There is nothing quite like the sweet taste, texture, and crunch of freshly picked, homegrown corn. It’s become an American tradition of sorts to grow, enjoy and even decorate with corn and its stalks. Corn is relatively easy to grow, but timing is everything when it comes to picking corn at its peak of freshness, so it’s important to be aware of when to pick corn.
A small margin of about three days ensures an optimal harvest and the tastiest produce when picking corn, but how do you know when your corn is ready? Luckily, your corn plants will give you some signs that they are primed for harvest.
Follow our robust guide to picking corn, discover how to preserve its freshness, and uncover the top varieties so that you can reap the best rewards from your corn crop.
When to Pick Corn
Corn reaches maturity between 75 and 85 days after planting. It is vital to note your planting time in your garden planner or journal so that you have a sense of when to pick corn. Timing is essential because you have about three days to harvest ripe ears of corn before the sugars in the kernels transition into starch.
Pick corn approximately three weeks after corn ears have developed their silk. Keep in mind that ears of corn will mature from the topmost developed ear of corn on down, so while one ear of corn might be ready for picking, others may need more time to ripen on the stalk.
How to Pick Corn
Once you understand when to pick corn, actually picking it is easy. Corn, at the peak of ripeness, will pull away from the main cornstalk, presenting itself for harvest. When picking corn from the stalk, twist the husk while pulling downward in one swift movement. This will release the husk from the stalk.
Whether you are picking sweet corn or glass gem corn, the picking process is the same. It’s just the timing that varies.
How to Tell When Corn is Ready to Pick
While corn has a narrow window of time for an optimum harvest, there are some key signs to look for that will clue you in that it is time for picking corn.
Harvesting Sweet Corn
- Take a good look at your cornstalk. You’ll know when to pick corn when the ear pulls away from the stalk, signaling that the husk is full and ready for harvest.
- Observe the appearance of the silk that protrudes from the ear of corn. Ideally, the silk should be browned, dry, and relatively brittle.
- Feel around the ear of corn, starting at the bottom and moving up to the top. The ear of corn should feel supple throughout, and the top of the ear beneath the silk should feel full and rounded. If the top of the ear is thin and hard, it is not quite ready.
- Check the kernels for ripeness. Carefully pull back the top of the husk to reveal 3-4 rows of corn kernels, keeping most of the husk intact so that pests don’t seek out the exposed ear. Select a kernel that is filled out nicely and pierce one kernel of corn with your fingernail. If a milky substance seeps out, then the corn is ready for picking. If clear liquid emerges, give the corn a few more days to ripen before checking again, and if no liquid is present at all, you’ve passed the optimal harvest window for your sweet corn crop.
Harvesting Glass Gem Corn
- Glass Gem corn needs some time to cure a bit before it is ready for picking. Wait until the husks are dry, papery, and brown when you pick corn ears.
How to Preserve Corn
Storing Corn on the Cob
Sweet corn should be eaten or preserved within three days after picking the corn off the stalk. You can preserve corn on the cob by freezing it for up to a year. You can also cut the kernels off of the cob and steam them before freezing.
Corn left to dry on the cornstalk should remain on the plant right until the season’s end and before any environmental freeze occurs. After you pick corn that has dried, like glass gem varieties, store it in a cool, dry place until you are ready to use it.
Freezing Corn on the Cob
Freezing corn on the cob is a fantastic way to safeguard the taste and freshness of your homegrown corn crop before enzymes have a chance to alter the taste and consistency of your delicious corn. To do this, you must blanch the corn on the cob before freezing.
- Remove the husks and silks as thoroughly as possible from the corn on the cob.
- Bring a wide pot filled ¾ with water to a boil.
- Place a large bowl of ice water next to the pot. This will stop the cooking after you take the corn out of the boiling water.
- When the water reaches a rolling boil, place the corn ears in the pot to blanch for four minutes.
- Use tongs to move the corn to the ice water bowl and submerge it.
- Allow the corn to cool in the ice water for approximately four to five minutes.
- Remove the corn from the water and dry thoroughly, eliminating any excess water from the ear of corn.
- Lastly, wrap the corn ears firmly in plastic wrap. Transfer wrapped ears of corn into a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible before sealing.
- Store in the freezer for up to a year.
Glass Gem Corn Popcorn
Glass gem corn is vibrant rainbow-colored corn. It is flint corn and isn’t meant to be eaten off of the cob like sweet corn. Alternately, it can be ground into cornmeal which can be used to make grits, cornbread, and other corn-based delights.
Perhaps, one of our favorite ways to enjoy glass gem corn is to make glass gem popcorn! Here’s how to create this magical looking and great tasting popcorn:
- Coat the bottom of a lidded pot with the desired type of oil.
- Add dried sweet gem corn kernels to the pot and cover.
- Carefully move the pan around so that the kernels move around in the oil, returning to the heat of the burner after each swirl.
- When corn has popped fully, and you only hear a pop every 1-3 seconds, dump the popcorn into a bowl and season as desired.
Corn Varieties to Grow
Now that you know when to pick corn. Consider planting corn using some of these varieties!
Varieties of corn come in a wide array of sizes, types, colors, and flavors, and they make an ideal addition to any garden. Check out some of our favorite types of corn to grow and enjoy the biodiversity that these corn varieties can add to your garden.
- ‘Amaize Hybrid’: Ultra-sweet white corn variety with superior taste and crunch.
- ‘Picasso Hybrid’: Grows into rich, purple cornstalks with purple and green husks and delivers a sweet and nutty punch when grilled, baked, or boiled.
- ‘Glass Gem’: Stunningly gorgeous color variegations of corn kernels make this variety a stunner. It can be used for ornamental purposes or can be dried and milled into cornmeal, cornflour, or even popped as popcorn.
- ‘Suntava Purple Hybrid’: Gorgeous multiuse corn with deep purple kernels. It can be boiled, baked, grilled, or even eaten raw, but also can be left on the stalk, like a glass gem variety, and used for making cornmeal, flour, or popcorn.
- ‘Kandy Korn’: Super sweet with a long growing season. Long ears of golden kernels make for a tasty treat, whether eaten fresh or when preserved by freezing.