Gardening Joys – Harvesting Corn

There’s an old adage that advises corn growers to have the water boiling before you pick the corn.   So as I write this there is a pot of water coming to a boil on the stove.  It’s harvest time for sweet corn here in our test garden, and here’s the blow-by-blow:

We grew Stowell’s Sweet Corn, an heirloom variety, for the first time this year.  We planted 20 plants in a 4×4 square foot bed (using Grow BioIntensive hexagonal spacing.  Confession: the bed should only have fit 16 plants, but we had more sprouts so we tucked them in.  It seems to have worked out fine).

When to harvest: The first sign that corn is ready to harvest is when the silks dry up and turn brown at the tip of each ear.  We had a minor setback when the rats (yes, still battling those) decided to eat the silks off many ears of corn.  Without that tell-tale sign, we had to use the next sign as a guide.

Young corn kernels not quite ready for harvest
Young corn kernels not quite ready for harvest


Bending ears: The ears will start to bend away from the stalk, letting you know that it’s ready to pick.  That leads to the next check point.

Got milk?  After pulling back the husk, the kernels should look full.  Pierce a kernel with your thumbnail and check to see what kind of liquid comes out.  If it’s milky, it’s ready.  If it’s clear, it’s not.  If no fluid comes out, it’s past its prime.

It's ready!
It’s ready!

Some of the ears had sections that looked more like a toothless sister-cousin (above) rather than an ear of corn. That’s because each kernel of corn is attached to one thread of silk.  If the silk doesn’t fertilize with pollen from the tassels, the kernel won’t develop.  With our little vermin incident, some ears didn’t fertilize completely, and some didn’t fertilize at all.

How to Harvest:  Picking corn is simple.  Grab the stalk with one hand and grab an ear of corn with the other.

Pull the tip of the ear down until it snaps
Pull the tip of the ear down until it snaps

breaking off the corn

Then pull it back up.  It should come right off.  Next comes the fun part – shucking and eating!

We snapped off the tops of each ear since those sections weren't developed.  The rest is good eating!
We snapped off the tops of each ear since those sections weren’t developed. The rest is good eating!


7 minutes  to delicious corn
7 minutes to delicious corn

The verdict:  We ate them right out of the pot.  Our first harvest was tasty and delicious.  It didn’t even need butter or salt.   Of course, if you need ideas for how to prepare your sweet corn harvest, here are a few ideas:

Food Gardening Guide – Cooking and Storing Corn

Real Simple Magazine – plethora of corn recipes

Are you growing corn this season?  Share your growing and harvesting stories here.


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ron Fine

    My first corn crop at OVF and I am harvesting corn but every ear has worms. They always seem to start eating at the top so I have been able to salvage a lot of cobs by simply cutting off the tops. Is there an organic solution for preventing this type of insect damage?

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