Growing your own sweetcorn and saving the seed is a super-sustainable species saver, and, once cooked, sweetcorn is an awesome antioxidant vegie. So save some space and get ready to plant a few of these sweeties.
It really is position, position, position with sweetcorn. It needs full sun, no exceptions, and must have protection from strong winds (no one likes floppy corn). Sweetcorn plants are a friendly mob and will do best when planted in a block or square-style formation. This encourages better cross-pollination, which means more corn for you. The more corn you can fit in, the better, and remember to allow about 40–50cm between plants. Don’t fret about losing all your space, though. Sweetcorn are quite happy to be underplanted once they grow a bit. Try climbing beans or cucumbers — they make excellent companions and suppress weeds; you will seriously increase the productivity of your patch.
The first thing that needs to be done when thinking about planting sweetcorn is soil improvement. Use loads of organic matter (the good stuff like compost and aged manure) or try planting sweetcorn after a green manure crop. Sweetcorn will tolerate most deep, lush soils but they hate clay. Mulch well with pea straw or similar after planting.
Feeding sweetcorn that has been planted into good, rich soil is not a huge issue. A wee drink of manure tea after establishment and then an additional drink when you see the flowers should do the trick. Sweetcorn is dead easy to look after but there are a couple of things you can do to ramp up productivity. A good tip with corn is to pile up compost around the base of the stem. Called “hilling”, making mounds of compost about 15–20cm high will increase the amount and flavour of your sweetcorn and will also help keep the stems upright.
What about water?
Sweetcorn loves a good drink and this can be an issue where water is scarce. High amounts of organic matter and mulch in the patch will reduce the need for the precious wet stuff but the key is not to let them dry out. Why not dedicate Monday, Wednesday and Friday’s shower warm-up water to the corn (only when required of course)? They’ll thank you for it and you’ll get super-buff carrying that bucket. As always, greywater is a no go.
Are we there yet?
Two to three weeks after flowering, sweetcorn is generally ready to be harvested. You’ll know when it’s flowering because the male flowers look like wheat. Sweet corn is good to go when the little tasselly bits at the top of the cob are brown and shrivelled, the husks are no longer glossy and the corn kernels ooze a milky sap
Warm areas: October–November
Temperate areas: October–November
Cool to cold areas: End of October–November