Sweetcorn is a pleasure to grow over the hot months of summer. When the wind blows the stalks rattle and rustle and the prairie calls… hang on, you’re standing in your backyard in Melbourne. It is an absolute pleasure to wrest a cob from the stalk and if you can’t be bothered throwing it into a pot of boiling water or onto the BBQ, you can just munch the milky goodness where you stand, in your pyjamas, your boots and your Stetson hat of course.
Plant sweetcorn in spring and early summer, once the daytime temperatures are always above 15 degrees Celsius. Sweetcorn is easily grown by seed and is best planted directly into a well prepared garden bed. Add lots of manure and compost into the bed and it does well if planted after peas to benefit from the residual nitrogen. Sweetcorn needs a consistently moist soil to produce good juicy cobs, so mulch well with pea straw or Lucerne and water regularly. Plant sweetcorn in a block of short rows, rather than long thin lines, as it is wind pollinated and should be planted fairly close together. Feed at fortnightly intervals with a liquid fertiliser. Hilling up the soil around the seedlings as they grow will help to increase root development and stabilise the stalks. Keep in mind, when planting sweetcorn, that you will get an average of two to four cobs per plant, so plant an adequate amount.
Corn is an ancient grain originating in Central America and the sweetcorn we eat today is quite different to the corn (maize) that was cultivated then. The big cobs of sweetcorn that we grow today are hybrids, developed to produce larger kernels and sugars that do not convert rapidly to starch, providing longer lasting sweetness after harvest. However you can still buy traditional, open-pollinated corn, and part of the joy of growing corn for children is that there are many unusual and colourful types available.
Heirloom or traditional corn varieties are available as a maize (for flour), sweet corn or popcorn. The sweetcorn has a traditional flavour and needs to be eaten soon after harvest, as the sugars will convert rapidly to starch. These varieties are great for home gardeners as you can pick them as required, rather than needing to store or transport them. Balinese and Golden Bantam are two popular varieties of sweet corn. If you want togrow popcorn try Golf Ball for cute short cobs, or Mini Blue for miniature blue cobs. For maize try Golden Supreme or Red Aztec for richly coloured kernels.
Hybrid corn will stay sweet for up to ten days after harvest. Honeysweet is a popular hybrid variety.
Pick your sweet corn when the silks turn brown and the kernels have a milky liquid when pierced. If the liquid is clear the corn is under ripe. Harvest popcorn and maize when the husks have dried. Remove leaves from the cob and hang up to dry thoroughly before removing kernels.