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Sweetcorn is best grown in a warm, sheltered yet sunny position, protected by strong winds and in fertile soil. Sweetcorn plants are less successful when grown on dry or heavier soil. Prepare the ground well by digging in lots of garden compost or well-rotted manure, then rake in 100g per square metre of all purpose fertiliser. Sweetcorn is wind pollinated, so plant in blocks rather than rows if you want to maximise pollination. Mulch the soil with garden compost to hold in moisture and suppress weeds, and mound soil over any roots that crop up at the base of stems.
Weed the plants on a regular basis, but hoe them very carefully as they are shallow rooted.
Stake sweetcorn plants individually if they are tall or are being rocked by strong winds.
When grown in dry weather, water them well especially when the plants begin to flower.
To aid pollination, tap the tops of the plants when the male flowers (tassels) open to help pollination of the female flowers underneath.
When to sow sweetcorn
Sweetcorn is most successful in long, hot summers.
However, a lot of modern varieties are better suited to outdoors conditions and cooler climates.
You can buy early, mid-season and late cultivars – and if you live in a colder region such as the UK, early varieties will be the most successful.
‘Supersweet’ cultivars are much sweeter than the older varieties and retain their sweetness for longer, but one downside is they are less strong.
Take care not to grow Supersweet plants next to other varieties as cross-pollination can often end up in poor flavour.
Another option is ‘extra tender sweet’ sweetcorn, which is almost as sweet but less chewy.
To sow indoors, sweetcorn needs warm conditions, ideally 18-21ºC.
The best time to sow sweetcorn if you’re doing it indoors is from mid-April to late May, and sow the seeds in modules or deep pots at a depth of 2.5cm.
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For an extended cropping season, try sowing early, mid-season and late cultivars at the same time, or sow one early cultivar another two times, three weeks apart.
For sowing outdoors, you should be aiming for the late spring if you’re putting the seeds in the ground or in pots.
Make sure the soil temperature is above 10ºC. As sweetcorn is wind pollinated, plants should be grown in blocks rather than rows, and should be spaced 45cm apart.
Sow two or three seeds at each point, then thin out the extra seedlings to leave just the strongest one.
Test for ripeness when the tassels have turned chocolate brown by peeling back a little bit of the husk and piercing a kernel with your fingernail.
If a watery liquid comes out, that means the sweetcorn isn’t ripe yet, but if the liquid is creamy then the cob is ready while if it’s paste-like, the cob is too mature.
To harvest, twist ripe cobs and pull them sharply from the step
Remember that once picked, sweetcorn quickly loses all its flavour, so only harvest when you absolutely need to and eat as soon as possible.
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