Sweet corn variety

avidchampJanuary 1, 2008

We are doing our garden planning(dreaming) for the spring and are considering a couple of rows of sweet corn. What variety have some of you used and like for your favorite?

Thanks, Bob and Pat (in Goldsby)

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Dear Bob and Pat,

I had to think about the reply to your question for a while. Having grown many different varieties of corn over the years, it is so hard to narrow the list down to a favorite or two or three, but I'll try.

First of all, there are several types of corn, and some of them require different growing techniques. In the "old days", when I was a kid in the 1960s, there were two types of corn that were commonly grown: sweet corn and field corn. Since that time, modern breeding and hybridization programs have given us a few other types of corn.

OLD-FASHIONED SWEET CORN (su): First, there is the ordinary, everyday, traditional type of corn that has old-fashioned corn flavor and which is sweet but not overly sweet. The sugar in these corns QUICKLY convert to starches once the corn is picked. Most heirloom and OP corns are in this group. Sweet corn, unlike field corn, has the ability to produce and retain (for a short while) sugar in its kernels. One of our favorites in this category is an heirloom, open-pollinated corn known as shoepeg corn. Shoepeg corn has non-rowed, or irrgularly spaced, kernels. Our favorite shoepeg corn is Country Gentleman which was first introduced in the 1890s. Another outstanding sweet corn (with regularly rowed corn kernels) is Golden Bantam improved, which is an improved selection of the original Golden Bantam which was introduced by Burpee in the early 1900s. The best way to eat traditional sweet corn is to put the pot of water on the stove to boil while you go out and pick some ears of corn. Bring the corn inside and cook it quickly before the sugar converts to starch.

We have grown Silver Queen (white kernels instead of yellow) many times and it is one of our favorites among the older hybrids that have traditional sweet corn flavor.

FIELD CORN: The other traditional category of corn is "field corn". It is not able to produce and hold sugar the way sweet corn does, and is mainly grown for animal feed. Field corn is starchy and generally not very sweet. I don't care a lot for standard field corn, but some of my "old farmer" neighbors (now in their 80s and 90s) still like to grow some field corn for personal consumption and roast the ears as soon as they are picked
You can grow and dry field corn and grind it into corn meal. Black Aztec is great for this purpose, and you can eat it as corn on the cob if harvested while the kernels are still white. Another good field corn is Hickory King.

SUGAR ENHANCED (se) CORN varieties are hybrids bred for SLIGHTLY improved sweetness and tenderness. These corns stay sweet a little longer than the traditional sweet corns. SE corn has tender kernels and sweet flavor. This type of corn does NOT have to be grown in isolation to prevent cross-pollination problems. A couple of favorites in this category include Kandy Korn, Bodacious and Seneca Dawn.

SUPERSWEET or SHRUNKEN (sh2) CORN contain the sh2 endosperm gene which dramatically slows the conversion of starch to sugar. This type of corn is exceptionally sweet. Any sh2 corn must be grown in isolation to prevent cross-pollination which dramatically affects the flavor or the corn. You need to grow sh2 corn at least 250' away other corns in an acreage type field, or at least 35' away from other corns in a smaller home garden. Unlike the other corns that will germinate in soil temps of 55 to 60 degrees, sh2 corn needs soil temps of 65 degrees in order to germinate.

The first sh2 corn I ever planted (and still a favorite of ours) was Honey 'N Pearl, an AAS selection in 1988. It is a bi-colored corn (white and yellow kernels) and is quite productive in the home garden. Other outstanding sh2 corns include the white-kerneled How Sweet It Is and the yellow-kerneled Illini Xtra Sweet.

TRIPLESWEET corn has two kernel types....about 75% sugary enhanced and 25% supersweet. The only one I have grown is Serendipity, and it was very good. Triplesweets do not require isolation

You can also grow popcorn (Strawberry is one, Japanese Hulless and Dakota Black are others), broomcorn (colored broom corn is a lovely fall decoration or, if you grow enough of it, you can make your own broom!), and a few beautiful ornamental corns, including Seneca Red Stalker (both stalks and ears are highly ornamental) and Japonica Striped Maize (beautiful variegated leaves in shades of green, white, yellow and pink).

