Quintessentially American: corn- whether dent, sweet, pop or flint- is part of our cultural identity and essential to our economy. Illinois is the heart of the Corn Belt and State Fair time is a good time to contemplate corn. I’m Lisa Hilgenberg from Chicago Botanic Garden with gardening tips for the week.
Corn is a warm season crop producing cobs in as few as 65 days from seeding. Grown in large containers or in short blocks of rows in the home garden, find some space for corn in a sunny spot. A heavy feeding plant, foliar applications of fish emulsion or kelp keep the corn growing well or try interplanting it with beans as Native Americans did–naturally balancing soil nutrients.
Eighteen days after they appear; silks shrivel and turn brown singling the ears are ready. Harvest corn in the milk stage when the kernels feel plump and ears fill the husk. When buying corn at a farmer’s market, choose moist green husks, not dry. When we eat corn on the cob we are eating part of the plant’s flower structure.
Have the pot boiling when corn is being harvested, enjoying it before the sugars in the kernels turn to starch. Corn is most nutritious when eaten fresh from the garden at peak flavor and the white kernelled varieties are the most tender. Sliver Queen has performed well in our gardens.
Lisa Hilgenberg is the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden Horticulturist. She teaches classes for the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden and mentors interns from the Garden’s urban agriculture programs in the summer. Lisa draws on a rich family farming tradition, having spent many summers on her grandparents’ farms in Iowa and Minnesota. You can follow Lisa on Twitter @hilgenberg8.