How to Grow Sweet Corn in Your Backyard

Home Grown Corn

Grow your own corn for a healthy (and sweet) snack!
Grow your own corn for a healthy (and sweet) snack! | Source

Why Grow Your Own Corn?

Growing corn is an extremely fun experience – the stalks grow quickly and reach great heights, and the formation of the first ears of sweet corn are a great reward for the backyard farmer. Growing your own corn has several advantages:

  • You can grow organic, pesticide free corn.
  • You can grow unusual varieties not found in the grocery store.
  • Fresh corn tastes much better than store-bought corn.

Unlike some backyard vegetables, home grown corn tastes much better than the cobs found in the grocery store. The kernels are far sweeter and crisper, with an unrivalled taste.

The reason backyard corn tastes so much better than the cobs stacked in the produce bin lies in the amount of sugar vs. starch content in the kernels. When corn is picked, the sugars in the kernels immediately start to transform into starch. Since the corn kernels are seeds, the cob produces starch to allow the seeds to have sufficient energy to grow into plants. By plucking an ear fresh off the corn stalk and boiling (or steaming) the ear, you will get the sweetest, best corn you have ever tasted.

Choosing Sweet Corn Seeds

There are many different varieties of sweet corn available on today’s market. There are heirloom seeds, yellow corn seeds, white corn seeds, and unusual, colorful varieties. Sweet corn seeds are marked with labels to indicate the variety. The initials se, su, and sh2 are examples of this labeling system. The table below explains the meaning behind these designations:

Types of Corn

Corn Label
Corn Variety
Colors
Sample Varieties
su
Standard
yellow, white, bicolor, mulicolor
Early Sunglow (yellow) and Country Gentleman (white)
se
Sugar Enhanced
yellow, white, bicolor, red
Merlin (yellow) and Double Delight (bicolor)
sh2
Supersweet
yellow, white bicolor
Crisp N Sweet (white) and Radiance (bicolor)
sy
Synergistic
yellow, white, bicolor
Cinderella (white) and Charisma (bicolor)
Augmented Supersweet
Augmented Supersweet
yellow, white, bicolor
Mirai (bicolor) and Montauk (bicolor)

Grow Your Own Corn

Growing your own corn results in a sweeter, crisper cob. Grow an unusual variety, like this red Ruby Queen hybrid!
Growing your own corn results in a sweeter, crisper cob. Grow an unusual variety, like this red Ruby Queen hybrid! | Source

Corn Seed Varieties

Standard varieties of corn (labeled su) are the original “sweet corn.” These varieties are sweeter than field corn, but must be picked and cooked quickly to get the best flavor.

Sugary Extenders (labeled se, for sugar-enhanced) have a slower conversion of sugar to starch – these varieties will remain sweet for 2-4 days after they are picked. Some se labeled corn will be labeled with se+ or an uppercase SE: these corn varieties are homozygous (they have two se parents). Other se corn may be heterozygous (have an se parent and an su parent). Ruby Queen (hybrid) is a red version of this corn variety – the kernels are scarlet and the flavor is very sweet.

Supersweet corn (labeled sh2 ) are up to ten times sweeter than the standard (su) varieties of corn. These corn varieties are more finicky with planting conditions and are not nearly as hardy as the su or se types. The label “sh2” comes from the name “shrunken,” as the kernels are so high in sugar content they will shrink and shrivel when dried, as there is little starch in the kernels.

Synergistic corn has multiple varieties on the same ear of corn. Each ear may contain a varying percentage of standard, supersweet, and sugary extender kernels – these corn stalks do not require isolation from other varieties to prevent the formation of starchy cobs.

The Augmented Supersweet varieties have multiple genes for different varieties in each kernel. All of the kernels contain the sh2 genes (supersweet). The kernels will also have genes for se or su in addition to the supersweet genes. These varieties must be grow in isolation, or starchy kernels will form.

Seed Corn

This seed corn is red, as it is from the se corn variety "Ruby Queen."
This seed corn is red, as it is from the se corn variety "Ruby Queen." | Source

Planting Corn Seeds

Corn must be planted in rows – preferably in a block rather than in one long row. Corn is pollinated by wind rather than insects, so planting multiple rows of corn allows for the generation of more ears. Check the individual seed packet for planting depth and requirements, as the needs will vary by the type of corn. In general, most corn rows should be 2' - 3' apart.

One does not require a massive planting field for corn - a 4' x 4' raised garden bed is plenty of room to grow a small plot of sweet corn.

The following steps are universal:

  1. After the last date of frost, prepare the dirt for planting. If using a raised bed, loosen the soil and remove any weeds. If using flat soil, till the ground and remove any rocks.
  2. Plant the corn in rows (in general, 4 or more rows are desirable for maximum pollination). Make a furrow approximately 2" deep by dragging a garden hoe through the soil. Place 2-3 seeds every 6" along the furrow. Make three more furrows with 2-3 feet of space between each furrow.
  3. Water frequently until the first sprouts appear (do not drown the area).

Corn Tassel Picture

The corn tassel is the male portion of the plant, and will shed pollen onto the corn silk (stigma), which will produce the ears of corn.
The corn tassel is the male portion of the plant, and will shed pollen onto the corn silk (stigma), which will produce the ears of corn. | Source

Pollination and Ear Formation

There is an old saying that corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” Near the middle or end of July, the corn stalks should reach their final height and produce a tassel (the male portion of the plant) and the ears (the female portion of the plant). The tassel will begin to produce pollen, which falls onto the stigma of the female ears – if you aren’t sure what “stigma” is, don’t worry – it is the corn silk you see on the side of the corn stalk. Each piece of corn silk will pollinate one ovule – and each pollinated ovule will become a kernel of corn. As a helpful hint at the grocery store, the more corn silk a corn cob has, the more kernels it will contain!

When is Corn Ready to Pick?

How Can You Tell When Corn is Ripe?

Nearly every seed packet of corn will state a timeline for the production of corn – some may be as short as 60 days, while others may take 85 days to mature. Mark the date of planting on a calendar to estimate the time when the corn will be ready to pick. Another “timing” method is to count 17-25 days from the time the first silks appear – the corn should be ready to pick within that time frame.

There are several visual indicators that corn is ready to be cooked:

· A kernel will release white fluid (rather than clear) when cut with a thumbnail.

· The corn silk turns brown.

· The husk is completely filled out from top to bottom and may pull away from the stalk (sometimes at a 90 degree angle).

Do not allow corn to get overripe. Indications that corn has been left on the stalk too long include a lack of fluid when the kernels are scratched and dry, papery husks.

Unusual Sweet Corn Varieties

Burpee 63561 Corn, Red Ruby Queen Hybrid Seed Packet
Burpee 63561 Corn, Red Ruby Queen Hybrid Seed Packet

Ruby Queen is an se variety of sweet corn, and produces red kernels. The kernel color is retained when cooked, making this delicious corn a fun and unusual vegetable!

 

Preserving Corn

Corn can be scraped off the cob and vacuum sealed, then kept in a freezer until needed. Another method involves the use of a pressurized canner, as corn can be canned and kept for up to a year on a pantry shelf (using a pressure canner). Corn cannot be canned using a traditional water bath unless it is acidified (or pickled), as it is low-acid and is not safe to can using the hot water bath method. Frozen corn retains the best flavor, but canned corn from a backyard stock will taste better than anything you can find at a grocery store.

To can corn, pack quart or pint sized jars with corn kernels (separate from the cob with a sharp knife). Leave about ¾” – 1” headspace, and pour boiling water over the corn to cover them. Shake the jar gently to release any trapped air bubbles. Place sterilized lids and rings on the jars (wiping the rims) and process in a pressure canner (dial gauge) for 55 minutes (pints) at 11 pounds of pressure, or 85 minutes (quarts), also at 11 pounds of pressure. The pressure levels given are for sea level – 2,000 feet: the pressure must be increased at higher altitudes. If using a weighted gauge pressure canner (as opposed to a dial), the pressure is 10 lbs. for sea level – 1,000 feet altitude.

