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Zea mays

In Our Garden

There are five main types of corn: popcorn and flint corn have large amounts of storage protein, dent corn is the type most commonly grown for animal feed, flour corns are soft and easily ground, and sweet corn is the type eaten as a vegetable in the United States.

martian jewels
Zea mays
6 ft. Tender annual

This unusual cross of several flour, normal sugary, and sugary enhanced varieties has produced a totally unique sweet corn with a different flavor profile and appearance. The kernels are white, but the cob is a rich purple, and the flavor is hardier and richer than most typical sweet corns.

sugar pearl
Zea mays
Tender annual

Exceptionally tender and aptly named with fine white kernels. Top rated for yield, flavor, and tip fill in two field trails this year when compared to more than a dozen other sugary enhanced varieties. Plant every 2-3 weeks for a steady supply of this summertime staple.

In History

What is known as corn in the United States was originally the English term for any type of grain, even grains of salt. For example, corned beef has nothing to do with corn, but refers to the grains of salt used to preserve this type of beef. Other cultures refer to this fruit as maize which is derived from the Latin zea mays.

More commonly known as maize, corn was domesticated in Mexico around 10,000 years ago from a large grass called teosinte.


Growing Tips:
Sweet corn varieties differ significantly in time to maturity and in sweetness; yellow, white, bi-color, standard, and extra-sweet varieties are available. Most varieties planted are hybrids which have been bred for greater vigor and higher yields. A continuous harvest can be planned by planting early-, mid-, and late-season varieties, or by making successive plantings of the same variety every 2 weeks or when the last planting has 3 to 4 leaves (corn sown in early spring will take longer because of cool temperatures). Use only the earliest varieties for late summer/early fall plantings to assure a good fall crop. Fall-maturing sweet corn will almost always be the highest quality, since cool nights during fall increase sugar content.

Pollination is a very important consideration in planting sweet corn. Because corn Is wind-pollinated, block plantings of at least 3 to 4 short rows will be pollinated more successfully than one or two long rows. Good pollination is essential for full kernel development. Most types of corn will cross-pollinate readily. To maintain desirable characteristics and high quality, extra-sweet and standard sweet corn should be isolated from each other. A distance of 400 yards or planting so that maturity dates are one month apart is necessary to ensure isolation. Sweet corn plantings must also be isolated from field corn, popcorn, and ornamental corn. White and yellow types will also cross-pollinate, but the results are not as drastic.

Harvesting Tips:
Normally, sweet corn is ready for harvest about 17 to 24 days after the first silk strands appear, more quickly in hot weather, more slowly in cool weather. Harvest corn when husks are still green, silks are dry brown, and kernels are full-sized and yellow or white in color to the tip of the ear. Experienced gardeners can feel the outside of the husk and tell when the cob has filled out. Harvest corn at the "milk stage": use your thumbnail to puncture a kernel -- if the liquid is clear, the corn is immature; if it's milky, it's ready; and if there is no sap, you're too late. Cover unharvested ears checked by this method with a paper bag to prevent insect or bird damage.

Why It's Good for You

This must-have vegetable at summertime meals is loaded with nutrients notably folate, a B vitamin that is crucial for a healthy pregnancy and protecting your heart and circulation. Corn also supplies beta-cryptoxanthin, an orange-red carotenoid that may protect against lung and other types of cancer.

Early corn eaters developed a special pretreatment to ease the removal of the tough kernel hull by cooking it in water made alkaline with substances like ash or lime. This process softens the hull enough for it to be rubbed off, helps form the kernels into a dough for making tortillas, and releases the niacin bound inside.

Did You Know

Baby corn, a popular addition to Asian food dishes, is actually an unpolliated ear from full-sided corn—each is picked two to four days after the silks emerge from the ear when the cob is still edible.

Corn is the third largest human food crop in the world after wheat and rice.

Let's Eat

How to Buy:
Try to buy corn on the day you are going to cook it since corn is notorious for losing its flavor rapidly. If you need to purchase it ahead of time store it in the fridge with its husk still on to lock in flavor.


