Sunday, 9 May 2010

Discover: Sweetcorn

To enjoy the perfect sweet corn cob there should never be more than 10 minutes between picking and cooking! This obviously means that you have to grow your own, and if you live more than 10 minutes from your allotment then it's time to move house a little closer.

One of my favourite summer treats is a home grown cob - boiled to perfection and drizzled in butter - it is enough to make your mouth water just thinking of it, and savouring that delicious and tasty treat is something that makes the hot days of the season more bearable.

Maize is widely grown to feed livestock: sweet corn are maize cultivars that plant breeders have selected for human consumption. Sweet corn may be divided into three distinct types according to genetic background:
Standard sweet corn
  • Seeds germinate early
  • Seedlings have good vigour
  • Cobs are fairly sweet, but the sugar they contain quickly turns to starch after picking.
Supersweet corn
  • Difficult to germinate as seeds are wizened, small and tend to rot in the soil.
  • This is the corn usually found fresh in supermarkets.
  • With 30% more sugar than standard they loose their sweeyness more slowly.
  • Kernels can be chewy.
  • Grown closer than about 75m (246ft) to standard sweetcorn or livestock maize they cross-pollinate and loose their 'supersweetness'.
Extra tender, also called Triple Sweet
  • The latest cultivars, even sweeter than supersweet.
  • Meltingly tender kernels are ideal for growing on allotments.
  • Do not plant near ordinary or livestock maize because of cross-pollination.
  • Can be grown near supersweet cultivars.
The best of the best, and holders of the RHS Award of Garden Merit
  • Standard: Sundance
  • Supersweet: 'Conqueror', 'Northern Xtra sweet', 'Prelude', 'Seville'
  • Extra tender sweet: 'Lapwing', 'Lark', 'Marshalls Honeydew', 'Mirai 302BC', 'Mirai421W', 'Sparrow', 'Swift'
One of our own favourites is 'Silver King', and we are growing that again this year. 

Sweet corn are very easy to look after once they have germinated successfully. They appreciate a good watering especially when they are in flower. They also appreciate being fed at fortnightly intervals with fertilisers designed for tomatoes (i.e. not too high in nitrogen, but high in potassium).
If the plants are at all exposed to wind, it helps greatly to pile up earth around the base of the stems - this will encourage more supporting roots to grow just below ground level.

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