How Sweet Is My Corn

Sweet Corn


Sweet corn. It just wouldn’t be summer without that roasted or boiled buttery sweet summer staple of a thousand picnics and family gatherings. But have you ever wondered what it is that makes sweet corn sweet, and how it differs from other kinds of corn?

Sweet corn is corn that is bred for sugary sweetness and harvested when the kernels are immature. As a result the interior of the kernel contains sugar instead of starch, giving the product a sweet taste. Hence, the name. But did you know, that even among sweet corn, there are different genotypes? Allow me to elaborate.

su or Sugary — This is the classic sweet corn. The kernels contain modest amounts of sugar in them which gives them a combination flavor of sugar and corn. When harvested, the sugar in su corn rapidly converts to starch, which decreases the sweetness. That’s why many sweet corn aficionados claim that the best way to cook sweet corn is to boil the water, run out into the garden, pick and shuck the corn, run back into the house, and toss it into the boiling water. This, they claim, gives the maximum amount of sweetness. Golden Bantam is an example of an su sweet corn.

se or Sugar Enhanced — se corn has higher levels of sugar in the kernel than su corn. su corn still rapidly converts to starch upon harvest, but it will stay sweet longer that se corn because of the elevated level of sugar. The kernel walls of se corn also are more tender than those of su corn, which further improves the eating quality. se varieties are also hybrids, so you cannot save the seeds for next year’s planting. Examples of se cultivars include Kandy Corn, Bodacious, and Silver Queen.

sh2, shrunken 2, or Supersweet — The amount of sugar in the endosperm of sh2 corn is even higher than that of su or se corn. The higher levels of sugar and lack of starch gives the seeds a wrinkled or shrunken appearance, hence the name. Conversion of sugar to starch is even slower than in su and se corn, so there’s a longer window between harvest and preparation. sh2 corn germinates poorly or not at all in cold wet soil. sh2 varieties must also be isolated from su and se corn; cross pollination with sh2 can ruin their flavor and quality. And like se corn, they are hybrids, so the seed cannot be saved for the following year’s planting. Examples of sh2 cultivars include Early Xtra-Sweet, Northern Xtra Sweet, and Illini Xtra Sweet.

So which variety of sweet corn is right for you? Once again, this goes back to the planning we discussed in my last blog post. Do you harvest your corn and cook it later? If so, then I recommend one of the se or sh2 varieties. If you believe in roasting or boiling your corn seconds after harvest, then try one of the su varieties.

Congratulations! You’ve just received several kernels of knowledge. I just hope I haven’t caused any corn-fusion.

Support Your Local Farmers Market

Farmers Market


They show up every spring; they’re here through September or October; then they’re gone for the year. Nearly every town and city has one, and they are growing in popularity. I’m speaking, of course, about farmers markets, and, next to your own garden, they are one of the best sources of fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll find. In addition, you’ll find vendors that sell baked goods, meats, soaps, spices, eggs, and honey straight from the hive. Some even have live music provided by local talent.

Most farmers market vendors accept cash only as payment for their wares, but some will accept credit and debit cards. A few farmers markets are set up to accept food stamps and their equivalents — a wonderful way to provide good nutrition to lower income people.

But just as a movie theater needs butts in seats to survive, farmers markets need bodies in their booths to stay alive. So I encourage everyone to patronize their local farmers market. Yes, we should all plant our gardens and grow our own food. I encourage that; that’s what I’m all about. But a garden is merely a means to a goal — providing a consistent supply of fresh produce that hasn’t been tainted with potentially harmful chemicals. Farmers markets can be another means of helping you to reach that goal. Though you may have your own garden, your space for it is limited. As much as we may like to, we gardeners cannot grow everything. Furthermore, due to city ordinances, many of us cannot raise our own chickens or keep our own beehives. Farmers markets, with their wide array of fresh food offerings, can provide for us the items that we cannot produce for ourselves. And when you buy from a farmers market, you’re helping small family farm operations to stay in business.

So get yourself down to your local farmers market and avail yourself of all the wonderful fresh offerings. It’s good for you, good for your family, good for farmers, good for the economy, and good for America!

I’m The Garden Troubadour, and I approved this message!

Corn — It’s Not Just For Dinner Anymore

What comes to your mind when you hear the word corn (besides my jokes)? Most of us think of the sweet corn that we eat directly off of the cob — boiled and flavored by butter and salt. Well, sweet corn is just one of the many kinds of corn that are grown worldwide. There are different types of corn grown for different purposes. Stand back — because I am now about to impart to you some kernels of knowledge!

Dent corn — This is the kind of corn that you are seeing when you drive through the rural areas of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and any other Corn Belt states and see vast fields of tasseled, silken stalks. It is called dent corn because of the “dimple” that is present in each kernel. According to the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), dent corn accounts for approximately 99% of all corn production in the U.S. Dent corn is not meant for direct human consumption, as it is too starchy and bland. Instead, dent corn is used for livestock feed, corn syrup production, and ethanol manufacture.

