Growing Sweet Corn

Corn (Maize) is normally classed as a grain, however this variety, Sweet Corn, can be eaten as a vegetable.

As a vegetable it would have to be one of the most delicious veggies grown fresh.  Store bought, so called fresh, sweet corn is always found lacking due to one important fact.  After harvesting corn cobs, the sugars in the corn rapidly convert to starch, unless you eat it raw quickly, cook it or store it just above 0°C (32°F) until blanched and frozen.  Store bought sweet corn tastes bland and starchy because these conditions are not met.

So knowing that fact, one would naturally want to grow ones own sweet corn to get maximum flavour, wouldn’t one?

Let me tell you that growing corn is easy.  It is grown from seed, which you can either sow early to get a head start in your green house by planting in it tubes, like I did this season, or plant directly in to soil which has had lots of home made compost dug through it.

Planting Sweet Corn from seedlings

I managed to get my corn in the ground in late October.  Normally the soil would not be warm enough for the seed to germinate until late spring in our climate, So I managed to get one months head start.

Sweet Corn needs regular watering, after all, the corn kernels are mostly water.  I tend to irrigate every few days after testing the soil with my finger.  If it comes out moist, I check again the next day and water if necessary.  A heavy mulch, 10 cm (4 inches) deep, of either straw or sugar mulch helps trap in the moisture during our long dry summer.

I don’t fertilize my sweet corn, as I add so much organic matter into the soil before planting.  Additionally, I also planted about eight lazy housewife runner beans throughout the beg after I planted the seedlings.  These plants provided additional nitrogen for the corn, which helped keep them healthy.  Your corn stalks will grow to about 900mm (3 feet), but some varieties grow taller, with more than one ear per stalk.

Sweet Corn fully grown

Most varieties these days are F1 hybrids which you cannot regrow from saved seed, however you can buy heirloom cultivars from places like Diggers or Eden seeds which you can save seed from.  This year I grew hybrids Honey Sweet, and Early Sweet, however I cannot tell the difference between the two.  They just taste delicious.

You can tell when the ears are ready to eat by doing a couple of little tests.  The silk on the ear should be dark brown, and if you open the husk and press one of the kernels with your thumb nail you should get a milky liquid.

Sweet Corn ears ready for harvest

To harvest the corn, grab the ear firmly, then pull it downward and give it a twist.  It comes off quite easily, leaving the stalk intact, which is essential if there are more than two ears per plant.

Corn harvested by Ben!

Then, if you are going to eat them raw I would recommend that you eat them as quickly as possible for full flavour.

Sweet Corn in husk

Once the corn cobs are cleaned, you can throw the husk straight into the compost bin or worm farm.  They decompose rapidly, and worms love them.

De-husked, ready for the pot.

If you are going to cook them, then quickly pop them in a pot of salted water and bring to the boil. Bring down the the simmer for 10 minutes.  Then drain and serve with a little butter smeared over the ear.  Eat whilst hot, and it is delicious.

You can also freeze sweet corn by blanching it for 5 minutes to stop the sugar to starch conversion, then cut in half and freeze.   It stores for about six months if then vacuum packed and frozen.

So, with the favour differential between store bough sweet corn and home grown fresh being a factor of a bajillion, it pays to grow your own if you have space.  You will never regret this decision and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

I love fresh sweet corn.  How about you?


  1. says

    Gorgeous looking corn. I don’t have enough water this year to grow corn but next year, when I have more roof and tank space, corn will be top on my list.

    • says

      After this summer, I too intend on getting more rainwater storage. I have room for another 2000L slimline tank in the carport that I can hook up to the second tank. I should be able to grow much more next year.

      Thanks for your comment Louise.

  2. Steven Holmquist says

    Hi Gavin-

    I hope you don’t have the worries or concerns we are having here in the U.S. over GMO crops and seed showing up in our stores and backyard gardens. Your gardens always look great and your corn looks fantastic. Keep it up!


  3. Anonymous says

    King Parrots also love sweet corn. Cover with light shade cloth and they get underneath …… cover growing cobs individually and they rip the cobs off to get to them …… my garden is totally secured from bandicoots, wallabies, you name it but King Parrots one cannot keep out, unless I chicken wire all around the individual plot and on top. Has to be tall as corn grows tall and so it goes on. The local farmers market has pretty good corn!!!!! Joy

    • says

      Best of luck keeping them out. Rainbow lorikeets have decimated my peaches even before they were ripe, and have now eaten most of my plums. The trees are just too big to net.