Pest Management

Watch out for these guys as they can cause damage to a perfectly good crop!
  • Aphids
    Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with long, slender mouth parts that they use to pierce stems, leaves, and other tender plant parts and suck out plant fluids. Almost every plant has one or more aphid species that occasionally feeds on it. Many aphid species are difficult to distinguish; however, identification to species is not necessary to control them in most situations.
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  • Armyworms
    Armyworm larvae feed in groups, which distinguishes them from other vegetable pests such as corn earworms and loopers. Markings on newly hatched armyworms are usually hard to distinguish from those of other caterpillars; older larvae have distinct lengthwise stripes. The surface of the armyworm skin is smooth.
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  • Corn earworms
    Larvae have distinct stripes along sides and many short, whiskerlike spines over the body surface. Body color varies.
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  • Cucumber beetles
    Adult beetles are shiny with black heads, long antennae, and about 0.25 inch long. Larvae are whitish and slender with three pairs of short legs; the head and tip of the abdomen are darker. Adults may be striped or spotted, depending upon species.
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  • Cutworms
    Cutworms are dull brown caterpillars that curl into a C-shape when disturbed. Normally they are found on or just below the soil surface or on lower parts of plants and are commonly active at night. They are smooth skinned and have various markings.
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  • Earwigs
    Earwigs are among the most readily recognized insect pests in home gardens. Although they can devastate seedling vegetables or annual flowers and often seriously damage maturing soft fruit or corn silks, they also have a beneficial role in the landscape and have been shown to be important predators of aphids. Although several species occur, the most common in California gardens is the European earwig, Forficula auricularia, which was accidentally introduced into North America from Europe in the early 1900s. The striped earwig, Labidura riparia, occurs in southern California and can annoy residents when it is attracted to lights. It has a very disagreeable odor when crushed. However, the striped earwig does not damage plants.
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  • Flea beetles
    Flea beetles are small, shiny beetles with black legs enlarged for jumping.
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  • Garden symphylans
    Garden symphylans are slender and white. They are not insects; they have twelve pairs of legs, fourteen body segments, and a pair of antennae. They run rapidly when exposed to light.
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  • Grasshoppers
    Grasshoppers are sporadic pests in gardens. However, in some years large populations may build up in foothills and rangelands, especially after a wet spring and then migrate into nearby gardens, often defoliating everything in sight. Over 200 species of grasshoppers occur in California, but only a few of these cause significant problems in gardens. The devastating grasshopper, Melanoplus devastator, and the valley grasshopper, Oedaleonotus enigma, are the most widespread and destructive.
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  • Leafminer
    Leafminer adults are small black and yellow flies. Larvae are yellowish maggots that feed beneath the leaf surface.
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  • Nematodes
    Nematodes are microscopic, eel-like roundworms. The most troublesome species in the garden are those that live and feed within plant roots most of their lives and those that live freely in the soil and feed on plant roots. Although there are many different species of root-feeding nematodes in California, the most important in gardens are the root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne species). Root knot nematodes attack a wide range of plants, including many common vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamentals. They are difficult to control and can be spread easily from garden to garden in soil (for example, on tools, boots, etc.) and plant parts. A number of other nematode species may also damage home garden and landscape plants, including the citrus nematode (Tylenchulus semipenetrans), the ring nematode (Criconemoides xenoplax), root lesion nematodes (Pratylenchus spp.), the stem and bulb nematode (Ditylenchus dipsaci), the sugarbeet cyst nematode (Heterodera schachtii), and others. Table 1 lists some common garden plant species and their nematode pests.
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  • Seedcorn maggot
    Seedcorn maggot larvae are small, legless, white maggots usually less than 0.33 inch when full grown; the head end is pointed and the rear is blunt. Adults are dark gray flies about half the size of the common housefly.
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  • Spider mites
    Mites are common pests in landscapes and gardens and can be found feeding on many fruit trees, vines, berries, vegetables, and ornamental plants. Although related to insects, mites are not insects but members of the arachnid class along with spiders and ticks. The spider mites, also called webspinning mites, are the most common mite pests and among the most ubiquitous of all pests in the garden and farm.
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  • Thrips
    Thrips, order Thysanoptera, are tiny, slender insects with fringed wings. They feed by puncturing their host and sucking out the cell contents. Certain thrips species are beneficial predators that feed only on mites and other insects. Beneficial species include black hunter thrips and the sixspotted thrips. Pest species (often in the family Thripidae) are plant feeders that scar leaf, flower, or fruit surfaces or distort plant parts. Other species of thrips feed on fungal spores and pollen and are innocuous.
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  • Wireworms
    Wireworm larvae are slender, cylindrical insects. They are usually yellowish and resemble mealworms. They have six short legs close together near the head. Adults are click beetles; they do not weaken older plants.
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