Growing sweetcorn is a great experience for any vegetable gardener. Not only do you get the benefit of harvesting some delicious sweetcorn but your garden will also benefit from a wonderful crop. Starting off as a seed, sweetcorn will grow up to 6ft tall depending on the variety, and will look stunning in any garden. Because of sweetcorn amazing appearance and also the noise it makes in a breeze, we’ve included sweetcorn in our list of plants to grow in a sensory garden.
Unfortunately, it is a bit of a one and done plant. However, this is certainly a crop that children are going to love growing and watching it develop over the growing season.
If you are growing sweetcorn for the first time, it is a vegetable that enjoys the warmer weather. Avoid it being out in any frosts.
Growing Sweetcorn – The Basics
When to sow sweetcorn
Sowing indoors: Mid April to early May
Sowing outdoors: May – June – only once the soil has warmed up and there is no risk of frost
If sowing indoors, you will need to plant out in June once the frosts have past. You will want to keep the sweetcorn in a greenhouse or indoors for at least 4 weeks prior to planting out. This will allow the plant to grow.
What you will need to grow sweetcorn
Seeds, compost and pots.
How to sow sweetcorn indoors
You will want to sow your sweetcorn seeds into pots, an inch and a half deep in the soil. If you are sowing more, you can also use trays but they will need to be at least 7cm deep – this is to allow the plants enough space to grow. Germination should take around 10 days. A good indoor temperature is 18-21C.
How to sow sweetcorn outdoors
If you are sowing outdoors, you will need to make sure that the last frost has passed – sweetcorn will not react well to frost at all.
When sowing outdoors, you will want to plant 3 seeds per 45cm. When the plants have grown, remove the weakest seedlings.
If you have grown the sweetcorn indoors, plant it out around 4 weeks after sowing. The plants, by this point, should be a good size to go into the garden.
Don’t forget to harden off the plant for a week before planting it out into the garden.
Because sweetcorn is a wind pollinated plant, ideally, you need to grow them in blocks as opposed to lines. That’s not saying that lines will not get you a good result but you may not get an as good yield. Ideally, the sweetcorn should be planted 45cm apart in all directions. This will allow them to pollinate more effectively.
Growing and caring for sweetcorn
Where does sweetcorn grow?
Sweetcorn likes a nice, sheltered, sunny position in the garden. Unlike other tall vegetables, sweetcorn is a very strong plant and won’t require any support.
How often should I water sweetcorn?
Sweetcorn is a thirsty plant, especially when it is growing the cobs. At the very least, you should ensure that it is watered once a week with a good amount of water. It is best to water in the morning so that the leaves dry in the daytime sun.
Ensure that the base of the plant is weed free so that the corn is not having to fight for the available water. It is easier to remove the weeds when you have soaked the base of the corn. It will also help remove the root of weed.
How easy is it to grow sweetcorn?
Easy – Sweetcorn is a very forgiving vegetable. As long as you can ensure that the crop is pollinated by planting in blocks, you should be able to produce a nice crop. In terms of watering just ensure that it is not left to dry out for prolonged periods of time.
This is by far the most exciting part of growing sweetcorn. It can be difficult to tell when sweetcorn is ready. However, you can rely on two tell tale signs to help your harvest at the right time.
Tassels turning brown
When sweetcorn is ready, you will notice the tassels on the corn begin to turn brown. From the moment that this happens, it is best to leave them a few days to a week, and then you will be able to test if the kernels inside are also ready.
Generally, we tend to notice that all of the sweetcorn turn at the same time. If you have sown your sweetcorn over a number of weeks, it would be handy to understand when the plants were sown. This will prevent you testing all the cobs.
Now that the tassels are brown, you can test to see if the kernels are ready. To do this, carefully pull back a section of the husk until you can see the kernels. Using a finger pierce one of the kernels. If clear water comes out, the cobs are not quite ready for picking. You are looking for a creamy liquid to come out – these are then perfect for harvest.
To remove the cobs from the plant, simply twist them and pull them. They should come off fairly easily – little children will probably need some help with this.
Don’t leave the remainder of the crop on there too long as the sweetcorn will begin to lose its flavour.
You will be able to tell when sweetcorn is over ripe as the kernel test will produce a paste like substance.
Once harvested – off to the kitchen!!
How can children get involved growing sweetcorn?
Whilst sweetcorn is one of those vegetables that will take care of itself when planted in the ground, children can still get involved in sowing, planting and the harvesting.
Sowing can commence as early as mid April, and can be completed indoors if the weather outside isn’t too great. As they are growing indoors, children will be able to watch their seeds germinate, as well as care for the plant by keeping the soil moist. As the seeds for sweetcorn are a good size, this also makes it a great crop for children.
Preparing the ground is an important task and children also like to do a little bit of digging! Remove any weeds from the ground before planting. You will also want to mix in some organic matter to enrich the soil.
Planting on is also a great activity that children can help with and with it being at the end of the frosts, should be a little warmer outside too. They are best planted in blocks, 45cm in between each plant. If your child is of age, this is great to encourage some measuring.
Harvesting is a great experience and also an exciting one. After waiting all those months, keen little gardeners will be excited about the prospect of harvesting their sweetcorn. Especially if it is destined for a late summer BBQ.
Recipe ideas for sweetcorn
You can’t deny that growing sweetcorn in the garden is a great experience. Once you have your sweetcorn in the kitchen, you may be wondering how to cook it. Here are some of our favourite and more experimental recipes to help you make the most of your wonderful harvest.
If you are looking for a lovely simple recipe to serve up to the family, this corn on the cob baked in the oven is just delicious and compliments many dishes. Very easy to prepare and cook.
Find out more on the BBC Good Food website.
This is a wonderfully simple recipe from Jamie Olivier. If you are growing lots in the garden, all bar the soy sauce and olive oil, your entire dish can be harvested from your own back garden.
Extremely easy to prepare and very quick to cook.
For stir fry lover, this is stir fried corn is certainly one to check out.
And of course, one of the more traditional recipes that can be cooked either under the grill or even better on the BBQ.
Check it out on Great British Chefs