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Tips for Growing Sweet Corn

Tips for Growing Sweet Corn

Nestled between the Taconic Hills and the Berkshires, with our rocky soil, abundant wildlife and short growing season, many crops present challenges. Two crops which are especially challenging are sweet corn and eggplants. Here are some of our best tips for growing sweet corn. A challenging but delectable crop.

Sweet Corn

            There are three major pests for sweet corn in our area: Crows, raccoons and corn earworms. We don’t have too many earworms, so we usually don’t worry about the few we have, but our organic farming friends in the area put oil on the tips of their corncobs after pollination but before the ears ripen, to keep the worms out. Here is what we do for the other two pests:


Crows are incredibly intelligent, and can sense when corn has just germinated under the soil, long before it pops up and is visible to us. They know that the seedlings of sweet corn are very, very sweet and tasty! I’ve seen crows checking on corn we’ve planted, and then coming back when it has just germinated and walking down the row, eating the seedlings one by one. The only way we’ve found to prevent this is to cover the seeds with either bird netting or rowcover as soon as they are sown. We like the bird netting because it lets us keep an eye on the corn and uncover it to do hoeing when the weed seedlings start to peep above the soil. When the corn is 4 or 5 inches tall, it is no longer in danger of being eaten by crows. There is a short window when the corn is relatively safe from most animals (except cows, goats or occasionally deer!) However, as soon as (or even before) the first corn begins to tassel, your will need to put up an electric fence. Moveable sheep fencing works well, either with a battery powered charge or with a solar unit. If you want to successfully grow your own sweet corn, at least in our area, an electric fence is essential.


Raccoons smell the ripening corn and will pull down all the best ears, discarding and destroying the unripe ones, and eating the ripe ears. If they start getting into the corn, even an electric fence will not deter them, so it’s very important to get the fence up early. Also, if you step over the fence and pull an ear or two to see if it is ripe, make sure that you take all the husks, silk, and cobs with you. If the raccoons smell the broken cobs, they will brave the electric fence to get at the corn. Once your fence is up, check that the battery doesn’t run down, or the raccoons will soon discover that they can get in.

Turtle Tree’s Tips for Growing Sweet Corn

Since all our sweet corn is open pollinated, and not the super-sweet hybrids, it is best when harvested a tiny bit on the early side—it will get starchy if left too long. If this happens, you can let it dry down and grind it to make corn cereal. Dried sweet corn is somewhat harder to grind than the flour corns, but will also be a little sweeter. Or you can sprout the dried kernels and use them for garnish—but be advised—they can be quite sweet! If you are in an isolated location in hilly land with no cornfields within 2 miles (or at least 5 miles on flat, treeless ground), and have grown at least 200 corn plants, you can also save some seed for next year—we recommend using the most beautiful cobs from the sturdiest plants, and taking the middle section of each of those cobs to use for seed.