April is the month many gardeners look forward too as the warmer temperatures signify that it’s time to plant their yearly patch of sweet corn. Nothing can compare to the fresh, sweet, crisp taste of homegrown sweet corn that is picked and eaten on the same day. Sweet corn is certainly a favorite crop among home gardeners and, with the many varieties now available, there is one to suit every taste and need. Sweet corn is not difficult to grow and, by following some simple guidelines I’m going to talk about today you too can enjoy this sweet delicacy.
Sweet corn thrives best in loamy, well-drained soils but will tolerate a wide range of soil types. Ensure the sight you choose to plant in also receives between 8 to 10 hours of sunlight per day. It is important to plant near a water source as sweet corn needs regular irrigation for optimal growth. Till the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches using a spade, plow or rototiller. Avoid tilling the soil while it is too wet or large clods may be formed. Soil fertility is very important to get a quality yield of sweet corn. Taking a soil sample and submitting it to us here at the extension office is the best way to determine your garden sites fertility. The soil sample report will give you the lime and fertilizer requirement to make a quality crop. If lime is required, it can be tilled into the ground during soil preparation but is most effective when applied 2 to 3 months prior to planting.
If a soil test is not done, a general guideline is to apply 6 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 linear row feet before planting. Sidedress two to three times during the growing season with ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) at a rate of 1 pound per 100 feet of row. Sidedressing involves digging a shallow trench on one side of the row, near the plant, and applying fertilizer. It is then covered with soil and provides readily available nutrients to the plant.
Plant seed approximately 1 inch deep in rows 3 feet apart with 8 to 12 inches between each seed in the row. Sweet corn is wind pollinated, so plant four or more short rows of sweet corn side-by-side instead of one long row. This will aid in good pollination and ear development.
Providing adequate irrigation is vital to ensure a good stand of sweet corn. Sweet corn requires a minimum of 1 inch of water per week for normal development. The most critical periods for water are during pollination and during final ear filling. Water sufficiently to moisten the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Irrigate in the early morning or early evening to allow foliage to dry before dark. Soaker hoses placed along-side of rows are an excellent way to irrigate corn and conserve water.
It is also important to keep the rows free of weeds. Weeds compete for available nutrients and harbor insect pests and diseases. Light, shallow tilling between rows can be done, but take care not to get too close to the root system of the corn. After cultivating with a tiller or hoe, mound soil 2-3 inches up around the base of the plants to support stalks from wind damage. On small stands of corn it may be practical to mulch around plants to help conserve moisture and control weeds.
Sweet corn matures in 60 to 100 days, depending on the variety. For a continuous harvest, plant early, mid and late season varieties or make successive two-week plantings of the same variety. Sweet corn should be ready for harvest about 20 days after the appearance of the first silk strands. Sweet corn is picked during the “milk stage,” when the kernels are fully formed but not completely mature. Sweet corn is ready to harvest when the silks become dry and brown and the kernels are smooth, plump and pop open when punctured with a thumbnail. Not every ear in the row will be ready at the same time and they may mature several days apart. After picking, cook and eat corn right away or store it in cool temperatures, such as in a refrigerator, as soon as possible. Although many new varieties have extended storage quality, most lose 50 percent of their flavor within 12 to 18 hours of picking if left unrefrigerated.
Now is the time to get your sweet corn in the ground. If you follow the guidelines I have laid out above you should have a bountiful harvest this year.