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When to Harvest Corn for the best flavor

When to harvest corn

One of the simple joys in life is taking a big bite of fresh, soft corn kernels so it’s important to know when to harvest corn to maximize your efforts. Boiled, or roasted over a cob, it’s always an utterly delicious and satisfying snack. To top it off, one can glaze them with butter or sprinkle some spices for some more fun.

Fresh-picked corn tastes significantly better than the ones you get at the supermarket. Aside from that, garden grown, non-processed corn also has a great dose of nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, folate and thiamine. Compared to processed corn, you get so many health benefits from garden-grown kernels. So, you have plenty of reasons to devote time and space to growing your own corn.

A warm weather, a full sun and a well-draining sandy loam are the key growing conditions for corn. Aged compost must also be added in the planting area. Knowing when to harvest corn is one of the most important factors when you grow this vegetable. Corn generally takes 60 to 100 frost-free days to be ready for harvest. The timing varies according to the type of corn you want to produce as well as its’ purpose.

When to Harvest Field Corn

There are two main types of corn: field corn and sweet corn. Field corn, also known as cow corn has thicker leaves and is taller. The process to harvest field corn also differs. This corn has many purposes like making cornmeal, corn syrup or corn chips. It is also used in making ethanol and polymers. Interestingly, 95% of the grain in animal feed comes from field corn.

With so many purposes, field corn is grown at a very large scale. But it has high starch and low sugar so it’s not the one to dig into and enjoy for your own pleasure.

When it comes to harvest, this type of corn is usually left in the fields to die. As this kind of corn has to be processed, it has to dry out first. Field corn is usually harvested a little late.

How would you know when to harvest field corn? Look at the silk at the top of its ears. They should turn dark-brown. Then you should observe the shucks, and finally the whole corn plant turning dark-brown. When the ears start dropping down and the silk starts to point towards the ground, this is your final indication that the corn is dry enough for harvest.

One more thing to check is the kernels. Dents in the kernels also indicate that field corn has matured enough.

Sweet Corn Harvest Time

For delicious ready-to-eat corn, ‘sweet corn’ is the type you want to grow. This is your favorite buttery and peppery ‘corn on the cob.’ With this corn, you will need to look out for different signs before harvest.

When growing sweet corn, the main motive is to get plump, soft kernels with a high level of sugar that give it the taste everyone loves. Hence, the sweet corn harvest time is earlier- indicated by moistness and freshness of its’ kernels.

Sweet corn is ready 20 days after the first silk appears and turn brown. Silking usually begins 60-65 days after you sow the seeds.

Ideally, the husks should still be green. At least one ear should also be present near the top. The ears should be full, firm and green. The best time to harvest sweet corn is in the morning and plunge the ears immediately into cold water to preserve its sweetness. You should harvest as much as you will eat in the first few days.

Harvesting corn is quite simple. Simply grip the ears, twist them and pull them down until they break off from the corn.

It is recommended to consume your fresh corn within six hours after harvest. The other option is to preserve it.

Picking Corn Too Early

It is important to remember how crucial timing is for the perfect ready-to-eat soft corn. It’s easy to look at the corn plant and assume it has matured when it has not. Picking corn too early will not give maximum flavor and the desired texture.

Sweet corn should always be harvested within the ‘milking stage’. Now what is this stage?

Simply puncture a kernel and if there is a milky, liquid inside- its’ ripe and good to go! If the liquid is clear, it’s too early to harvest. So you can wrap it back and leave it to mature for a few more days. However, if there’s no liquid or if it has turned completely opaque- it means you’re too late. This indicates that the corn has dried out.

What to do with Corn Stalks after Harvest

Farmers and gardeners are often left with the question of what to do with corn stalks after harvest. Well, the leftover corn stalks are not just a residue. In fact, they can be utilized in the next years’ harvest.

Firstly, the corn stalk residue can be chopped down and ploughed back into the ground. Composting the corn stalks turns the leftovers into a nutrient for your garden and soil. The corn residue helps maintain and improve the organic matter in the soil. It also helps balance the nitrogen ratio of green materials and provides carbon to the compost pile.

Corn husks can also be composted for this purpose. A successful corn husk composting will give you a sweet-smelling, moist, crumbly material.

One other option is to leave 12 to 18 inches of corn stalk upright after harvest. This helps keep soil residue in place and encourages the residue to breakdown faster.  The stalks also prevent residue movement due to wind or water.

Corn Plant Care Tips

Like a lot of crops, corn is an annual plant (can only live within one year) that is a member of the grass family. Each stalk of corn yields one to two ears of harvestable of corn at its side.

Corn likes the sun. Plant it in an area that gets full sun. Make sure that the soil drains well, loose and well-worked. Adding aged compost on the area of planting before actual planting helps in the growth of the corn.

Since corn loves the warm sun (like the cucumber or apple tree), it is best to plant it around 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring. Depending on its variety, corn needs 60 to 100 days of frost free days to reach its full maturity.

Corn planted too closely to each other will need more water and fertilizer and will likely produce smaller ears of corn. The optimal distance between corn stalks is 12 to 24 inches apart, depending on the height of the corn type you are planting. The higher the stalks are, the wider their distance from each other should be.

Keep your corn plant evenly moist by watering it regularly. In warm climates, corn grows fast. But it needs a lot of water to avoid wilting. However, avoid overhead watering the corn when its tassels appear. Watering the tassels lessens the pollination potential, which can lead to less kernels on the ears.

Even though corn is a member of the grass family, don’t hesitate to separate it from its cousins. Keep the weed away from your corn to avoid competition for water and soil nutrients. Do not cultivate the soil around corn too much. Corn has very shallow roots, so a deep cultivation may do more harm than good.

After pollination, the ears may attract birds. Cover the ears of the corn to protect it. Raccoons and other rodents might also attack corn. The best way to protect your corn from these invaders is setting up traps. Pests such as corn borers and earworms will also try to get a piece of your corn. Handpicking is the best solution to these pesty problems.


Knowing when to harvest corn ensures that you get the softest and freshest lot. One of the best ways to enjoy it is by grilling it after slathering in butter with a spritz of lemon. But you can also store your special home-grown corn. Just keep the husks intact, wrap in damp paper towel so they don’t lose moisture, and refrigerate. It is recommended to eat them within 4-5 days.

Your summer gardening, cooking and snacking are about to be super fun with these tasty kernels!

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