New World Little Gardens

corn pattern
sweet corn

Sweetcorn

Zea mays var. saccharata

The sugar in ‘Polaris’ sweetcorn starts to turn into starch immediately after it’s picked, so sweetcorn will never be sweeter than when you pick it from your own garden. Sweetcorn is a heat-lover and won’t survive outside if it’s too cold. Don’t move it into the garden until Labour Weekend at the earliest.

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Getting started

  • Put the soil tablet on a saucer and pour 50ml of water over it.
  • Put on gloves and mix the water into the soil with your hands to make a wet mixture. Watch the soil expand.
  • Use most of your soil to fill up the pot to around 2cm below the top.
  • Carefully tear open the sachet and place the seeds on top of the soil (take care not to press down too hard). 
  • Now use the rest of your soil mixture to cover the seeds.
  • Remember to wash your hands when you’re done!

How to keep your Little Garden healthy

  • Place the pot on a clean saucer in a place with enough light, but not directly in the sun.
  • Check the soil in the morning, and before bed. If the soil feels dry and crumbly, pour a small amount of clean water over the surface.
  • Within 2 weeks you should see a little plant appear from the soil. That means the seeds have germinated and will be ready soon to move into a bigger pot or garden.
  • If more than one little plant grows, you can thin your sweetcorn seedling by choosing the strongest-looking one and removing the others.

When your seedling is ready to go in the garden

  • When your sweet corn is about as tall as your hand (in 3-4 weeks), it’s ready to shift into the garden, but only if the weather is reliably settled and warm (no risk of frost).
  • Get your sweet corn used to life outside: you can harden off your sweetcorn seedling by putting it in a warm and sheltered spot for 1-2 hours a day and return inside for the night. Do this for 4-5 days, leaving it outside for a little longer each day before you shift it out into the garden forever.

Planting best practice

  • Sweetcorn is a heavy feeder so give your sweetcorn a sheltered spot with full sun and rich fertile soil: dig through some compost and sheep pellets a few weeks before planting.
  • Sweetcorn is wind-pollinated: if you have multiple sweetcorn plants, group them in a block rather than a row, to ensure every kernel is pollinated (otherwise you’ll end up with gappy cobs – they’ll still be edible, just won’t look very nice).
  • Remember, this is a tall crop that can grow to about 2m high, so plant it where it won’t cast shade on the rest of your crops.

Look after your plant while it’s growing

  • Keep sweet corn well-watered, especially after the cobs start to form, so the kernels are juicy and sweet.

Harvest time

  • 3-4 months after planting, when the silky tassels at the end of each cob are starting to look withered and dry, your corn cobs should be ready to harvest.
  • To test for ripeness, squeeze a single kernel between your fingers. If the liquid inside is milky, your corn is ready to eat. If it’s watery, it’s unripe, so wait a little longer. 

Watch out

  • Birds will pull out corn seedlings, so protect your plants with chicken-wire or bird netting, especially while they’re getting established.
  • Slugs and snails love to nibble on swan plant seedlings, so create your own pest protection, lay out bait or pick off these slimy pests.
  • Corn plants can also be attacked by caterpillars, and they’ll want to eat your delicious corn cobs. If you see any caterpillars, pick them off and spray the plants with a pyrethrum spray or homemade chilli and garlic spray. Make sure you spray the whole plant, including the bottoms of leaves.