Dent Corn

Flint corn — Flint corn is similar to dent corn in terms of usage (livestock feed corn syrup, etc.). It is named for the hard, glassy outer shell surrounding each kernel. It is grown mainly in Central and South America. US corn growers prefer dent corn because of its higher yield. Also, most of the research and breeding of corn in the US has been performed mainly on dent corn.

Flint Corn
Flour corn — The kernels of flour corn contain a very soft starch, which makes for an easier grind and a finer textured product for baked goods.

Flour Corn
Pod or Indian corn — This type of corn has colorful kernels (beyond the standard yellow) and is grown mainly for ornamental purposes. This is the corn you see on Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. After the holidays are over, you can then grind this corn to make cornmeal.

Indian Corn
Popcorn — Popcorn kernels consist of a hard outer shell surrounding a soft starchy interior. After popcorn is harvested, it must be dried to a specific level of moisture so that when heated, the moisture inside will turn to steam, which will then burst through the outer shell and create the snack that has accompanied many a movie. Take away the butter and salt, and popcorn is actually a very healthy snack.

Sweet corn — This is the product we all know and love that has graced many a picnic or barbecue. Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are immature. As a result the interior of the kernel contains sugar instead of starch, giving the product a sweet taste. Hence, the name.

Sweet Corn
So now you know more about this amazing grain that feeds our livestock, decorates our homes, and provides us the means to get drunk while we are enjoying a delicious treat of sweet kernels.

Serendipity Among the Corn

Serendipity. A wonderful word, to be sure. But what does it mean, and how does it relate to gardening? Have patience, young grasshopper, and I will enlighten you.

Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as, “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” A lucky accident, in other words. The word comes from the three princes of Serendip, who were known for having lucky accidents and having the brains to realize their value. The classic example of serendipity is Charles Goodyear, who accidentally allowed a mixture of sulfur, India rubber, and white lead to come in contact with a hot stove. He saw this mixture melt and form the stable rubber product that he’d been trying unsuccessfully to make for years.

Charles Goodyear
So, what does, all this have to do with gardening? Plenty. Last summer, I had my own lucky accident within my garden. For the past several years, I’ve had the misfortune of having all my corn stolen by squirrels. Nothing kept them away — repellent sprays, fences — they defied it all. And the empty cobs and destroyed stalks were the squirrel’s way of giving me the middle finger. Putting it another way, they took the corn and gave me the bird.

In all of my gardening classes, I’ve been teaching my students that one way to keep squirrels from destroying your garden was to feed (a.k.a. bribe) them. Provide squirrel corn or something else to fill their bellies, and they would be less likely to feast on your garden vegetables. I based this on the words of former Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, who once stated, “A dog with a bone in its mouth neither kills nor steals.” Diaz kept his political enemies at bay by making sure that they all had important positions within his government. Likewise, I figured that I could keep my enemies (the squirrels) at bay from my garden by making sure they all had food to fill their bellies.

That was my hypothesis. However, I had no real proof that this would work. Until last year, that is. In my garden, I had planted some Hopi Blue flint corn, along with some sunflowers. I noticed that the sunflowers were being eaten, but the corn remained intact. Although I hadn’t planned on using the sunflowers as bones for the squirrels mouths, it appeared that I may have accidentally proven my hypothesis correct. And that’s where the serendipity comes in.

Of course, hand-pollinating the ears and covering them with paper bags and rubber-banding the bags to the ears may have also helped. But that still doesn’t change the fact that, by accident, I may have finally discovered a way to protect my corn from the squirrels.

Now, I will not go on record as stating this as a foolproof sure-fire method. Before going out on such a limb, I would have to be able to repeat the experiment and yield the same results year after year. And even then, I still wouldn’t call it a sure thing. Because, one of these years, the squirrels may get wise. But if, like me, you’ve had problems with marauding squirrels making your garden their personal grocery, then may I humbly invite you to try what I’ve described above? It appears to work, costs little or nothing to implement, and may very well improve things next year.

So gardeners of the world, rise up, bag up, and feed the invaders! You have nothing to lose but your vegetables — which you’re already losing, so it certainly can’t get any worse!

Bring Your Garden to the Feast


The holiday season is a time of feasting, drinking, and merrymaking. There will be dinner parties galore with all kinds of delicious food served — turkey, ham, beef, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pies, cakes, and the list goes on. Many of us will be attending these parties, and we will probably be bringing a dish to pass, especially if the party is pot luck. In this area we sometimes struggle. What should we bring? Sometimes the host or hostess will assign certain meal types (e.g. main dish, salad, dessert, etc.) to individual guests or ask in advance what each guest is bringing and coordinate accordingly. But what should we bring if the host or hostess does neither of these?

