Corn harvest, part 1

Larry G. Field
Thursday, September 26, 2019
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Garden sweet corn harvest in our area normally begins in early Aug. and lasts about 4-6 weeks as an area crop. Ear maturation progresses as follows: slender thin ears will develop nearly parallel to, hugging, the corn stalk, immature silver/white silks will begin to peak out, cobs will continue to thicken, grow in diameter, become more solid to the squeeze and lean progressively further from the corn stalk. (Drive the area in late Sept.-Oct. and look at the tilt from the stalk of mature field corn.) In many varieties the ear will grow enough to peak out the top of the husk; that variety is now ripe. The silks will first grow larger and then begin to brown, continually become darker brown and drier. One can visit a grocer and squeeze, without damaging, ears to determine diameter, firmness, etc. of fully ripe ears (over ripe for most gardeners). When the silks begin to turn brown, well before dying, pull the husk of an advanced ear down enough to monitor the size and color of the ear/kernels; they should now be at an edible maturity. The kernels a couple of inches down the ear should show the color of a mature ear, white or yellow depending on variety. Early on in this ear’s process the male flowers (tassels), like any giant grass seed heads, will emerge from the tops of the stalks. For a given variety and garden, after the first ear has ripened, the remainder of that particu- lar variety should be ripe in a week and over-ripe in two.

The stages of kernel (seed) maturity will progress as follows: The ear begins with no discernible kernels. Tiny translucent white kernels then form with no corn flavor but a corn odor that will attract any destructive raccoon in the area; protect your crops. This will occur immediately before the corn has matured to human consumption stage, so if not protected, we will have worked all season to feed the raccoons just before we would eat it. The kernels enlarge progressively, while just turning the color of mature corn they are at their most tender and corn flavored but small; some of the area’s top gardeners eat corn at this stage. A very few days later they will be mature color, have much larger kernels and be as good as they will ever be; again, shortly later they will have peaked at “market” stage. Beyond that the sugar begins to convert to starch and the “sweet corn” will simply become “corn.” The kernel skins become thick and tough and they will begin to dry and become worthless as human food. As with all plant seeds, they are now drying for future species perpetuation; but don’t save the seeds of this hybrid corn except for squirrel food.

See part 2 of “Corn harvest,” in next week’s Outlook.

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