When to reap corn for excellent ears

Corn is a delicious summer staple and the backbone of what we eat in the United States. Whether it's eaten as fresh sweetcorn or dried to make corn bread or tortillas, we rely so much on this wonderful plant. However, figuring out the right time to harvest corn can be a little tricky. How can we tell when our corn is ready to be harvested and when it is time to enjoy the sweet fruits of our labor?

Corn is a grass, believe it or not! When it first germinates in the garden, it shoots out of the ground with a single small blade of grass. Over time, more leaves are shot out and pushed upwards, eventually forming nodes and spikes growing. Finding the right time to harvest corn takes a little advance planning.

This harvest goes from seed to ear of corn in less than 100 days. A common expression for people who grow fresh corn in their garden is “knee high by July 4th”. That means the seeds have been planted, germinate, and will reach 12 to 18 inches in height by early July. You don't need to follow this rule in any way, but you should look at the date of the first frost in your area and count backwards to find your own planting date. You want to make sure your corn is ready before a deadly fall frost wrecks all the plants' hard work.

Corn on the cob isn't the only way to eat your corn stalks bounty. There is also corn for popcorn, animal feed, flour, cornmeal, and tortillas. Knowing what type of corn you want to grow is important to keep your corn sweet when it lands on your plate.

Unlike picking an ear in the home garden, mechanical combines are used to harvest fields of dry corn for animal feed. This is because certain types of corn, such as flint, popcorn, or flour corn, are only picked when they are thoroughly dried. This is completely different with sweet corn.

Sweet corn has a relatively short shelf life. Immediately after the harvest, the sweet sugars in the grains turn into starches and thus decrease in sweetness. This is why it is so popular to grow with home gardeners. The quality of local sweet corn, harvested from the garden in the morning and eaten for lunch, is second to none you can find on a supermarket shelf. You can try the sugar in each core!

This is how you can tell if corn is approaching

Knowing when to harvest corn can be difficult, but it's worth learning. Source: kanshiketsu

For growers starting their corn in early to late spring, you can expect your corn to be ready for harvest by mid to late summer. Depending on the variety, corn takes between 70 and 100 days to grow from seeds. Once the chances of frost have gone and the daytime temperature hits around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, it's time to start planting your kernels of corn.

To assess when to harvest your corn, pay attention to its growing habits. A single corn plant clears several ears, with the ripe one always on top of the stem. The ears of corn start out tiny and increase in size with each week. Look for the long, semi-transparent white threads called silk that come out of the top of the ear and sway in the wind. When you've sown your corn close enough, the silks will be pollinated by the pollen from the tassels on top of the stalks, and any kernel of corn attached to each of the silks will become plump and become the kernel of corn you are used to seeing.

Be careful not to harvest too early. If the cobs at the top of the plant aren't finished, neither are the rest of the cobs. Let your corn fully develop for better flavor.

Sign of maturity

Hard corn harvestWait for the hard corn varieties to be harvested until they have dried for a while. Source: Pussreboots

Identify the type of corn you are growing!

There are different types of corn, which are divided into different categories depending on their intended use. Which type do you want to grow?

We do have a separate article that goes into depth about the varieties of corn and their uses. However, let's make a quick summary:

Sweet corn (Z. mays var.Saccharata or Z. mays var.Rugosa): The corn that was grown for corn on the cob and eaten fresh. Freshly picked with a milk-like substance that seeps from the grains when ripe; immediately after the silk turns brown.

Dent Corn (Zea mays var.Indentata): The corn used to make homemade corn tortillas. This is also known as field corn and can also be used to feed animals.

Flint corn (Z. mays var.Indurata): This is sometimes referred to as Indian corn. It is available in different colors and can be used as corn meal or animal feed.

Flour maize (Z. mays var.Amylacea): Usually used to make corn flour.

Popcorn (Z. mays var.Everta): Your local cinema's favorite corn!

Check for readiness

Once your ears are full, observe the colors of the silk. You have to wait for them to turn brown before you can harvest. Once this sign appears, you can test readiness by gently pulling back on some of the shells and pressing your fingernail into one of the cores. The trays act as a cover for the baby kernels and may be a little tricky to pull off. That's fine! Pull on it well and it will pull back. If there is still liquid in the core and a milky, starch-like substance emerges, it can be harvested. If a more watery substance emerges, it is not ready yet. One of the most satisfying tasks in the garden is plucking an ear of fresh corn straight from the plant.

There may be some ears of corn that aren't quite full. These pistons usually have some rows of cores near the top of the piston that are not yet completely filled. These can be picked anyway, this is a result of under-pollination and cannot be corrected at this point.

With hard corn varieties, you should wait until the skin has turned a yellow-brown color and the plants seem almost dead. At this point you want to be able to harvest the entire crop at once and be able to process the ears pretty quickly. It is important that the kernels are completely dry, otherwise the quality of the kernels may deteriorate if they are picked too early.

How to Harvest Corn

Boiled cornSweet corn kernels should be firm and allow a milky liquid to escape when punctured. Source: Puamelia

Harvesting corn is one of the easiest things to do in the garden! It's also one of the most satisfying. When you're ready to harvest sweet corn, just grab your ear of corn and flex it down and away from the stem. It should cancel immediately! Be careful not to damage the stem. A few more ears may be ready to pluck in a week. Once you've peeled off a few ears, you'll quickly get the hang of it!

If you're growing hard corns like popcorn, then let your ears dry in the field for 4-6 weeks when the greenery disappears from the pods. Gardeners may have a hard time waiting, but your patience will be rewarded with a healthier, plumper seed!

Once your hard corn has dried out, peel off the dark husk and use your thumb to press the hardened kernels to remove them. For some types of corn, you can even rub the ears of corn together to speed up the process.

How to store corn

Corn quickly loses its sugar once it's picked. Because of this, try to eat or process it once it's picked. If you can't access it right away, you can store it unwashed in the refrigerator for a few days.

If you're growing corn to preserve and enjoy year-round, try blanching your corn on the cob right after it's harvested. Simply put the peeled ears in a saucepan of boiling water and quickly remove them after four minutes of processing. Dip it in ice water to stop cooking, then cut off the grains with a knife. At this point, you can either or you can freeze it.

When drying your corn, wait until the husks are dry, papery and the kernels feel heavy. Pick an ear and test if the pips pop out easily. This is best kept as a core in jars or sealed containers. Canned foods are a great option to keep freshness! Dry corn is prone to insect damage. So keep this in mind when storing.

frequently asked Questions

Harvested cornOnce harvested, your corn will taste its best if consumed quickly. Source: naoyafujii

Q: How many times can you harvest corn in a year?

A: In most areas of the United States, if your corn is planted at one time, you can only harvest corn once a season. However, if you grow successor crops and start fresh seeds every week or every few weeks, you can get multiple harvests in a year depending on the climate.

Q: Does corn regrow after harvest?

On a. A corn stalk only clears a few ears. If you choose it, it will not encourage further ear production.

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