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Plant Sweet Corn For Garden, Grill
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
I used to consider myself a real outdoor cooker until the other day when my 10-year-old son James asked if that was the first time I had cooked chicken. Have I been too busy for a decade?
That night I was cooking one of my grill favorites, corn on the cob with the shuck still on. There may not be finer eating in the whole world than corn on the cob with that smoke flavor.
Corn is native to Mexico and cobs have been found that are supposedly 5,000 years old. Although we have all heard legends of the Indian Squanto showing settlers how to raise corn, the first recorded sweet corn was collected from the Iroquois Indians in 1779. In 1821, a Connecticut seed company listed sugar corn in their catalog, the first seed source for home garden sweet corn.
Botanically, sweet corn is Zea mays rugosa, with the genus Zea being Greek for "cereal." It is of the species mays an alternate spelling for maize, which means corn and the variety rugosa, which means wrinkled and refers to the mature seed.
Some of the most recommended sweet corn varieties for Mississippi are Silver Queen, Sweet G-90, Tendertreat, Miracle and Incredible.
Corn is monoecious, having male flowers, tassels, on top of the plant and female flowers, called silks, at leaf axis along the main stem. The tassel can produce up to a million pollen grains. Pollen moves by wind and gravity, so single rows of corn don't pollinate and produce as many ears as do rows that are side by side.
Select a site on the north side of the garden. Corn plants are tall, and when planted on the east or west side of the garden cast shadows on the other plants, decreasing their yield.
In today's smaller, raised bed gardens, block planting four or five rows is probably the way to go. Those gardening on a much larger scale use long rows and terraces as needed.
Corn mostly is thought of as an early spring planted crop, although multiple crops can be sown. Successive plantings spread the fresh harvest over a longer period, but later sowings are more challenged by the corn earworm.
Corn earworm eggs are laid on the silks, and the larva of the Noctuid moth eats its way down through the ear of the corn. Some say that placing a clothspin or rubber band on the tip of the ear sometimes helps prevent the earworm from entering the ear. However, you may find the conventional, recommended insecticides are the best method of ensuring a crop.
Many gardeners also find that deer and raccoons have a deep-seated love of corn. Jim Schuster with the University of Illinois Extension Service suggested sprinkling stalks and leaves with baby powder. Reapply after each rain to deter the raccoons.
He also suggested using Dial soap to deter both deer and raccoons. In their tests, this brand was the only soap that works. Hang a half bar of soap on short stakes, allowing the soap to dangle 6 inches above the ground.
Most sweet corn is ready to harvest two and a half to three weeks after pollination, although high temperatures can accelerate maturity. When at its prime, kernels will be soft and succulent. To remove the ear, pull down and twist. Then invite me over for a corn cookout.