You already may be enjoying homegrown or local, farm-grown corn. If you aren’t growing your own, hopefully you have been finding some fresh ears at the farmers markets and local farms.
Locally grown corn is one of those crops that taste so much better fresh than from a faraway farm. Corn sugars begin to turn to starch as soon as the ear is harvested, so it loses its sweetness if it is not eaten or cooked right after it is picked. Corn on the cob is a Fourth of July staple. It’s hard to imagine a picnic or barbecue without it.
It is also a symbol of fall. In October, we adorn our homes and lawns with corn stalk decorations and visit corn mazes and pumpkin patches. So, how are we able to harvest and eat it fresh in July and plant it at the same time?
Central Texas is a region with a mild climate and a long period of warm weather. We can plant some crops early in the season, like March and April, and then again late in the summer.
However, planting late in the season comes with added risk because by the time the plants mature, our unpredictable weather can produce cold snaps and even frosts. When planting heat-loving crops in July, we must consider both the time it takes for the plant to reach maturity and the date that we can expect a frost. In Austin, this date is around Nov. 30 (but we can get a cold snap much earlier), and in surrounding areas like Dripping Springs, the first frost date is Nov. 9.
Corn grows best when temperatures are between 77 degrees and 90 degrees. To make sure we stay within the safe weather window, we need to grow a fast-maturing variety like sweet corn. Silver Queen is a great variety to grow in hot weather, and it matures quickly. Sweet corn on average only takes 90 days to mature. Compare that to a popcorn variety, which takes about 120 days to mature, and you can see that to stay within our frost-free window, we will be better off beating the odds of an early November frost with a fast-maturing variety.
Another good reason to plant corn in early July is because you might have recently freed up space in the garden from other early spring crops that are done producing and ready to be removed from the garden.
One last thing to remember before you plant is that corn tassels are pollinated by wind. To ensure that the strands of silk get pollinated thoroughly, corn should be planted in a grid of at least four short rows, not one long row. This also helps with keeping the stalks from blowing over.
Gently till the soil about 8 inches deep and add a granular, all-purpose fertilizer before planting. Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart in short rows 2 feet to 3 feet apart to form a block.
Once the plants are 2 feet tall, thin the plants to 12 inches apart. You can now side dress the rows with aged manure. Water the manure well so that the nutrients leach into the soil.
You also can plant squash or melon plants and pole beans underneath the corn. This is called a three sisters garden and it is a perfect example of companion planting.
It’s important to keep corn plants well watered, especially during hot months, and only hand-weed around the corn so as not to disturb the roots. Prevent corn earworms and cutworms by hand-picking these pests. You also can apply a spray of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is an organic control for caterpillars. As always, mix and apply at the rate specified on the container.
Once you see the corn silk emerge from the ear of corn, you will know that you are about three weeks away from harvesting. The silk will begin to turn brown and dry once it is ready. To harvest, push down on the ear and give it a twist to break it from the stalk.
Eat it in the next few days for the best flavor. Boil it, grill it, soup it or even make sweet corn ice cream.
Enjoying corn is one of those experiences that trigger our senses and strengthen our connection to nature and our food system.
This month’s recipe comes from Amanda Darby, the founder and owner of East Austin Culinary Studio. Her passion for cooking stems from the joy and memories that cooking evokes. She opened East Austin Culinary Studio to share that cooking does not have to be hard, to teach how to make nutrient-rich meals with wholesome local ingredients, and to use the power of food to bring people together.
Fiery Summer Corn Soup
½ onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
8-10 cups chicken stock
8-10 ears of corn, kernels cut from cobs
¼ cup white miso paste
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Toasted sesame oil
Chili oil, or other hot sauce
1 lime, segmented
In a large stockpot, over medium heat add onion and butter. Cook for 3 minutes until the onion is translucent.
Add garlic and cook for one minute.
Add smoked paprika, chicken stock, kernels and corn cobs.
Turn up the heat to medium-high (low boil) and cook for 20 minutes.
Remove corn cobs.
Puree soup either using a blender (small batches while pulsing or else it will explode) or with an immersion blender.
Blend until smooth.
In a small bowl, add ½ cup water and miso paste. Mix into a smooth paste. While the soup is still hot but not boiling, add the miso mixture into the soup.
Add salt to taste.
Add soup to bowls and top with scallions, sesame seed oil and chili oil, and a squeeze of lime juice.
Liz Cardinal is the founder of Austin Edible Gardens, austinediblegardens.com.