APRIL 20, 2009

To me, summer without sweet corn growing in the garden is like the Fourth of July without flags and fireworks. Even if I grow an abundance of other warm season crops, my home garden just isnít complete without this sugary summertime treat.

In North Florida, sweet corn is typically planted in about mid-March through April. It does best when the soil has warmed up and all danger of frost has passed. Here in Niceville, I like to plant sweet corn beginning about April 15. Two weeks later I make one more sowing to extend the harvest.

Gotta Have It Sweet Corn grown in Niceville, FL. Photo by Dennis Gilson.
Gotta Have It Sweet Corn grown in Niceville

The varieties of sweet corn recommended for Florida are Silver Queen, Gold Cup, Guardian, Bonanza, Florida Staysweet, How Sweet It Is and Supersweet. How Sweet It Is and Supersweet are two of the newer super-sweet varieties. The super-sweet hybrids (sh2) are true to their name: their juicy, sweeter-than-sugar kernels are a leap above even the popular high-sugar hybrids (su) such as Silver Queen.

In fact, my last crop of Silver Queen sweet corn was as disappointing as an Okaloosa County politician. It seemed tasteless after having tried a super-sweet variety. All my Silver Queen corn-on-the-cob ended up as squirrel food (now they loved it!).

The super-sweet corn I grow in my garden is called Gotta Have It. It is available from Gurneyís Seed Company. Henry Fieldís Seed Company appears to stock the same variety but calls it Thatís Delicious. No matter what you call it, this sweet corn is rich and full tasting, as well as being the sweetest corn I have ever eaten.

And the outstanding flavor remains at its peak for days on end because this sweet corn is extra slow in turning to starch. If you like to put corn away in the freezer, there is no better choice than Gotta Have It. It really holds its sweetness and flavor (we enjoyed it all winter long).

At about 5 to 6 feet in height, Gotta Have It sweet corn grows shorter than most corn plants. The stalks are extremely strong, standing up well to our North Florida summer storms (the plants are said to be as strong as field corn). Because the plants are smaller, they can be grown closer together than most varieties of sweet corn, so less garden space is needed. They also do better in containers than other corn because of their shorter height.

While they are shorter plants, they produce full-size 8-inch ears filled with juicy yellow and white kernels.

To grow most varieties of sweet corn, I plant seeds about 1 Ĺ inches deep, spacing them about every 4 to 6 inches, in rows that are 30 to 36 inches apart. The final spacing between plants is generally 12 to 18 inches. (The final spacing for Gotta Have It sweet corn is only 8 inches and the rows can be as close as 24 inches.)

Another method is to plant seeds in pairs at the final spacing distance, snipping off the weaker seedling with a pair of scissors.

Corn should be planted in blocks of at least 4 rows. This helps with pollination.

Your cornís biggest enemy is corn worms. For spring planted corn, one application of Sevin when silks appear, and then another a week to 10 days later, usually does the trick. For fall planted corn -- or corn planted anytime after about April 30, corn worms will appear early on attacking plants and later on go for the growing ears.

Fertilize with 10-10-10 every three weeks. To help them better stand up to wind, I hill dirt around the stalks as they grow beginning when they are about 12 inches tall. Do not remove any suckers (this can lead to disease).

Most varieties of sweet corn mature in about 70 to 90 days. Harvest your sweet corn when the silks are brown and dry, and the kernels are milky when squeezed (some super-sweet varieties are more clear than milky even when ripe).  Most corn is mature 2 to 3 weeks after silks first appear.

Harvest ears by twisting them down and away from the stalk.


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