Taking a gamble on sweet corn

June 28, 2012 in Outdoors by Carol Michel

When I was a kid, we always said “knee high by the Fourth of July” when we passed a cornfield in the summertime. As I recall, most of the time, the corn was actually closer to shoulder high by then and we would laugh at the idea of corn being that short on July Fourth. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been checking the sweet corn in my garden and reciting that bit of knowledge I learned years ago. I say it with a laugh, though, because this year, my sweet corn is actually going to be barely knee high by July Fourth.

I’ve never had such slow growing sweet corn. Yes, I planted it late, over the Memorial Day weekend, but it seems like it should still be much taller. In fact, if this corn doesn’t start growing faster, then this may be my last year to attempt to grow sweet corn in a small plot. It’s always been a bit of a gamble, anyway.

To be successful with sweet corn, you need a large enough stand of it to ensure good pollination of the ears as they develop. Corn pollen is spread by wind from the tassels to the emerging silks of the ears. You have to plant a lot of corn, not just one or two stalks or even a dozen stalks, to ensure good pollination. Without that pollination, the ears of corn will be half-formed, with a lot of gaps between the kernels. My sweet corn plot is about as small a plot as you would want to try, measuring about four feet by eight feet.

If you do get good pollination and fully filled out ears of corn, then there is nothing sweeter than sweet corn cooked within minutes of being harvested. There is no time for the sugar in the corn to turn to starch, which is what happens when sweet corn is stored for any length of time. I’m hopeful that if my corn is knee high by the Fourth of July, then I’ll eventually get a few ears of sweet corn to enjoy. If not, then there’s always the farmer’s market, where I’ll be looking for sweet corn picked the same day it is sold.