Something a little corny.

Baby sweetcorn is vegetable I’ve had a hard time finding here. Typically used in Asian cuisine, especially stir-fries, it brings a delicate taste and interesting texture to a dish. While I lived in Ireland it was on my weekly shopping list. Usually Sainsburys sold it in combination packs with mange-touts peas or runner beans. It is an expensive vegetable but one we viewed as a healthy indulgence.

Last year, I had little luck growing its bigger relative, the standard sweet corn. I’d been warned that it is tricky. You need a large number of plants for pollination – It is wind pollinated so our garden helpers, the bees were of no use. I filled half of one of my 5’X8′ raised beds with a stand of corn. It looked mighty impressive as it grew tall over the summer. (Though not as tall as Al’s corn!) But for some reason, most likely poor pollination, only three ears matured, and they tasted horrible! Perhaps a different variety would give me a better experience, and one set of results does not make a sound scientific conclusion.

I vowed never to grow sweetcorn again, but when a packet of seeds for baby sweetcorn turned up at a Master Gardener seed swap, I thought, “Why not try this?” It was, after all, a long way to Sainsburys!

The seeds were nearly ten years old, and I didn’t hold out much hope for any of them even germinating. I planted the entire packet – about 40 seeds. 12 germinated. I planted those out in a raised bed and they grew slowly, as if it were a great effort to do so, but they still did get bigger. Eventually, they produced the flowers that bear the pollen, and along the sides of the stalks the silks appeared – the hair-like female part of the edible cob. Best of all, each multi-stalked plant gave rise to, on average 3, cobs per stalk, and in theory can yield much more, according to seed supply companies.

The corn needs to be picked about 5 days after the silks appear. I found this hard to keep track off because they didn’t all appear at once – really seeds ought to read the packet as well, so they know what is expected of them!

One harvest yielded about half a dozen finger length cobs – roughly what you’d get in a combo-pack from Sainburys, and enough for one stir-fry.

They are really fiddly to shuck and it took ages to get the little cobs out. Now I appreciate why they were so expensive to buy.

They should look a little under developed because you eat the entire thing not just the nibblets, so it needs to be tender. A few of ours were a little too old and you could hardy bite through it, but the others tasted great. I’d have had a greater yield if I’d harvested earlier and more often – like runner beans.

That is an average sized tea spoon in the photo to give you an idea of scale. They can be eaten raw or cooked – steamed or stir-fried. You can add them to stews or roast them also.

I didn’t pull out the stalks as I harvested though some did break. Those that remained produced more silks, and I had a second harvest – so compared to the big corn, I had twice the yield, i.e. two dinners worth! And that was with old seeds – imagine how much better fresh seeds might be.

When I checked yesterday, I found one more silk developing – I don’t think we’ll get another dinner from it! Perhaps I should let it go to seed.

So which is best to grow in the home garden?
I garden to grow tasty, healthy food. As an added bonus it is usually cheaper than buying organic, locally grown food, so the bottom line is this – economics.

It costs more to grow the large sweetcorn than to buy it in season (and the bought stuff tastes great). The baby sweetcorn is cheaper to grow than to buy. Also I get a kick out of having a Sainsburys aisle in my back yard as I stop to pick runner beans from the next raised bed to complete my “combo-pack”.

So for me its baby corn all the way! What say you?

Byddi Lee

7 replies to Something a little corny.

  1. Oh please try the big sweetcorn again! I honestly think it's a million miles from supermarket corn, perhaps you just didn't have the right variety? I have around 60 plants in right now – that's how much I love the stuff!

    I do have to admit though, I haven't tried growing baby corn… it's expensive here too, and I certainly have a fondness for it… perhaps I'll give some a go. Does it grow as tall as sweet corn?

  2. Mine was only about three or four feet tall but that soil is getting very tired and needs some amendments and a lot of work. I'd say they may grow taller. Enjoy your corn!

  3. What a great idea for connoiseurs of baby corn!. It does seem to take a lot of garden space though for two meals. I'm not sure I would do it but I have a friend who probably would if she could find the seed.

    Thanks for the information. Very well written Byddi!

  4. Oh baby sweetcorn is just delicious though it's such a treat as it's so expensive here in Tesco – no Sainbury's near us!. I would let that last one go to seed and use the seed next year.

    I never realised that sweetcorn needs quite a few plants for pollination.

  5. I love that you were growing baby corn!

    (Here in Oakland, I have neither the room nor the heat for any variety of corn, which is too bad. Nothing is as good as fresh corn!)

  6. We're definitely in the 'not growing sweet corn' again camp. In the Central Valley, corn smut fungus ran amok, and here the corn ear worms are just as bad. For as much garden real estate as it takes up, I just haven't been able to justify it recently. That said though, both the fungus, and the ear worms, are afflictions of mature corn. I'd never thought of growing just the baby ears for stir fry! Bonus is, less time planted in the garden too!

  7. Congratulations on your baby corn!


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