  4. says

    Hello Gavin.
    I live in England and garden 8000 sq ft with flowers, fruit and vegetable, with loys of corn! LOVE it!! There is a point here for you and your other readers .. the silk of the corn, if dried and then chopped, put into a mug with boiling water added, makes an extremely good ‘tea’ for anyone who suffers from ANY inflamation of the Urinary tract or has a problem with their Kidneys.. In Europe it is sold at Pharmacies packaged by VitaFlor or sold loose by the gram.
    Keep on writing Gavin.. best wishes from chilly and slightly damp London.

    • says

      Yes, it does quite well in the temperate zones like my area.

      Unfortunately, I do not have the space to allocate a permanent plot for this wonderful vegetable, but plan on expanding more garden beds into the front yard during our cooler months.

  5. says

    We planted corn last year for the first time ever, we only planted 6 stalks and it was the best gardening experience ever. The cobs were so delicious and the boys loved getting them from the garden, shucking, cooking and finally eating them. We have doubled our corn crop this year, we had plans to plants beans in around them too, but one of my kids stuck in a watermelon seed and now there is a watermelon monster instead, and it already has little watermelons growing.

    • says

      I wish I had the space for watermelon. It is delicious. I grew a small variety in 2007 called sugar baby, with the fruit being the size of small balloon. It was true to its name.

  6. Penny says

    Thanks Gav for the post – love sweetcorn and am on to my third planting of the season though Qld summer is proving to be a challenge!! I normally plant direct but after the last lot got mauled by caterpillars I have planted seedlings in a layered pot(leaves, greens, veg, manure etc) and so far so good – healthy and moisture kept in!!

  7. says

    When I was a kid, when we’d have a picnic on the beach, we’d roast sweet corn right in the husks. Throw the corn in the lake (check first to see which way the wind was from, so the corn would float back to the beach, and not away) and let it roll around in the water for an hour or more. Then put it right around the edges of the fire, use tongs to turn and keep it from burning. The wet husks would steam the corn, but in places it would singe. Yum. Pull the husks back (carefully) – after they’ve cooled a bit, they make a nice handle. Season with butter and salt. Best. Sweet corn. Ever.

  8. Anonymous says

    Gavin, you’ve touched on a subject near and dear. I also live in SW Ontario, corn country. Acres of it…the very best parties are ‘corn roasts’ through latter July/August. Usually a huge fire with a trough of boiling water–one shucks one’s own cobs and tosses it in. One memorable party was right next to an entire field of the best sweet corn I ever recall, and we fancy that we are connaisseurs.
    One thing that is commonly said by purists is to get the water to a rolling boil–before you pick the corn–and shuck it while running to the stove…four minutes, tops, at the boil. Make sure it’s young and tender, not overripe to be tough. I also ‘do up’ about 2.5 bushels of sweet corn for the freezer for winter; as you say, blanch it on the cob for 3-4 minutes, then plunge in ice water. We slice the kernels off (if with an electric knife, these slice as smoothly as butter) and quickly freeze them in meal-sized bags. Outside is best as it is a messy job. Uncle’s horses love the leftover cobs.
    Corn, beans and squash are known to our First Nations people as the ‘Three Sisters’–it is a perfect companion planting for runner beans to climb the corn stalks (and for nitrogen fixing), but also for squash planted at the base of the plants which I suppose acts as a mulch. (I’ve also read that a dead fish was buried under each corn plant in those days!) These three food sources together are sacred in that culture, and I believe when eaten together compose a complete protein, a major component of their diet. Although the ‘maize’ at that time would have been more like field corn and allowed to mature to be ground into flours and etc. Happy eating! PS Corn chowder (if there are any leftovers atall!) is wonderful stuff.

  9. says

    Good job, Gavin. It looks delicious. Corn is also great grilled on the BBQ. The sugars caramelize, making for great flavour.
    When I was young, we lived on 10 acres of very fertile farm land in southern Ontario, Canada. We had a one acre garden, and my dad grew lots of veggies. Corn and tomatoes were his speciality. I remember getting lots of corn to eat as a child. It is also yummy made into corn relish and canned. It goes well with pork or chicken.
    Happy eating!
    Barb from Canada

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