Sweet Corn

Grow your own sweet corn this summer!

By Gretchen Roberts


I grew up in the Midwestern Corn Belt, where one of summer's enduring memories is stopping at farmers' stands along rural highways to buy fresh sweet corn picked in the morning and eating it that evening. But as a gardener, you can eat corn that's even fresher- you can start the cooking water boiling before you've even harvested the ears and allowed any of the luscious sugars a chance to turn into starch. Think you need a farmer's size field to grow your own sweet corn? With a few time-tested techniques, you can use your garden space efficiently to grow a few meals of this classic American crop in any size plot.

Sweet, Sweeter, Sweetest
Sweet corn can be divided into three major groups: standard, or normal sugary (su); sugar-enhanced (se); and supersweet, or shrunken (sh2). Standard sweet corn varieties offer traditional flavor, and they germinate better in cold soils than others. But their sugar turns to starch quickly after harvest. This may be why most farmers are raising the other two types, but it will be less of concern to you. Sugar-enhanced varieties are sweeter and more tender than standard, and supersweets are the sweetest of all but are less vigorous than other hybrids and need moist, warm soil to grow well. You can choose white, yellow, or bicolored varieties of all three types- the differences are strictly a matter of personal preference. If you want to grow a whole season of corn, plant early, midseason, and late varieties. Where diseases and pests are known to be a problem for gardeners, look for resistant varieties. With so many choices and factors, your best bet for narrowing down varieties is to talk to your local Cooperative Extension agent, farmers' market vendors, or other home gardeners in your area to find out which varieties perform best in your conditions. To help you get started, we've named our top picks, which perform well in a broad range of conditions.