ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
These husked cobs, perfectly filled and golden yellow, are ready for the cooking pot.
I have both elbows propped up on the kitchen table and I have butter dripping off my chin. What am I doing? You guessed it — I am enjoying this year’s bounty of corn on the cob.
Excess corn can be cut off the cobs and processed for winter use. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Mature cobs are plump and firm, and have dark brown, dry silk.
(ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
This row of corn is not ready — the silk on the cobs is still green and pollen is still scattering down on the cobs from the tassels at the tops of the stalks to complete the pollination process. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
If coons are a problem in the corn patch, plant squash/pumpkins around the patch. Coons dislike these scratchy plants and will not travel through them. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
I think eating corn on the cob — fresh from your own garden, but cobs obtained from the local farmers’ market come in a close second — is some kind of prairie ritual. Everyone talks about whether local corn is available and I get asked constantly if our garden is producing this delectable treat yet.
As most of you know, I have lived in towns during most of my adult gardening years and try as I might, I could never grow good corn in my small town gardens. Oh yes, we always got a few cobs but there was never a great bounty — partly because I never had the space to grow more than a couple of short rows., but partly I think because of the growing conditions.
Luckily, in every place we have lived, I have been able to garden out in the country and since moving to Minnedosa, we have had a large vegetable garden at my brother-in-law’s farm. There is nothing like lots of space, fresh air and sunshine, a fair distance away from any trees with their extensive root systems, that a farm garden provides to ensure a top quality (and I should say top quantity) corn crop.
I try to seed my corn by early May — this year we were fortunate not to get any late May frosts as young corn plants are susceptible to frost. Having said that, if they do freeze and only the top outer leaves of the small corn plants are touched, not the inner sheath of leaves, then the plants will usually survive the frost.
I plant my corn in blocks to facilitate pollination. I think that planting in a long single row is not that conducive to good pollination. After the seedlings emerge, I thin the rows so that the plants are about 20-30 centimetres apart.
If your garden is exposed to wind, it is a good idea to hill the corn as a strong wind can easily blow over the plants if the roots and stems are not secured by enough soil. Other than that, corn is maintenance free other than to weed and water.
Corn has two distinct requirements: heat and water. It will flourish in hot weather, as it has this summer with our extensive periods of high 20s and low 30s temperatures. Corn must be watered if it is to produce a good crop and this year our corn patch was watered a few times as rain was scarce.
In hot weather, corn matures quickly; you check it by opening the end of one cob to observe the colour of the kernels. One day it will still be white but a very few days later the kernels will have turned yellow; it is easy to allow corn to go past its best before date if you aren’t diligent about checking it.
I like to grow more than one variety of corn. The standard by which all other varieties are measured has long been the variety "Peaches and Cream" and many market gardens still advertise this particular corn on their signs.
There are many other worthy varieties and as you can see by names like ‘Kandy King’, ‘Triplesweet Serendipity’, and ‘Sugar Baby’, corn varieties are often judged by their sweetness.
Another characteristic to look for is days to maturity. ‘Peaches and Cream’ is a 78-day corn but there are varieties that mature two weeks earlier than that.
I have grown ‘Sunny Vee Hybrid’ for several years as an early corn and have been quite happy with it. It is a 66-day corn so just as it has been used up the later varieties take over, ensuring an extended corn season.
Pick corn as close to cooking time as possible. The sugars begin to turn to starches after the cobs have been removed from the corn stalks — some are rated as "good storage", however, which means this process varies from variety to variety. Also, the higher the sugar content to begin with, the longer the corn will remain sweet after it is picked.
Store corn in the refrigerator with husks on and shuck it just before cooking. After cooking, slather it with butter and enjoy — occasionally wiping the drips from your chin. Isn’t corn season wonderful!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 6, 2012