Hope this info helps. I grow 4 to 5 types of corn a year and we like them all.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2008 at 10:29AM
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My experiences with corn are just from childhood and the last few years, so take this with a grain of salt...

I used to think corn was good, but not great. After trying Honey Select last year, I will never go back to the traditional varieties. The stalks and ears were beautiful, and the taste was amazing. AMAZING!

A week or two earlier I harvested my Early Sunglow, and after tasting the Honey Select, we gave away some of the frozen Sunglow to make more freezer space. Simply amazing taste/texture/appearance.

Again, I am not an expert, so maybe I would feel the same way about any of the enhanced, supersweet, or triple varieties if I had chosen them last year.

(Honey Select was suggested by my local produce store owner.)

    Bookmark   January 3, 2008 at 11:46PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


If you like Honey Select, you probably would like any of the se, sh2 or triplesweet varieties. To me, they are all equally tasty. Honestly, whichever one I am eating at the moment tends to be my favorite (at that moment!). If I HAD to choose only one, I think I would choose How Sweet It Is (OR maybe Supersweet Jubilee, which many people think is the best-tasting supersweet ever, but which I have not yet grown).

I only grow Early Sunglow to get the absolute earliest ripe corn before Memorial Day, in sort of the same way that I grow Better Bush tomato in containers only to get the earliest tomatoes (April 25th last year). I didn't grow Early Sunglow last year and might not this year. I did try Early and Often for an early corn and didn't think it was tasty enough to grow again. I like having an early corn crop but the early corn always has such small ears that I'm not sure I am willing to give it the space it requires.

On the other hand, the earlier the corn, the better the chance that I will get the ripe ears before the raccoons do. Living in a remote area with tons of wildlife, it is me vs. the raccoons every year in an epic battle to see who gets the corn. I think this year I am going to break down and put an electric fence around the corn because I am tired of the battle.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2008 at 10:15AM
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After some health/family issues last year, I'm going to try a garden again this year. I've had fairly good success with sweet corn EXCEPT for having to share the top couple inches of each ear with the worms. I've had great luck with popcorn. Why do the worms leave it alone?

Bright ideas for keeping all of my corn? I have tried dropping vegetable oil on the silks and that has helped some. If I catch it at the right time...

    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 9:23PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Pat,

If I had a really good answer to keeping corn earworms and European corn borers completely out of the corn, I'd patent the idea and be rich.

Of course, you can use the chemical pesticides with great success like the commercial farmers do, if you are so inclined, but I don't like using chemicals.

If you are gardening organically, the choices for pest control are rotenone (I haven't used it as I think it is too dangerous), pyrethrum (is hazardous to cats, and I have cats so I don't use it), BT kurstaki (which I do use) and a new spinosad product called Entrust (I haven't used it yet, but I have liked the way similar spinosad products have worked on other pests in my garden, including the dreaded fire ants). Also, the use of mineral oil, as you have discovered, helps some but timing is everything.

The problem is that we all like sweet corn, and the sweeter the corn, the more attractive it is to corn earworms and European corn borers. The reason field corn (dent corn) has less pest trouble is that the significantly tighter husks help keep the earworms out. The same is true of popcorn. Also, some kinds of popcorn have higher levels of maysin in them. Maysin is a naturally occurring antifeedant, so the popcorn has less (or no) feeding damage.

Having LOTS of beneficial insects helps, especially the predatory wasps that like to go after earworms.

Cleaning up and getting rid of all corn debris at the end of the season helps a lot.

Tilling up your soil where corn and tomatoes last grew (corn earworms and tomato fruitworms are the same worm) several times in the winter to expose any overwintering worms helps somewhat. Watching for the adult moths to appear and applying BT kurstaki to your corn plants as soon as you see them helps also.

There's no easy non-chemical solution to corn earworms and European corn borers. I have found that growing sweet corns with tigher husks (Merit and Silver Queen are two that have tighter husks) helps with the earworms but the borers still bore their way right through the husks.

