"Knee high by the fourth of July." That's the farmer's rule of thumb for field corn. If you look in fields around your neighborhood, you will see lots of knee-high field corn. But that's not the yummy corn we twirl in butter. Sweet corn is the cob we crave.
Don't think you have the space for sweet corn? You'd be surprised. The planting kernels are buried only about an inch deep, spaced a couple feet apart. The rows only need to be about a foot apart, just enough to get your shoulders through once they get to their peak height. Save a little space in your garden by creating some companion plantings. You can plant tomatoes and vining vegetables like cucumbers around the base of the corn and use the heavy stalks as stakes for the weaker stems.
Try growing a few rows of it in your yard this season. Look for early, mid, and late varieties. Look for the number of days to maturity, ranging from Earlivee at 58 days, Pearl White at 75 days, and Silver Queen at 92 days. If you stagger planting and grow mid and late varieties, you will have fresh sweet corn growing until frost. Early July is just about the cut-off for planting mid to late varieties to get them harvested before it gets too cold.
So how does corn get pollinated? It flies through the air! The silky tassels catch the pollen as it blows by. But because the plants catch airborne pollen, it is important not to plant sweet corn near any field corn, popcorn, or Indian corn. If it is, the sweet corn has the chance of turning out starchy and not as sweet.
How far away? At least 250 feet should be between different varieties of corn, according to Purdue University's Cooperative Extensive Service. But they say up to 700 feet is even better for complete isolation.
When cruising the rows of corn, it can be tough to figure out when they are perfectly ripe. Each kernel is made up of about 75 percent water. The kernels are at their juiciest when they are in their "milk stage." It's easy to find that peak with the tools you have at the ends of your wrists. The kernel explodes with white juice when you puncture it with your fingernail. But it doesn't stay in the "milk stage" for very long. You have to check the crop often. If it isn't ready, the kernels will be watery. If the kernels are too old they will be tough and almost doughy.
There are other clues. The firm ears will have kernels all the way to the tip, and the silky tassels with turn dry and brown.
Once it is picked, corn will stay fresh for a few weeks if you keep it in a cool place. Try dunking it in ice-cold water before it is stored to keep it moist. The corn will stay fresher in the refrigerator if you remove the silk and leave some of the husk on the cob. The husk also makes good insulation if you want to toss the corn on the grill.
Clean off all of the silk and husk and toss the ears in a pot of unsalted water, then boil them until they turn bright yellow or white. Or, blanch it by bringing it to a quick boil for three to five minutes so it isn't cooked all the way through, then cut it off the cob and freeze it in a freezer bag.