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Home Issue 49 Sweetcorn, a mate for life

Sweetcorn, a mate for life

By GEOFF MIERS

Sweetcorn doesn’t last long after harvesting so grow your own and love it fresh.

Mary Blaiklock’s (pictured at top) followed this rule for years and has just harvested her first crop for this year. Two weeks ago her second crop was a metre high, now its one and a half metres high cob just starting to form, and, a few days ago she planted 20 sweetcorn seeds and 18 have emerged.

She’ll never run out!

Sweetcorn is one of the more popular home grown vegetable crops and is so easy to grow and to quote Mary: “Even young children will have success growing it!”

Remember the nutrient value of fresh corn is considerably higher than corn purchased from the supermarket and it’s so much sweeter and better for you.

A warm season crop sweetcorn can be planted any time from early September right through until late February.

Ideally you could have three staggered crops already planted this season and maybe plant five to six crops staggered so that you have a fairly continuous supply of sweet corn for several months.

Corn is one of those crops that should be planted in small blocks every six weeks to ensure you have a continuous supply. There is not much value in having 50 corn ripe in the same week, there is only so much corn you can eat at any one time.

Corn is best planted in blocks. Single or even double rows may result in poor pollination.

Blocks of corn will guarantee pollen from the male flowers or tussels at the top of the plant will fall on the female flowers or silks halfway up the stems. A block of three or four rows each row being 40 to 50cm apart will guarantee good pollination.

Prior to planting blend into the soil an organic NPK fertiliser for best results. Corn seed will resent coming into direct contact with chemical fertiliser. Mary dug through the soil prior to planting Blood & Bone.

If chemical fertiliser is used ensure it is applied in furrows where each row is to be sown but deep enough not to immediately come into contact with germinating seed.

Prior to planting ensure the corn patch has been well watered as over watering is often a cause of poor seed germination.

Having watered the bed well, plant seed and then lightly water the seed in and then refrain from watering for a few days. A light sprinkle may be required if hot weather occurs.

Permanently moist soil often results in the seed rotting. Having watered the seed in place a plank of timber over each row or cover the entire corn patch to limit over-watering particularly if there are other plants close by that need to be watered daily.

You can understand why Mary was happy with 18 plants emerging from 20 seeds. If you get it wrong germination can be poor.

Covering the sweetcorn patch while the seed is germinating will also limit the potential of mice seeking out and digging up the seed and remember we periodically have mice plagues in Alice Springs.

Sweetcorn seed can be dusted with a fungicide to reduce the chances of the seed rotting due to overwatering, however this should not be necessary if the above instructions are followed.

Space seeds approximately 10 to 15cm apart as this will allow for some seed failure. If all seeds germinate thin seedlings out to 30 to 45cm apart.

Once seedlings have emerged and any necessary thinning has occurred you may choose to apply a side dressing of a nitrogen fertiliser although if a slow release organic NPK fertiliser has been used this side dressing may not be necessary.

As corn plants grow consider moulding soil up around the base of the plants to provide some support as strong winds can cause plants to fall, remembering they can grow over two metres tall.

Lucerne hay or pea straw used as a mulch will reduce water loss through evaporation and priority should be given to ensuring the corn patch is kept weed free.

Sweet corn hates to dry out or be stressed due to the soil drying out, thus the importance of applying a good layer of pea straw.

Climbing beans can be incorporated in the corn patch at five to six weeks after the planting of the corn. The corn plants provide an excellent climbing frame for the beans and the two plants are compatible.

When the tussles at the top of the plant open I like in the early to mid morning run my hand up over the tussels and ensure the displaced pollen is dropped onto the female flowers or silks below. This will ensure full cob development.

Aphids can be a problem although the major pest problem is caused by the corn earworm that sits immediately below the silks and slowly munches away at the corn as it matures. They are not visible being protected by the corn cob covering.

As the cob matures I will individually inspect a number of cobs by carefully part-peeling open the protective cover and this will reveal their presence. Alternatively I simply squeeze immediately below the silk tassel and above the corn cob, this usually results in the grubs demise.

Sweetcorn must be harvested at the right time. They are ready when the silks have turned brown and the cobs have moved to a 30 degree angle from the corn stalk. To be doubly sure carefully peal open the husk and press your finger nail into the corn grain. If the grain is soft and exudes a creamy sap/juice the cob is ready to harvest.

Sweetcorn is best eaten freshly harvested. Once harvested quite quickly the sugars within the cobs turn to starch and the cobs over time will become tough and doughy. Harvest the corn cobs, place immediately into boiling water and eat once cooked for the best flavours and to maximise on their nutrient value.

And of course don’t rest on your laurels on planting one crop, plant repeat crops for at least three more months.

One of my best crops of sweetcorn I planted was in the first week of December, the plants grew to over two metres and had two to three cobs on each plant. They were ready by early February and they grew over a very hot summer, the hottest time of the year.    

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