corn a month after planting. To fertilize it, you can use compost or all-purpose fertilizer. If your sweet corn plants have pale green leaves, it means that they don’t get enough nitrogen. Therefore, you need to fertilize them with rich nitrogen fertilizer.
You can harvest the sweet corn when the male flowers turn brown. It usually happens in 20 days after the silk of the female flowers emerges. To make sure that you harvest the corn at the right time, you can puncture one of the kernels. If it oozes milky substance, then you can harvest it. In harvesting the corn, you can pull it downward then twist it.
Sweet corn varieties are available in various choices. They are early season, mid-season, and late season. In addition, you can also choose sugary (SU), super sweet (SH2), and sugar extended (SE). The last one is super sweet but can last longer. Before you start growing sweet corn, you can consider these varieties.
1. Golden Bantam
This sweet corn variety was not very popular when it was first sold in early 1900s. However, this variety is popular right now. Several things make this corn a popular variety. One of them is that it is compact. It is only 1.5 m tall. Moreover, each plant produces 2 super sweet corn ears, about 15 cm long. Golden Bantam needs 78 days to reach maturity.
2. Silver Queen Hybrid
This late season sweet corn variety requires 92 days to mature. It produces large corn ears with white kernels, about 22 cm long. This SU variety is quite popular. However, if you are growing sweet corn from this variety, you must prepare a large planting location. It is because Silver Queen corn can grow up to 2.4 m tall.
3. Ambrosia Hybrid
It is SE variety and ready to harvest in 75 days. This variety requires full direct sun. If Ambrosia Hybrid does not get enough sunlight, it will not be as sweet as expected. Ambrosia Hybrid produces lump and long corn ears, about 20 cm long. Meanwhile, the plant reaches almost 2 m in height.
4. Honey Select Hybrid
This particular sweet corn is a combination of 25% SH2 and 75% SE. Honey Select Hybrid is hardy in zones 3-11. It can be harvested on the 80th day. In addition, this variety produces 22 cm long very sweet corn ears.
Tips on Growing Sweet Corn
Growing sweet corn may give you some challenges. However, you don’t need to worry about those challenges. These tips will help you to grow sweet corn easier.
1. Start growing sweet corn at the right time
The best time to plant this crop is 3 weeks after the last frost. However, it is essential for you to check the soil temperature beforehand. If you want to grow sweet corn, the best time to start the seeds is when the temperature is 13oC. Meanwhile, if you plan to grow super sweet corn, the best soil temperature is 18oC.
2. Choose the right variety
Choosing the right sweet corn variety can free you from various problems. It also helps you to gain success in growing sweet corn. One of the things you need to consider is the growing season. Moreover, you also need to consider the size and hardiness. Choosing one that is resistant to diseases is also necessary.
3. Successive planting
Growing sweet corn successively will allow you to prolong your harvest. Moreover, the corn will taste bad when they are stored for a long time. Therefore, it is better for you to harvest small amount of sweet corn at a time because. As a result, you can enjoy sweet and fresh corn more often
4. Grow it in a block
Unlike other vegetable plants that are grown in rows, sweet corn need to be grown in a block. This block must have at least three rows of corn. Growing them in a block is more suitable for sweet corn due to the wind pollination. If the crops are planted in a row, they will have lower yield.
5. Hand pollination
If you think that the wind doesn’t give enough help for the sweet corn flowers to pollinate, you may perform hand pollination. You can do it when the male flower has opened and the silk has emerged. After that, you can shake the plants so that the pollen on the male flowers drops on the female flowers.
Another way to pollinate the corn flowers are snipping the male flowers. Next, you can brush the male flowers to the silk. In consequence, you can be sure that the female flowers get the pollen.
6. Weed carefully
Weeds may grow between your crops. Therefore, you need to remove them so that your sweet corn does not suffer from lack of nutrients. Weeding must be done extra carefully because sweet corn has shallow roots. If you are not careful, you will disturb these roots and cause negative effect to the crops.
Now that you know everything about growing sweet corn, you don’t need to be afraid to fail in doing it. Growing this staple food crop is not as complicated as you think. In addition, it is very rewarding because sweet corn is delicious and can be used in various cooking.