AUGUST – SWEETCORN
Sweetcorn cobs straight off the plant are definitely a luxury. They are so sweet and juicy and there is a real excitement in pulling back the layers on an ear of corn to see the perfectly filled kernals underneath.
The sweetcorn we grow in our gardens and allotments is not the same as the corn growing in the farmers field! The corn grown in fields (maize) is grown as a grain whilst sweetcorn is a mutation of maize which enables it to have the high sugar content is has – hence the name ‘sweet corn’.
A short history of sweet corn
Sweet corn is unique in that it does not exist naturally in the wild and is in fact human invention from crossing two wild grasses. Sweet corn was originally from Central America, believed to have been created some 7000 years ago, and was a core part of the diets of the indigenous people of the time. The cultivation of sweetcorn grew through out the Americas, extending both North and South becoming a core component of the diet for indigenous peoples of the Americas.
European settlers were given this crop by native tribes of the Americas and soon became a favourite in the United States and Europe although was treated with some suspicion when first entering Europe.
Further breeding of sweet corn led to the vast number of cultivars we see today and leaps forward in science has allowed us to understand the mutations which have occurred that give us sweetcorn.
Why should we eat sweetcorn
So why should we eat sweet corn? Well despite it’s relatively high calorie content, it is a gluten free cereal and contains a fair amount of fibre. According to one site (www.whfoods.com), the fibre in our corn helps to nourish the friendly bacteria in our lower digestive tract. These bacteria produce short chain fatty acids which give an energy supply to the cells in our intestine not only allowing them to be healthy and function well but can also lower our risk of colon cancer.
Sweet corn contains no cholesterol and is also a good source of phyto-nutrients for the body as well as helping with blood sugar control in diabetics. It is a good source of B vitamins and vitamin C, all essential for healthy immune system!
How to grow sweetcorn
So now we know why we should eat it, how do we go about growing it?
Sweet corn is a tender crop and will be killed by frosts so it is best to either start your seeds off indoors or wait until the last frost in May to sow seed direct.
Another fact you need to know about sweetcorn is that it is a wind pollinated plant and to get good pollination you should plant sweetcorn in blocks rather than rows. These plants grow tall so, where possible, site them in a sheltered place so they are not broken by strong winds.
Sweetcorn like a well-draining nutritious soil, so it is always good to add some fertiliser or well rotted manure/compost to the soil. Sweet corn seed kernals can be sown directly by simply pushing the kernal into the soil where you want it to crop or can be sown indoors. If you are sowing indoors, sow into root trainers, toilet tubes or individual deep pots in April. Sweetcorn doesn’t like too much root disturbance when it is transplanted so to minimise this root trainers or toilet roll tubes (which can be planted directly into the soil) works well. Fill the pots with a good multipurpose compost and push the kernal into the soil.
Seedlings take about 14-21 days to emerge and should be grown on until the risk of frost has passed and then planted out into final growing position. Water consistently throughout the season and this is especially true during the time that male and female flowers are developing. Corn cobs which develop will have green fibres protruding from them called silks and when a cob is ready to be harvested, these silks will go a dark chocolate brown colour. To test ripeness, pull back the husks and pierce a kernal with your fingernail. If the liquid is a milky colour, it is ripe!
Sweetcorn doesn’t tend to suffer from many pests and diseases during it’s season unless you live somewhere where sweetcorn smut is prevalent – places with higher humidity. Thankfully, those of us in the UK don’t tend to have to worry about that! However, when your corn is ripe, you will not be the only one who wants to eat it! So will the rats! Protect your crops by putting up barriers to the rats and/or traps. (Two years running I have lost at least half my sweetcorn to these little blighters!)
How to cook sweetcorn
If your sweet corn survives the rats and you get to harvest them, sweetcorn is very easy to cook. It should be cooked as close to harvesting as possible as it can lose its flavour quickly. If you have a lot at once, you can blanch the cobs for approximately 3 minutes, cool rapidly and freeze in packs of two for cooking later on.
If you want to eat the corn on the cob, you can either steam or boil it for 3-6 minutes depending on the size. You can also roast the cobs in the oven or on a barbecue which will take anywhere between 7-15 minutes depending on size.
If you want just the kernals, simply slice the kernals off the cob with a sharp knife keeping the blade as near to the cob core as possible and cook anyway you fancy.