Saving Seeds from Sweet Corn

Learn how easy it is to save seeds from sweet corn for next year’s planting.

  • Corn kernels vary in color, shape, and size. The various kernel types have different uses.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Because Zea mays is wind-pollinated, corn plants tend to set more seeds if they are planted in a block rather than in one long row.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • The tassel at the top of a corn stalk is the male inflores¬cence; the anthers shed pollen over a number of days.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Because the endosperm is visible in some types of corn, crossing is sometimes evident from the fruit’s outward appearance. This corn variety has kernels with a colorless pericarp, so it is readily apparent when a kernel is pollinated by another variety with a different endosperm color.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Filled with advice for the home gardener and the seasoned horticulturist alike, “The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving” provides straightforward instruction on collecting seed that is true-to-type.
    Cover courtesy Seed Savers Exchange

The Seed Garden (Seed Savers Exchange, 2015) by Micaela Colley & Jared Zystro and edited by Lee Buttala & Shanyn Siegel brings together decades of research and hands-on experience to teach both novice gardeners and seasoned horticulturists how to save the seeds of their favorite vegetable varieties.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Seed Garden.

Many gardeners grow sweet corn in their vegetable gardens, but do not realize that saving seed from a crop of Zea mays is actually quite simple. In particular, hand-pollination is easy to manage because corn plants produce separate and plainly identifiable male and female flowers. Once pollinated, plants are simply grown to seed maturity and harvested. The grains are removed from their cobs and stored for planting in years to come.

Crop Types

Corn is primarily grown for its kernels, which have different culinary uses depending on the type of corn. Varieties are commonly categorized as flint corn, flour corn, dent corn, popcorn, or sweet corn. Flint, flour, and dent corn are differentiated from one another by the character­istics of their endosperm, the part of a seed that provides the embryo with nutrition as it develops. Flint corn has a hard endosperm, flour corn has a soft endosperm, and dent corn has an endo­sperm comprised of hard and soft starches, which results in a small impression—or dent—that is visible on the top of the dry kernel. Dent corn is commonly used for making cornmeal and tortillas and in the production of high-fructose corn syrup. Popcorn is a form of flint corn whose seed coat retains moisture; when the seeds are heated, the steam created causes the seed coats to burst open, popping the kernels. Sweet corn, which is the only type eaten in an immature state, contains one or more mutations that delay or prevent sugar in the kernels from converting into starch, giving the crop its sweet taste. Sweet corn kernels shrink as they dry, giving the mature seeds a wrinkled, translucent appearance. Corn is also grown as animal feed, and a few varieties have been bred so that the whole plant can be used as silage, or fermented animal fodder.

Corn kernels range in color from yellow, white, orange, and red to blue, green, and brown. Some varieties have striped, or variegated, kernels, and many varieties are known for their multicolored ears. Varieties can differ in ear size and shape, tassel color, cob color, plant height, the number of ears produced per plant, and even the arrangement of the kernels on the cob.


Corn was most likely domesticated from teo­sinte, its wild relative, 9,000 years ago in the lowlands of southwestern Mexico. During the next several millennia, corn spread through­out Central America and had spread across the Americas by about 5,000 years ago. By the sixteenth century CE, corn was being grown as an agricultural crop from present-day Argentina to present-day Canada. Around this time, corn was brought from the Americas to the rest of the world by European explorers. South American corn migrated to Africa and southern Europe. Corn from the Caribbean was brought to the coast of North Africa and later to India, and corn from Mexico was introduced to Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Most of the corn grown in Europe was brought from North America.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters