How to grow Sweetcorn
Sweetcorn, or maize, won't really grow as high as an elephant's eye, but it will be sweet, tender and delicious - especially when cooked as soon as it is picked. Plenty of sun and dry weather are needed for the plants to grow well and to set cobs full of well-formed kernels.
Hybrid Fl varieties produce the sweetest kernels. Popular varieties include ‘Breakthrough’, ‘Golden Bantam’, ‘Honey and Cream’, ‘Early Gem’, ‘Early Chief’ and ‘Honeysweet’.
The latest plant breeding has produced enhanced sweetness, with ‘Supersweet’ being the forerunner.
What you’ll need to start growing sweetcorn
Growing sweetcorn doesn’t require complicated equipment. Here’s what you need:
- Garden fork and spade
- Compost or soil improver
- Vegetable and herb fertiliser
- Liquid feed
- Sweetcorn seeds
How to grow sweetcorn
Choose a position that receives lots of sunshine and is sheltered from strong winds.
Sweetcorn will grow in most soils, providing it is well drained, but holds plenty of moisture. Before sowing, improve the soil so that it is rich in nutrients and organic matter by digging in some well-weathered manure, compost or soil improver, then add a good dressing of a good vegetable and herb plant food.
Because sweetcorn is pollinated by wind transfer of pollen, the plants should be grown together in a square or rectangular block, rather than a single row or dotted around the garden.
If you wait until after the last frost of early spring, you can sow seeds directly in the ground where you want it to grow. Sweetcorn is one crop that seems to do better when direct-sown, rather than seeds being sown into trays for transplanting as seedlings.
Sow seeds at spacing of 45cm (18 in) apart in the block.
How to care for sweetcorn
Water the soil thoroughly during prolonged periods of dry weather; this is vital when the plants are establishing and when they are flowering and the cobs swelling.
Liquid feed every fortnight when the plants start to flower and the cobs begin to swell.
If roots appear at the base of the stem, cover them with soil to improve plant stability in wind.
You can tap the plants when the male flowers (tassels) open to help pollination, as poor pollination will result in poorly filled cobs.
How to harvest sweetcorn
When the silks (female flowers) on top of the cobs have turned chocolate brown, test the kernels for ripeness. Pull back some of the leaves that cover the cob and press one or two kernels with a thumbnail. If the content is creamy then it is ripe to eat. If the content is clear, the cob is unripe, so wait. If the content is solid, you've left it too long.
Cook as soon as possible after picking. Fill a pot with plain water (no salt) and you will taste perfect sweetcorn! Avoid picking more than you need, since cobs that are left in the fridge for a day or two will gradually lose their sweetness.
Common sweetcorn pests
Birds peck at the leaves of young sweetcorn seedlings, often destroying them.
|Slugs and snails||
Slugs and snails will eat young sweetcorn seedlings, and can be identified by the slime trails that they leave, as well as the damage they do. As the seedlings grow taller they are less at risk from slugs and snails.