Thilaka Baskaran discovers the thrill of eating freshly picked sweet corn from her garden

Last week, I harvested my first bunch of sweet corn from the few plants I had raised. And they were far tastier than any other corn I had ever eaten. The secret, I realised, was plucking it fresh from the garden. For, once plucked, the sugar in sweet corn turns to starch within just a day or so.

Sweet corn is a mutant of maize (grown as grain); the hybrids are eaten as vegetables and bred for higher sugar concentrations. The key to getting high quality sweet corn is ensuring rapid growth, adequate soil moisture and nutrients and also harvesting the ears at the right time.

This plant thrives best in light, well drained, fertile soil. It prefers a deeply dug bed as the roots go deep. To prepare the bed, mix organic matter along with a handful of bone meal on each square meter. Plant two or three seeds 2.5 cm deep, 45 cm apart with 60 cm between rows — in blocks and not in single or double rows — as corns planted in short rows side by side ensure better pollination.

Sweet corn is ‘monoecious' which means that each plant has both male and female flowers. The male flower forms a tassel on top of the plant. The female flower appears in the form of silky strands enclosed in the husks of what will become the ears. Wind-blown pollen from the tassel is received by the silk and each silk is connected to an unfertilised kernel. Each ear of corn forms as many kernels as the number of silks that are pollinated.

If poorly pollinated, the cobs grow only partly-filled kernels.

Water the block well after planting, as good soil moisture is critical for germination. Pull out the poor seedlings, saving only the best plant for each spot. Apply fertilizer when the plants are 30 to 45 cm high. Weed periodically, but take care not to damage the roots. Pile up earth around the base of the stem if the plants are exposed to strong wind. After the tassels appear, water regularly and fertilize fortnightly.

About four weeks after it flowers, sweet corn is ready for harvesting. Browning of silks at the top of the cobs indicates the corn is ready. If piercing a single kernel with your finger nail reveals creamy milk, then it is ready for plucking. To remove them from the plant, twist young cobs downward and harvest only what you need for the day.

Sweet corn is delicious whichever way you cook it — whether boiled or broiled on the cob with a blob of butter or in soups or salads.

Keywords: Sweet corn

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