How to Grow Corn

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow corn, including the history and horticulture of corn, what, where, when and how to plant, pests, and how to harvest and store corn.

| July/August 1987

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    Nothing else says "garden fresh" quite so sweetly as homegrown corn.
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    Add tang to your harvest by trying the well-named corn relish recipe.

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  • 106-022-01

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow corn. Plan on a minimum of 10 to 15 plants per person. Don't pick your corn till the pot boils. 

How to Grow Corn

Corn ( Zea mays ) is more American than apple pie. It's believed that an early type of this member of the grass family was grown in South America at least 4,000 years ago, and it's known that corn was cultivated throughout much of North America long before the time of Christopher Columbus. He and his explorers are credited with introducing corn to Europe, where it spread throughout the continent and to Asia and Africa. Europeans still use it primarily as a food for livestock. In the United States, however—though 80% of our corn is fed to animals—even growers with small gardens are likely to plant this space-consuming vegetable, and for a very valid reason: The sugar in most corn varieties starts changing to starch as soon as it's picked, so ears that go straight from the stalk to the pot or freezer offer a succulent taste that corn purchased from a market, or even a roadside stand, can never match.

What Varieties of Corn to Plant

There are literally hundreds of cultivated varieties of corn, but they fall into four classes: popcorn (Z. mays praecox ), a low-calorie, nutritional snack; dent, or field, corn (Z. m.indentata), used mostly for animal feed but also popular in the South as a fried dish, and the source of cornmeal; Indian, or flint, corn (Z m. indurata ), with colorful ears that are used for ornamental purposes (the inner pan of the grain that remains once the hull is removed is called hominy, which, ground up, becomes grits); and sweet corn (Z. m. rugosa ), the popular choice for most home gardens.

Though sweet corn as we know it wasn't developed until just over a century ago (and the now-popular hybrids began appearing 30 years later), today's gardeners can choose from early, midseason or late varieties that sport either yellow or white kernels or a mixture of both. There are also dwarf types as well as "skyscraper" varieties that reach heights of 12 feet, and new offerings come on the market every year.

Some popular early varieties of sweet corn, which take 58 to 70 days to mature, are Spring Gold (withstands cold and damp soil and produces large ears), Seneca Explorer (also popular in cold-weather areas), Silver Sweet (a white type similar to the late-season Silver Queen but which matures in 66 days), Butter Vee (ready in only 58 days with a high sugar content) and Aztec (resists some strains of wilt and tolerates smut). .

Midseason varieties, maturing about a week later than early types, include the open-pollinated, low-starch Early Gold Bantam, which retains its sweetness for a long time; Gold Rush, a tender, sweet, yellow corn that adapts to most climates; Mellow Yellow, which freezes well; Kandy Korn EH, as sweet as its name and whose kernels can retain their quality for up to two weeks on the stalk; Aristogold, which grows well in dry conditions; Honey and Cream, a bicolor with a tight husk that discourages earworms and other insects and Platinum Lady, a delicious white variety.

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