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Comments 20 comments

Patty Kenyon profile image

Patty Kenyon 4 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

Useful and Interesting Hub!!! I never thought about growing corn at home but my family does love corn on the cob and since your article states a 4 x 4 area, this might be something we will consider!! THANKS for sharing!!!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

We have ours growing in a 4x4 foot raised bed, Patty. It really works quite well! Our Ruby Queen cobs aren't quite ready to harvest yet, but should be by next week (otherwise I would have included a picture of their scarlet kernels). You should definitely try it!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Didn't know there was so much to growing corn and so many varieties. I love your idea to cut it from the cob, vacuum seal and freeze. This would my preference in having a fresher taste. Great read on this topic.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

We have several raised beds and only grew corn in one of them, so we probably won't have enough to freeze this year - but it makes me wish we had planted more corn! Teaches12345, I love gardening so much - my poor husband just shakes his head and stares at the growing gardens, haha.


afterschoolspring profile image

afterschoolspring 4 years ago from Oklahoma

I've been wanting to grow corn for a while now, but I thought I needed a bigger area. Maybe next spring we will make a small raised bed and give it a try. Thanks!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

It really did work for us, afterschoolspring - I need to post a picture of our entire raised bed. We have a sunflower in the middle of our corn, since my son in Pre-k decided to plant one there. We made raised beds out of landscaping timbers -cheap and effective!


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I've never thought about growing my own corn, but this is very inspired! Thanks for all of the great information and photos.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, randomcreative! We're big fans of growing a hobby vegetable garden - every year we try new veggies, and corn was on "the list" this year! It is surprisingly easy to grow, even in our relatively small raised beds!


eugbug profile image

eugbug 4 years ago from Ireland

I grew corn in the mid 80's in a glass house and it turned out great! I tried it again the next year in the garden but the plants didn't grow so well probably due to to the low amounts of sunshine we get here in Ireland! I must try it again though.

Interesting hub and voted up!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Eubug, Ireland has a hard climate for growing corn outside of a greenhouse - we lived in Bray, Ireland for a year and thought we'd never see the sun again! They say that corn is the sweetest on crisp, sunny days (which is why late summer/early fall corn is the sweetest). Using a greenhouse is a great idea to grow corn in places where the sun doesn't like to shine!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago

Wow, you really grew sweet corn in your backyard? I'm so impressed. I've seen people grow all kinds of veggies in their backyard gardens, but not corn. It always sounded to me like a challenging thing to grow, but after reading this hub, I started to think growing corn might not be as difficult as I had assumed. Thumbs up!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

It really isn't very difficult, but you do need enough space to get at least 4 rows of corn in - a 4' x 4' bed is plenty, but I wouldn't attempt it with any smaller piece of land, Om! We grow corn, tomatillos, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots... lots of veggies in our raised beds!


Robert Erich profile image

Robert Erich 4 years ago from California

Fantastic Hub! I love the layout. I also love corn. The taste of freshly picked corn is delicious. I may have to just follow your advice and start growing my own. Thanks for the article.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

I heartily recommend it, Robert! We haven't had any pest problems this year with our corn, though I have seen a few crows lurking around the beds. I might need to work on a scarecrow next!


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

You have made me hungry for a favorite food. We did not plant corn this year but a friend did and sells us a dozen ears for three dollars. It is so sweet and good I can eat it raw. Thanks for an informative and interesting Hub.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Hyphenbird. I absolutely love fresh, local corn.We planted our own this year, but we always try to stop by the local stands when we're out and about in the summer, because it is SO good!


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

Everything is looking good for a good harvest so far. Thanks for answering some of my questions.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

I hope you enjoy your fresh corn, tirelesstraveler!


Gamerelated profile image

Gamerelated 4 years ago from California

Wow, this is a nice article on growing corn. Very informative and very thorough. I decided to read this article because I am about to plan corn for the very first time.

I received a variety of corn from one of my relatives that is very popular with Southeast Asians. The texture of the corn is very pasty compared to corn here in America. Most of the grocery store bought corn that I have eaten have a crisp to them, but this corn that I am about to grow is very soft and mushy. Good work on this article.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Gamerelated! I hope your corn grows well! There are so many different varieties - many people in America grow corn for its crispness and sweetness, but there are other types of corn as well. Let me know how it goes!

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