Why not bring a gift from the garden? If you were successful in your gardening endeavors, harvested a bumper crop, and took steps to preserve some of that harvest through canning, freezing, fresh storage, etc., then why not share some of your bounty with your fellow dinner guests? You can bring over a jar of pickles to serve with the meal. Or you can whip up a special dish using some of your preserved harvest. A vegetable soup or a salad is always welcome — especially if it was made with your fresh vegetables. A potato salad or mashed potatoes are positively scrumptious; even more so if it is made from your garden potatoes. Do you have apple trees growing in your yard or did you pick apples from a commercial orchard? You can turn those apples into apple pie or apple cider and share some of that with your guests. Hot apple cider is body and spirit warming treat during these cold holiday months. Do you grow your own corn or wheat? You can grind it to meal and make your own bread.

Anyone can bring a dish to pass. But to bring a dish that you made yourself with your own garden harvest will not only provide a mouth-watering treat for everyone, but will also gain you the respect and admiration of your friends and family. What’s not to love? So go ahead; bring your garden to the feast! It doesn’t need a special invitation and it is always welcome.

Vegetables of a Different Color

Tomatoes are red. Carrots are orange. Cauliflower is white. And corn is yellow. And so it shall always be.

Not true. Well, at least not entirely true. Yes, most of the time, the aforementioned vegetables are the aforementioned colors. But not always. Did you know that there are purple carrots? Yellow cauliflower. Black tomatoes. And corn that is a veritable rainbow.

Purple Dragon Carrot Cheddar CauliflowerBlack Krim Tomato  Rainbow Corn

Wait, is something wrong with these vegetables? Not at all. But they may seem strange to some of us who are used to buying our fruits and vegetables from supermarkets. Supermarkets have to offer produce that appeals to the masses. They may not make much money selling fruits and veggies that are anything other than the color that the mass population expects.

We humans have it in our heads that food has to be a certain color, or else something is wrong with it. Eggs have to be a golden yellow. Butter also has to be yellow. That’s why poultry producers feed their chickens corn gluten meal to give the eggs that bright yellow. It’s also why color is added to butter.

I once used this mindset to play a prank on two of my college roommates. I waited for a day when both were away from our apartment. Then I grabbed my food coloring, opened the refrigerator door, and went to work. By the time I had finished, we had purple pickles, blue Thousand Island dressing, mustard that looked like guacamole, and my personal favorite — the green milk.

Green Milk

There was absolutely nothing wrong with these foods. They were still the same as before I “enhanced” them. But my roommates refused to touch them. I, on the other hand, had lots of fun pouring myself a glass of green milk, getting my roommates’ attention, yelling, “Bottoms up!” and drinking it down.

The point of all of this is that vegetables of a different color offer you the chance to be creative with your crops. An orange carrot is an orange carrot. But if you serve purple carrots at your next dinner party, I guarantee that your guests will remember that for a long time to come.

So go ahead and be creative. Step outside the color box and try something different. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour myself a nice tall glass of green milk. Bottoms up!

Drowning in Zucchini; Flooded With Tomatoes

All of your hard work has paid off! All of the sweating, digging, and back-breaking work is producing dividends in the form of tempting mouth-pleasing tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, etc. But holy cow, you didn’t expect dividends like this! Your kitchen counter is overflowing with zucchini; your kitchen table is piled high and wide with tomatoes, and if you add one more cucumber to your refrigerator, it will explode. What in the world are you going to do with all of this?

DSCN7100 Zucchini Excess DSCN8102

DSCN5234 DSCN5890

Well, giving the excess to family and friends is usually the first solution. Most people love fresh fruits and vegetables (especially when they don’t have to pay for it) and are more than happy to take some of the excess off your hands. But this solution does have its limits, and eventually your friends and family will start barring the door when they see you coming with an armload of zucchini.

A second solution is to preserve the excess through canning, freezing, drying, or winter storage. Properly preserved produce can be stored away in your kitchen or basement. Then when you have a hankering for beans, carrots, or any other produce, you won’t have to make a special trip to the grocery store (perhaps in the snow?) to spend your hard earned money on inferior produce. Your own supply will be right there at your fingertips — and it will look and taste a whole lot better too.

Third, you can use the surplus harvest in a wide variety of recipes. Chutneys, salsas, salads, breads — the possibilities are endless. Don’t have any recipes? Check a cookbook out of your local library or download some recipes from the internet. You can prepare the recipes early in the week and have plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week. Or you can bring the finished products to your next dinner party. While your friends are oohing and ahhing over what a tasty dish you’ve prepared, you can gain additional brownie points when you tell them that you not only prepared the dish from scratch, you also grew the vegetables yourself.

Lastly, you can always bring the excess to a food bank. Believe me, they can never have too much fresh produce, and they will be more than happy to take the excess off your hands. It’s a wonderful way to give away your surplus yield and also help those in your community who have fallen on hard times.

Having more produce than you can use is an excellent problem to have! Best of all it’s a problem with many wonderful solutions. So if your garden fruit and vegetable cup runneth over, then implement one of these solutions today.