By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
There’s nothing quite like a side dish of corn or an ear of freshly boiled corn on the cob. We appreciate the unique taste of this sugary vegetable. Corn is considered a vegetable when harvested for eating, but it may also be considered a grain or even a fruit. Let’s take a look at those types of sweet corn and some sweet corn cultivars.
About Sweet Corn Plants
Corn is categorized by its sugar into “standard or normal sugary (SU), sugar enhanced (SE) and supersweet (Sh2),” according to sweet corn info. These types also vary by how quickly they should be consumed or put up and the vigor of the seed. Some sources say there are five categories of corn, others say six, but these include different varieties, like popcorn. Not all corn will pop, so you must have a special kind that turns itself inside out when high heat is applied.
Blue corn is similar to sweet yellow corn but filled with the same healthy antioxidant that gives blueberries their coloring. These are called anthocyanins. Blue corn is one of the oldest varieties known.
Growing Sweet Corn Cultivars
If you’re considering planting sweet corn in your field or garden, take these factors into consideration before choosing the variety you will grow.
Pick a type of corn that is a favorite of your family. Find a type that grows from an open-pollinated, heirloom seed as opposed to a genetically modified organism (GMO). Corn seed, unfortunately, was among the first edibles to be affected by GMO, and that has not changed.
Hybrid types, a cross between two varieties, are usually designed for a bigger ear, faster growth, and more attractive and healthy sweet corn plants. We’re not always informed of other changes made to hybrid seeds. Hybrid seeds do not reproduce the same as the plant from which they came. These seeds should not be replanted.
Open-pollinated corn seeds are sometimes difficult to find. It is easier to find non-GMO blue corn seeds than bicolor, yellow, or white. Blue corn may be a healthy alternative. It grows from open-pollinated seed. Blue corn still grows in many fields in Mexico and the southwest U.S. It has 30 percent more protein than most other types. However, if you want to grow a more traditional corn crop, look for seeds of:
- Sugar Buns: Yellow, early, SE
- Temptress: Bicolor, second-early season grower
- Enchanted: Organic, bicolor, late-season grower, SH2
- Natural Sweet: Organic, bicolor, midseason grower, SH2
- Double Standard: The first open-pollinated bicolor sweet corn, SU
- American Dream: Bicolor, grows in all warm seasons, premium taste, SH2
- Sugar Pearl: Sparkling white, early season grower, SE
- Silver Queen: White, late season, SU
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How to Choose the Best Sweet Corn
As a member of the grass family, and presumed to be the oldest cultivated crop, corn is relatively easy to grow. Corn simply needs warmth, moisture, sunlight, wind protection, a long growing season and deep, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.
Relax. It is not as complicated as it sounds.
Corn is wind-pollinated. So, short rows next to each other are apt to grow more ears than one long row. The richer the soil, the closer together the plants may be. Four rows, 3 feet apart, and 5 feet long is an ideal garden size.
sweetness after picking, so planting more than your family can consume is impractical unless freezing or canning the excess immediately. Running directly from the garden to the table with freshly picked produce is the best practice for sweet corn.
Corn takes up a lot of space for the amount of food produced (roughly 60 ears in a 100 foot row). However, planting corn has other benefits. All those nitrogen-rich leaves, stalks, husks and cobs make excellent garden mulch. Ground corn cobs are highly resistant to compaction, so the mulch remains loose even if your garden gets plenty of foot traffic.
Pole beans can be planted with corn, as beans use the stalks for support while fixing nitrogen in the soil for the corn. A win-win partnership!
But first, one must decide which corn variety to plant.
Once the field is planted and the corn is growing, be sure to check the emerging corn and count the plant population. Are there doubles? Is the seed spacing what it should be? Are there skips? Why?
Understanding what you have will help you manage potential problems through the growing season. Weak root systems from compaction can lead to lodging in heavy winds, and a sparse stand is open to weed competition. So, walk your field, evaluate your work, plan how to manage your crop, and make adjustments for next year.