Growing Stuff – Sweetcorn (Maize)

In my ever conquering quest to get more people to grow their own fruit and veg,  I wrote a series of blog posts last year on individual veggies, fruits and herbs to show everyone just how easy some are to grow.

The series, of five, which delved into runner beans, parsley, strawberries, blueberries and radishes were all chosen because they are very simple to grow and delicious to either use in cooking or eat by themselves.

Now we’re in the midst of a new gardening year I thought I’d create a new series.

Five more posts on fruit and vegetables that are just really simple to grow and can be grown well in the smallest of places.

I’ve grown every single veg/fruit or herb that I post about which means I can guarantee they are easy to grow!  It also means that I won’t be posting on lettuce, broccoli, nor redcurrants as I have not been successful with those.

If you want to give any of the choices a go please let me know, and be sure to post your experiences of growing them right below the post, I’d really like to hear from you.

Week 2 – Corn (on the cob) aka Sweetcorn

The paleo community might want to duck down this week while I discuss this veggie because I know it’s not got particular support with my fellow neolithic eaters, due to it’s high sugar content.

But whether you can digest it or not it’s a pretty impressive crop to grow, and as I always say regarding the sugar content – 10 cobs are still better for you than 1 chocolate bar/biscuit so don’t be put off completely.

Sweetcorn originally came from Native America, it was brought to Europe in 1779 and quickly production of the vegetable was taken up because it was easy to grow, took up little space compared to the harvest it could give and would store well (frozen).

Why grow Sweetcorn?

One of the main reasons to grow corn yourself is because aside from taking up little space, you can grow far more varieties than the bog standard yellow types you see at the supermarket.  It’s also very worth growing yourself because more and more corn you eat is now coming from GM growing areas.  If that doesn’t freak you out I don’t know what would!

Sweetcorn has the most beautiful taste to it when home grown.  The sugars that make the cobs so tasty are soon lost in transit when transported from field to shop but at home you can harvest and eat within 10 minutes thus all the best flavours are kept making it the most enjoyable meal I can think of straight from your garden.

So, how to grow Sweetcorn?

Courtesy of Tamera Clark

If you’re going to grow corn it’s worthwhile just taking a bit of time looking at all the different varieties that can be sown.  There are also different size corn from the more usual full size cobs to the miniature sweet cobs sometimes referred to as babycobs.

While any seed packets denoting F1 in the title will primarily ensue strong plants and plenty of cobs they are mostly hybrids, so it’s worth trying out alternative varieties which produce multicoloured cobs or for an extra ten points try out a heritage variety to ensure the traditional non-hybrid corn plants keep going.

  • Sow from seed indoors from end of April, and outdoors from May to June.  Add two seeds per pot.
  • When sowing outside prepare the area and add in fertilizer (manure) to ensure good fertile soil.  Sweetcorn tend to suffer in heavy soils, where rain can’t drain away quick enough so if the area can’t be made free draining it’s always worth growing the plants in containers, pots or even potato planters.
  • Because the plants don’t take up an awful lot of room (compared to say cabbages, beans or fruit plants) they can be sown and grown in blocks or rows, between 30-35cm apart.  I’ve tried both and either way works well.  In a small plot (1m x 1.5 m) I’ve managed to grow at least 6 plants in the past with success.
  • The plants will grow fairly quickly through June.  Keep them watered well, especially in dry periods, and watch out for pests (see below).  If sown outside be sure to remove any weeds so the plants aren’t competing for space.
  • Pollination happens via the wind so you don’t need to worry about them setting fruit if you are growing more than 1 variety in any given space.
  • If the plants are grown individually be sure to stake them as a gust of wind may well topple the plant over.
  • At the end of the season, about August/Sept time the tassels on the end of the cobs will start to turn brown.  The cobs can be tested for harvesting by taking a grain (from the middle of the cob) and squeezing it between your fingers.  If the liquid that is extracted is cream in colour then it’s ready for harvesting!

