Corn, Corn, and more CORN. . .A Delicious Topic!

For some gardeners, one of the main reasons to have a garden is to have enough space to plant corn.  Hands down, we all LOVE corn!  Whether it’s SWEET or DENT, FLOUR, ORNAMENTAL, POPCORN or BROOM CORN, everyone will agree– ZEA MAYS –WE LOVE IT!


“Dent” Corn?”

“Flour Corn?”

“Ornamental Corn?”

“Broom Corn?”

We know what sweet corn and popcorn is but what the heck are those?

Those are just a few of the many types of corn.

“Dent” and “Flour” corn are old-fashioned types of non-sweet Indian Corn that are edible.  These types of corn which range in color from solid white or yellow to parti-colored,  are typically dried and ground into flour or processed into hominy, tortillas  and grits.

“Ornamental” corn is a type of  non-edible Indian corn that is used exclusively for decorations.  “Broom” corn is also a type of corn that is closer to its state as an ancient grass.  “Broom” corn can be made into brooms, wreaths or decorations.

Did you know that there are HUNDREDS of different types of Sweet Corn alone?

And it is because there are so many different types and varieties of corn that we need to be careful.

— Careful of  the type of corn we choose to plant;

— Careful of when we plant the corn;  and

–Careful of where we plant our corn.

Whether or not we enjoy a successful crop depends on all of the above.

Corn comes in a multitude of different “cultivars.” A “cultivar” is a cultivated variety of a plant that has been deliberately selected for its desirable characteristics: examples of desirable characteristics would be the sturdiness of the stalk, the size of the ears, the color and sweetness of the kernels, resistance to insects or the yield of a crop. When properly grown, corn plants of a particular cultivar keep their special characteristics–but improper planting and handling will cause the crop to suffer failure.

For example, a characteristic of Sweet Corn is that it’s kernels are sweet, not bland like  Dent Corn, Popcorn,  or Flour Corn.  There are many different types, or cultivars, of corn:

–Normal Sugary (su)  Old-Fashioned Sweet Corn–Examples:  Silver Queen, Honey & Cream

–Sugary Enhanced  (se) and (se+) More tender and sweet than (su)  Examples: Bodacious, KandyKorn

–Synergistic   A Hybrid of (se) and (sh2)–increased sugar content. Examples:  Polka,  Montauk

–Super Sweet (sh2) Extra sweet flavor and slow conversion of sugar to starch–Examples: That’s Delicious!,  Gotta Have It!

Dent/Flour type  A dry Indian-type field corn for cornmeal and flour–Examples:  Painted Mountain, Nothstine, Earth Tones Dent

Popcorn  A dry Indian-type field corn suitable for popping–Example:  Cutie Pops, Strawberry,  Robust

THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT INFORMATION TO KNOW.  One big reason why is that if one cultivar of corn is planted with or at the same time as another, the whole crop will be ruined.   I remember hearing one gardener tell another one last spring of how he planted his Indian Corn in alternating rows with Sweet Corn.  Bad Move!  Corn can also be ruined if it is planted TOO EARLY.

Since most of us grow corn here are some Golden Rules!

1.    Soil Temperature is IMPORTANT.  No corn should be planted before the last frost in the area. This includes corn plants purchased from home centers For Harrisburg, the last frost date this year is approximately May 4th.   Soil temperatures should be at least 55 degrees F.   If temperatures are any colder, or if there is frost, your corn will die, plain and simple.  One of the reasons why I am writing this article in March is because some people will get over-anxious and plant their corn in April.  Bad move.

2.  Don’t mix cultivars! Make sure that all of the Sweet Corn you plant together is of the same cultivar.  You cannot plant (su) with (se), synergistic, or (sh2).  Don’t plant unknown types or groups of seed together if you aren’t absolutely sure what type of corn it is.

Make sure you clear your garden of all rotting corncobs.  Kernels left on old corncobs can germinate and ruin your corn.

Never plant Indian Corn with Sweet Corn of any type.  Never plant  Sweet Corn with Popcorn or Dent Corn.

To keep your Sweet Corn sweet, you must separate plantings of the different types of corn by DISTANCE (25 feet between types), or by time (plant your Sweet Corn first, and then plant Popcorn and Dent Corn 3-4 weeks later).  Cross pollination between different types of corn will result in tough, starchy bad-tasting kernels in the Sweet Corn, but the Popcorn and Dent Corn will be okay.  In other words, all of your corn will automatically turn to Dent Corn if you don’t stop them from cross-pollinating.

This is where talking with your neighbor is very important.  Shake hands over the fence and ask WHAT TYPE of corn your neighbor intends to plant, and WHEN.  For example, my neighbor likes “Silver Queen,” which is an (su)  Normal Sugary cultivar of Sweet Corn.   I like a variety called “Gotta Have It,” an (sh2) Super Sweet  cultivar.  (sh2) is NOT COMPATIBLE with (su).   How did we solve the problem? I found out when she intended to plant her Silver Queen, and I planted Gotta Have It 3 weeks later.  This way my corn did not tassel up or silk at the same time as my neighbor’s and it did not cross pollinate.  Talking to your neighbor is essential when planting corn. You also need to find out whether or not your neighbor intends to plant Popcorn or Flour Corn.  A good neighbor will also NOT ALLOW their child to plant popcorn in their garden or any of the children’s gardens without warning the neighboring adult gardeners first. By simply isolating your crop by TIME or DISTANCE, you can solve a lot of problems.

3.  Make a nice smooth seed bed so that you can make sure that your corn is not planted too deeply.  If you plant your seeds too deep, they will rot in the ground.  Corn should be planted no more than one inch deep.  Refer to your seed packets.

4.  Fertilize.  Corn needs lots of high nitrogen fertilizer.  Give fertilizer as indicated on the seed packet and side-dress as the corn grows.

5.  Give plenty of water.  Give plenty of water to each seed as you plant it.  Corn does not like to be dry.  Try to keep your corn watered throughout the season.

6.  Harvest on time. Your corn should be ready to pick about 20-24 days after half the ears show corn silk.  If the weather is hot, the corn will mature faster.  Be observant.  Don’t leave mature ears in the field to rot or to be eaten by deer (YES!  we have deer in the community gardens) or ground hogs.  Believe me, the critters will know when the corn is ready to eat!

By following these simple rules, you should have a successful corn harvest.  Questions?  Any tips or suggestions?  Please click on the “Leave a Comment” link above to share your thoughts with the rest of us.  I did promise to talk about WATER and BARRELS, but I just simply ran out of time.  Those issues will be discussed in the April Issue.


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