Early season corn has less problems with earworms and borers because they are often harvested before the earworms are abundant.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 9:33AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bob and Pat,

When you are planning your garden and dreaming away the chilly winter days, remember this: corn is wind-pollinated and does best when planted in blocks. So, if you want a good corn crop, plant at least 4 rows. This will ensure adequate pollination and good fill of the ears. A lack of good pollination will give you ears that have kernels scattered here and there instead of full rows of kernels.

Whenever I drive past a big, old beautiful garden that has a row or two of corn running along one edge of it, I always feel bad for the hard-working gardeners who planted that garden and obviously didn't know they needed to plant their corn in blocks for good pollination. I feel bad for them because I know they will most likely be disapppointed at harvest time.

I've had good crops with as little as four rows, but even better if there are six to eight rows. It isn't the length of the rows that matters, but just the fact that each corn plant has plenty of other corn plants in every direction for good pollination. In fact, rows aren't really necessary other than for it to be easier for the gardener to pick the corn. Some adventurous souls who have the space grow their corn in a spiral pattern, sort of like a round labyrinthe, to which I can only say....why not!

I thought I should mention this info about growing in blocks as opposed to long single or double rows just in case you've never grown corn before.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 2:30PM
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I have read many times not to mix different corn types, i.e. SH2 with SE. But I can find no information on mixing SH2 with other SH2 varieties. Will they mix? Is this a good or bad thing, or no way to tell?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 4:51PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


SH2 corns will cross-pollinate with every other corn plant grown, so you can't have two pollinating in your garden at the same time. In fact, many community gardens have banned their members from growing SH2 types because they will cross-pollinate (and ruin) every other corn grown in the community garden.

In theory, you can grow two or more SH2 corns in the same garden in the same year, but it is hard to do it successfully and it requires that the weather be cooperative too.

You have to time the plantings so the two (or more) varieties are NOT pollinating at the same time, because they can cross-pollinate each other.

Timing of the plantings means more than just planting one SH2 corn, waiting 2 to 4 weeks, and then planting another SH2 corn. Why? Because the earlier planting is done when both soil and air temps. are cooler, so the corn germinates more slowly and then grows more slowly as well. When you plant the second SH2 corn, it is planted in warmer air and soil temps., so it will germinate more quickly and also grow more quickly as well. So, often the second planting "catches up" with the first and they pollinate at exactly the same time despite your best efforts to prevent that from happening.

You can sometimes get around that by learning about heat units in relation to corn production and then timing your corn plantings based on heat units. That is how commercial corn growers do it.

You can sometimes plant two SH2 corn varieties by planting them at least 250' from each other, which is possible if you have acreage.

You can sometimes plant two SH2 corn varieties and NOT have cross-pollination if you plant a barrier crop between them. It has to be something big and thick like sunflowers or amaranth or something similar.

With careful timing of the fall planting, you can get 2 SH2 corn crops in the same year without cross-pollination by planting one in March-April for harvest in June or early July and then planting the second type in late July to mid-August for harvest in October or November. That works for me here in zone 7B.


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 9:33PM
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So I understand that two varieties of SH2 can/will cross-pollinate. But in the case of SH2 cross-pollinating with SE or SU, the results are virtually guaranteed to be bad.

Would the possible cross-pollinating of SH2 only varieties necessarily be bad, assuming each variety on it's own would have been good?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 7:58AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I don't know, and I've never seen cross-pollination between two SH2 corns discussed in literature in much detail. Generally, all you get is a vague warning that they will (or could) cross-pollinate and the results will (or could) be bad.

I think the only way to know for sure is to experiment and see what happens.

And, for what it is worth, I have grown SH2 corn as close as 20' from SE and SU corn, and had only sunflowers and okra planted between them as a barrier, and did NOT have cross-pollination problems even though they were tasseling at the same time.

There are so many variables, including how heavy the wind is or is not blowing when tasseling occurs, and what direction the wind comes from, the humidity level, etc., that I would think the chances of cross-pollination would be highly variable.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 12:31PM
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The reason I asked is that Gurney's specifically says that their sh2 seeds "can be planted with other sh2 varieties" while Henry's (I think it was) says "isolate from all other varieties".