Now, this is where the important bit comes in.

  • Don’t do like I have done this year and keep any spare seeds in a warm room because this just scuppers any germination.  Instead keep any left over seeds in a cool, dark room ready for the following yr.
  • Avoid picking any of the cobs until you are ready to eat them.  The will keep in the fridge for a few days but as soon as the cobs are picked the sugar starts to get converted to starch and the unique flavour rapidly gets lost.

Pests and Diseases

Slugs and snails.  These guys will just much through any seedlings in a blink of an overnight period.  Be sure to either protect the seedlings (in pots), or go on a hunt round the plot most nights to keep the pests at bay.

Mice love the seeds and will actively hunt them out in both outside pots and in the ground, so again protect in the form of fleece or netting until the plants have germinated.

Down the line

Each plant should produce at least two cobs each.

If you get a glut of cobs there are two ways you can preserve the corn:

  1. Freeze – blanch the cobs for 5 minutes, wrap and store in freezer
  2. Dry – allow the cobs to stay on the plant as long as possible, then take the cobs and hang them somewhere indoors to dry for at least 28 days.  Once fully dry the kernels can be stripped from the cob and kept in airtight jars ready to be used again in soups and stews.


So what did you think?  Was that useful at all or do I waffle too much?  More importantly – does it make you want to have a go at growing sweetcorn?


18 responses to “Growing Stuff – Sweetcorn (Maize)

  1. I’m really loving your articles on the plants! I ordered four kinds of corn this year, including one for popcorn and one for fresh or for flour – and then researched and ordered a squash/bean to go with each kind, as I’d like to try the ‘Three Sisters” way of planting for each corn variety- now am desperately trying to figure out how to get them all planted far enough away from each other, so to have the possibility of saving seed from each! 🙂

      • That’s really interesting because I’m growing all three this yr but just not all in same place…hmm…I feel a new planting experiment coming on in 2015 🙂

      • I read John Jeavon’s “How to Plant more Vegetables*” quite a few years ago and since, have companion planted everything! 🙂 Just this a.m., I called Bountiful Gardens (from whom I get so much of my seed!) and said,
        “I’m planting the golden giant and burgundy amaranths and can’t figure out what to companion plant with it – the book and google searches say corn or cabbage, but since amaranth needs water just to get started, then little to no irrigation, I can’t figure out what to do – any ideas?”
        To which the reply was,
        “Fenugreek or Bee Plant” which I promptly ordered and will put in place in the amaranth bed that will be completed today – They are an excellent source, not just for seeds, but anytime I run into a companion planting issue, or trying to figure out what to do in an area, if I can’t figure it out myself, they always have wonderful suggestions!

        I look at companion planting as gardening like Mother Nature does – she doesn’t plant in pretty, neat rows, nor does she do one whole area in just one plant – it makes it harder for early weeding, etc., and sometimes, a weed gets pretty big before I figure out I don’t want it there, but overall, I’ve been very pleased with planting this way 🙂

      • Apologies in my lateness of response.
        I’ve heard of Bountiful Gardens. Is Fenugreek also known as the Bee Plant? Never knew that! I hope the companions work out for you.
        I’m definitely more conscious of companion planting these days because it works so well, both in design and in nature but still have loads to learn.
        With you on the weed thing too – if I like the look of it then it more often than not stays. Poppies are a perfect example of this.

    • That’s not good. What soil have you got? I know I struggled one year with the soil being of the clay variety and they really prefer well draining soil. Have your plants got so far with growth and then given up or is it before they germinate that you’ve had issues? I’m curious, we need to get to the bottom of this! 😉

      • The first year they ripened but were not very sweet at all.
        The second year they never fully ripened (probably due to the weather). we are on clay, but with lots of added organic matter.

  2. We’ve never managed to grow it outdoors here but keep a space in the polytunnel every year for sweet corn. The flavour of home grown is impossible to beat and so worth it.

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