When is corn ready to pick? It’s a tougher answer than you realize. Corn ripens quickly and for only a few days, so the home gardener must watch for the signs that sweet corn is ready to harvest.
In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I talk about how to know when corn ripens for harvest. (For more information on growing corn, check out these posts: how to grow corn and what I learned about corn last year.) Click below to listen or continue reading.
Sweet Corn Growing Stages
First, as you watch for sweet corn to ripen, it’s helpful to understand corn’s growing stages:
- early growth: preparing for pollination
- mid-growth: pollination
- final growth: ripening
In the early growth stage, corn prepares for pollination. Tassels emerge at the top of the corn stalks. These contain the pollen needed to pollinate the ears of corn. A couple of weeks after the tassels emerge, a small ear of corn will begin to grow in the middle of the stalk.
In the mid growth stage, silks emerge from the top of the ears of corn. Each strand of silk is attached to a kernel of corn that needs to be pollinated. Corn is wind-pollinated, but if you don’t have much wind to help with pollination (or if you’ve planted a small corn planting), shake the stalk gently to help the pollen get to every strand of silk.
In the final growth stage, the cluster of silk turns brown and dries out as the ear begins to ripen to maturity. Also, the ear will start to angle away from the stalk. When you grasp the ear, a ripening ear of corn will transition from hard to soft as it nears maturity. The tip of the ear also changes from a definite point to a more blunted end. In this stage, the juice from the kernels changes as well. When pricked, ripe kernels will produce a milky white substance. If the fluid is clear, it’s not ready; if no fluid runs at all, it’s past maturity and likely inedible.
Picking Sweet Corn Too Early
As you can see with the stages corn goes through during the ripening process, it’s important not to pick too early or too late.
If you pick your corn too early, the kernels will still be hard because they haven’t had the time to plump and ripen. You don’t want to waste your effort and pick your corn too early. But keep a close eye on it — checking it daily — because it’s easy to wait too long.
Picking Sweet Corn Too Late
Likewise, you don’t want to harvest corn too late.
My first year I tested my corn by pricking a kernel, and I knew that it wasn’t quite ripe. I waited a week and tested again. By then it was too late. We tried to eat it, but it was mealy and not at all edible. The lesson here is this: when you see that your corn is ripening, watch it closely and check it daily so you don’t miss the prime window for harvest like I did.
Thankfully, after that one season, I learned the signs that corn is ready to harvest, and we’ve had a bumper crop of corn each year!
3 Signs that Corn is Ready to Harvest
To sum up, when corn is ready to pick, watch for these 3 signs:
- The silks are completely brown, dried out, and brittle.
- The ear is soft to the touch, and the tip is blunt instead of pointed.
- The juice from the kernel runs milky white.
Watch the following video for a full demonstration of what corn looks like when ready to pick:
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