When to Harvest Sweet Corn – Garden Tips 2021

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when to harvest sweet corn

When you think about summer barbecues, they aren’t complete without delicious corn on the cob. This plant can easily grow in your backyard and it’s always a fun treat to see the towering stalks shoot up.

Sweet corn is delicious, fun food to eat, and if you can grow it in your backyard, it makes for a fun summer treat. Find out when to harvest sweet corn so you can have a flavorful summer.

When to harvest sweet corn? Corn takes quite a while to grow, as you need to plant it in the spring and wait until at least late July. However, you can plant sweet corn in batches a few weeks apart, which will then increase the harvest period. Start by monitoring your corn for signs of the tassels appearing. After about 20 days of growth, your corn should be ready.

Furthermore, the tassels will start to turn brown, which is another sign your corn is ready for harvest. To make sure your sweet corn is at its finest, gently peel back a bit of the husk.

Locate a kernel a few rows down and prick it with a needle or your fingernail. If the liquid is clear, it is not ready yet. If the liquid is milky white, then it is perfect. No liquid and it means your corn is too dry and you waited too long.

To pick your sweet corn, take a firm grasp of the ear. Bend it down and twist. The ear should easily pop off from the stalk. Most corn stalks produce two ears of corn. The higher one will be ready first and the second, lower one, a few days later.

Once you harvest your corn, try to eat it immediately so that you have the freshest, sweetest taste possible.

How do you know when your sweet corn is ready to harvest?

It can take a long time for sweet corn to grow and even the most patient of people can be anxiously waiting. After a long growing season, sweet corn will finally be ready in late July or early August, depending on where you live.

Furthermore, the harvest season can be up to a month long. If you have enough room in your garden, it’s recommended to plant one wave of crop and then wait two weeks to plant another batch.

This way, you won’t have a bunch of corn ready at the same time and instead can spread it around.

Unfortunately, the edible part of the corn is inside its husks so it can be hard to determine when it is actually ripe. Instead, you will have to look at outside characteristics.

Atop the corn will be tassels that run up the corn and out the husk. These tassels will start to turn brown which is an indication that the inner cobs are growing and swelling.

If you’re a numbers person, the tassels will appear about 20 days before corn is ready to harvest. So, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your corn and to start counting.

As for the husks themselves, they should be a nice, green color. If they start turning brown, it means your window of harvest is over.

Finally, it’s time to test the actual corn kernels. Take an ear at the top, as this will be ready before a secondary ear lower down on the stalk.

Gently pull back the tips of the husk. You want to leave the husk intact in case the corn isn’t ready.

With a needle, puncture one of the kernels. There should be a white, milky liquid that comes from the corn.

If the liquid is clear, fold the husks back up and wait a few more days. If, however, there is no liquid it means that the corn is overripe and not edible.  

What happens if you don’t harvest sweet corn?

While there are some varieties of corn that are perennials, and will therefore grow back the following year on their own, sweet corn is an annual. This means that you need to plant by seed each year for your corn to grow.

Interestingly, sweet corn is wind-pollinated, which means instead of bees and insects helping with the pollination stage, the wind is used to move everything around. This is why corn is planted in blocks and not rows, to give it the best chance of being pollinated.

If you don’t harvest your sweet corn, there is very little chance that the plant will be able to produce more plants on its own.

Instead, you will have corn stalks that slowly turn brown. The corn will dry out and eventually, the windy weather of the fall will topple the corn.

Unfortunately, too many corn stalks are not great for your garden as they just don’t produce enough nutrients. It’s better to eventually remove the corn stalks and mix them with the green matter in your compost.

Some farmers do leave a few rows of cornstalks in their fields. This is so the stalks can collect snow and is beneficial if you have animals that rely on the snow to eat.

How to harvest sweet corn?

how to harvest sweet corn

First, start by picking your sweet corn in the morning. Like most vegetables, this will ensure that your corn has the highest water content and thus will be plumper and last longer after harvesting.

You need a firm hand when harvesting sweet corn. Take the ear with one hand and if need be, brace it by placing your hand on the corn stalk.

Pull down on the ear and then simultaneously twist and pull it. If ripe, the ear should come off the stalk quite easily.

When looking to harvest corn, each stalk will produce at least one ear. This will be at the top of the stalk and will be the first to be ready.

With any luck, you will have a secondary ear, further down on the stalk. However, this ear will take a few more days to be ready. Furthermore, while still edible, it will be a bit smaller than the top ear.

The trick with sweet corn is that you want to eat it fairly quickly, within a day or two of harvesting. While it will still be edible after this, it will definitely not be as sweet as you want it to be.

Should you wash sweet corn after harvesting?

Corn is double protected from dirt so washing sweet corn is more of a personal preference. The inside kernels are protected from the thick husks which do a good job of ensuring dirt and bugs don’t get in.

Furthermore, most people boil their corn, which naturally rids the plant of any bacteria or unwanted critters.

If you just can’t bear to not wash your food before eating, a simple rinse under the kitchen sink is all that you need.

One important tip to note is in regards to barbecuing your corn. Grilling corn while still in the husk is a popular, rustic method of preparation.

Be sure to soak your corn in the husk so that the husk doesn’t catch fire when grilling. With this method, you won’t be able to wash the corn as it will go right from in the husk on the grill to being served at the table.

Can you eat sweet corn immediately after harvesting?

There’s an old wife’s tip that while you’re out picking your corn, you should have a pot of water boiling so that you can enjoy your corn right away. This is because sweet corn is at its sweetest right after harvest.

Don’t panic, however, if you end up picking your corn in the morning and eating it later at night. Similarly, you will still get that sweet taste after a day.

The point, however, is that you should eat sweet corn as soon as possible. You have a window of a few days once it is ripe before you need to pick it, so use that timeframe and wait until you are ready to actually cook and eat your corn.

If you have an abundance of corn and are worried about it turning, you should go out and pick it anyway. Corn is best stored in the fridge and can last up to a week here. Just remember that it won’t be as sweet after a few days.

For those that have a huge crop of corn, or who are tired of eating it for dinner, the best way to preserve corn is to freeze it. Amazingly, you can even freeze the entire cob, although this takes up a lot of room so most people choose to remove the kernels first.

Wash and dry the kernels. Then, freeze them on a baking sheet so they don’t stick to each other.

After they are all frozen, transfer the corn kernels to an airtight container. They will last in the freezer for up to a year.  

Conclusion

Sweet corn is a fun food to eat in the summer and is ready in late July and early August. Look for brown tassels and a milky white liquid from inside the kernels. Try to eat your corn right away so that you can take advantage of its sweet taste.

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