There is also the issue with sh2 varieties that germination is not that easy. I don't find out until days or a week later that some didn't germinate before replanting. Then a week later I replant the ones that didn't take the second time.

Add to that the changes in temperature and maturity times of each variety...and my rows of corn are all over the place timewise. Some are ready to pick already and some are just 3 feet tall. Maybe each ear will end up being different.

I will post if anything remarkable happens. Thanks.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 1:36PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I think the fact that Gurney's says one thing and Henry's (Henry Fields?) says another is just an indication that results are highly variable, so Gurney's takes the more relaxed approach and the other seed company is somewhat more conservative.

SH2 germination is slower and, if planted in cooler soils, it can be very, very much slower or the seed can rot before it germinates. I get around that by pre-sprouting my seed corn in room-temperature water for 12 to 24 hours, pouring off the water, wrapping the damp kernels in a coffee filter, and putting that into a zip-lock bag. I then set it on a counter top where I'll see it and remember to check it every day. Once the majority of the seed has sprouted, I plant. This is a method I use for all corn, and have for years, because I have clay soil and corn can rot before it sprouts in early-spring temperatures. It also helps me get the corn in as early as possible which, in turn, gives it a chance to grow and mature before the corn earworms and Eurpoean corn borers arrive.

Please keep me posted on your results. This has been a bizarre weather year and a lot of us have seen some odd plant behavior as a result.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 1:52PM
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Just this year I read a post on the Gurney's website that said (basically) what you said. He got near 100% germination by pre-soaking the seeds overnight. He didn't wait for them to fully sprout as you did, but it seems both of you did better than I.

I keep replanting, and many did rot. But thanks to these tips I will do better next year...

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 4:34PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

"There's always next year!" Those words keep us going in a bad year when the crops produce less than normal, don't they!

    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 5:20AM
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Well, I am virtually done picking my 300 ears of mixed SH2 corn. I wish I could give you a more learned analysis, but it is difficult.

I can say for certain that the mixing of SH2 varieties did not "ruin" any of the corn. I was not able to tell a major taste difference between the four varieties of SH2, just that picking too early resulted in blander corn and picking too late resulted in "mealy" corn. The rest were all great and very similar.

FYI, the 4 varieties were "Gotta Have It Sweet", "Illini", "Honey and Pearl" and "Northern Xtra Sweet". IMO, the most reliable once it's germinated is GHIS. It provided a very full ear more often than the others.

I am virtually certain there was crossing because I only planted two rows of full yellow corn, the rest were bicolor. But I picked quite a few full yellow ears from neighboring rows.

In my attempts to combat the germination difficulties of SH2, I overseeded but did not thin as much as I should have. This left too many stalks and lots of half-ears along with the full ears. But they were no less tasty, just a bit small.

Next year, I will do the pre-soak to get better germination and just stick to 1 or 2 varieties. I honestly don't think there is much variation with SH2 to warrant planting so many different types.


    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 2:55PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I agree. I have been happy with every SH2 I've ever planted, so I agree with your statement that there isn't much difference between them.

I'm glad you reported back on your results. The crossing is not unexpected, but I am glad to hear it didn't have a negative effect.

It sounds like your corn patch was very successful. We had a great corn year, too, and have a freezer full of corn to keep us happy until next year.


    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 3:18PM
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I also wanted to add that I did some experiments on freezing corn. I prefer to freeze it on the cob, then just right onto the grill.

In general, the taste of these SH2 varieties is phenominal even 8 months after freezing. Of course the cob itself does not stay hard after freezing, it is a little wobbly.

But I tried two methods this year. Blanching and not blanching. And I could tell absolutely no difference in the result, or maybe the blanching made a wobblier cob. I know that corn is said to age in the freezer even after picking, so you are supposed to blanch it before freezing. But this also jeopardizes the corn quality due to potential overcooking, and introducing water that you don't want.

I've frozen SH2 cobs for a few years now, and the blanching does nothing but add a step for me. But this year, I may try some other techniques. Maybe refrigerating first to make the freezing quicker, freezing in the husk and refrigerating after, or if someone has another suggestion I am happy to try it and report back.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 11:29AM
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