The ultimate guide to growing sweetcorn

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Whether you keep sweetcorn on the cob or enjoy it as kernels here's how to grow in in your back garden so you have easy access to the sweet yellow stuff!

For anyone who appreciates the seasonality of vegetables, then the period that encompasses late summer and early autumn is one of the best times of the year. Not least for us because it’s when sweetcorn’s kernels ripen to golden yellow and the cobs can be snapped off and unwrapped ready to cook. Yes, you can buy decent tasting tinned and frozen sweetcorn all year round, but nothing beats the flavour—or the sensation—of biting straight into a hot, buttery cob of corn when it’s fresh.

If you’re also a fan of fresh corn then growing your own could hardly be easier, although there are a few simple things to bear in mind. Garden centres occasionally stock small sweetcorn plug plants in spring, but germination is so reliable that we suggest getting your act together a little earlier in the year and sowing your own.

Photo by Christophe Maerten

Corn prefers a sunny summer, so if you live in a cooler part of the country then opt for a cultivar that has been developed to cope with less warmth. You can sow corn indoors between mid-April and early May, or directly into the ground when the late spring sunshine has warmed up the soil and seen off any frosts. Plant out young corn in late spring or early summer, making sure to take care of transplanting—like us humans it can get a bit stressed during a house move.Besides giving your corn a spot in the sunshine it’s also advisable to provide it with some shelter from strong winds: the stalks can get quite tall and easily blow over under the weight of a few cobs and their shallow roots can easily be dislodged. Pollination is performed by wind blowing pollen across the crop so you should plant or sow sweetcorn in blocks—if you grow in a line instead then a gust of wind in the wrong direction could leave you with nothing to show for your efforts.

Dig in some compost before sowing or planting, especially if you have claggy soil, as this will help break it up while feeding your crop valuable nutrients. You should also keep the plants well-watered during dry periods. If you’re concerned about those high winds toppling your crop, then consider staking individual plants or place canes at all four corners of your block and fence them in with string.

Sweetcorn is generally trouble free, but you may have to fend off wildlife in order to guarantee it’s you that eats the harvest. Keep an eye on slugs and snails when the plants are young and if you have badgers or deer that roam your land then there’s a danger of them trampling the crop before it’s ready. But it’s when the corn ripens that you need to be at your sharpest: birds and rodents will be just as eager as you to snaffle the spoils so pick those cobs as soon as they’re ripe—tell-tale signs being a browning of the corn silks that flow from the top of the cob and milky liquid coming out of any squeezed kernels.

Pick, peel and eat immediately. Fresh is most definitely best and you’ll be amazed at how sweet and tasty home-grown cobs can be.

 

Eating (and drinking) corn 

Photo by Christiann Koepke

The best way to eat corn is straight from the cob. Either plunge into boiling water for a few minutes and slather with butter or slam them onto a hot barbecue. Some people insist on pre-cooking barbecued corn first, but we prefer to simply rub oil over the ripe kernels and get straight to the hot coal action.

You can also make a tasty hot drink using the corn silks. Simply trim away any brown ends and stuff a tablespoon of silks into a mug and cover with hot water—the resulting brew will have the delicate sweet flavours of corn and is a pleasant caffeine free drink, perfectly suited to seasonal autumnal drinking.

 

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter