By: Paul McKay
NOTHING QUITE beats the taste of golden yellow, crunchy sweet corn, freshly picked, thrown straight in the pan and served immediately, swimming in cholesterol laden butter. If you are health conscious (and decide to act on your knowledge), miss out the butter, it’s still a tasty sweet vegetable and healthy too.
The trick to successful sweet corn is picking it at the right time and the speed with which it leaves the plot and arrives on the plate. If this time is minimised to 10 minutes or less, the corn will taste sweeter, softer and more flavoursome than you could ever imagine.
Majestically swaying in the Algarve breeze, sweet corn makes an impressive display in the vegetable plot. Most varieties reach around a metre in height and are a lush green colour with broad, long, dark leaves. Growing in blocks, they are pleasing to the eye and catch the wind, exuding a gentle rustling sound reminiscent of running water.
How to grow
Seeds can be purchased in most supermarkets, some agricultural stores and via many internet seed houses. The hybrid seeds are more expensive, but are said to be more reliable. Take care not to buy seeds meant for animal maize – these will not be sweet enough to make an enjoyable meal.
• Sweet corn does not like cold or waterlogged soil. Plant seeds in a sunny, warm place at the beginning of May, in rich, fertile soil that can be flooded every couple of days.
• Plant the seeds (dried corn) at 40 centimetre intervals, around three centimetres deep, in blocks, not rows. This is important because, being a grass, the plants rely on wind pollination and block planting maximises this potential. Some people prefer to plant two seeds at every station to ensure they don’t end up with gaps, thinning these out when they reach a couple of centimetres in height. The books say they cannot be transplanted, however I have had some success with transplanting in the past – it may have been beginner’s luck.
• Germination can take up to 10 days, but the warmer the soil, the quicker the germination. Keep the soil slightly moist during this time, but avoid cold damp conditions. Watering in the morning is often preferable.
• The plants grow tall, reaching around a metre in six weeks and then the young cobs appear – two to three per plant. The plants benefit from a daily flooding at this stage, as long as the soil is fast draining. The cobs grow quite rapidly, swelling all the time.
• When the cobs appear to be ‘normal corn on the cob size’, think about harvesting. Gently tease back the tassel part at the top of the cob to reveal the corns, which should be yellow. Slice into the corn with a thumbnail. If it is dry inside the cob needs longer on the plant. If it exudes a clear, runny liquid, it is perfect for harvesting. If it exudes a milky white liquid, you have probably left it on the plant too long.
If you plan to plant a lot of sweet corn, think about planting in two separate one metre blocks, around two weeks apart, so you don’t end up with a glut, because they really do taste better fresh rather than frozen.
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