Harvesting Corn 101


If you’re growing sweet corn I’m sure you have dreams of opening up those ears and enjoying that sweet amazingness, or maybe you’re growing dent corn in order to make your own tortillas. Maybe you’re growing popcorn so you can make your own movie treats! All the while you have questions forming in your mind as you see the stalks grow taller and taller How can you tell when corn is ready? Are there any telltale signs? And if it is ready to be picked, how do you actually pick corn ears? In this article, all of the questions above will be answered! If you’re ready to harvest, then let’s begin!


The Five Types of Corn

Dent Corn

Dent Corn, also known as “Field Corn” (Zea mays var. indentata), it is typically used when feeding farm livestock or dried and milled into a grain.

Sweet Corn

Sweet Corn (Zea mays var. saccharata/ rugosa) is often sold and enjoyed by people rather than animals, it can be frozen/canned for later use.

Flint Corn

Flint Corn (Zea mays var. indurata), also known as Indian corn, comes in many colors and is also used as animal food or to make cornmeal.

Flour Corn

Flour Corn (Zea mays var. amylacea), as the name suggests, is typically used for making corn flour or cornmeal.

Popcorn Corn

Popcorn (Zea mays var. everta) is a type of Flint Corn that has been bred to pop when the kernels are dry and heated, rather than cracking.

While there are 5 main types of corn, there are two main ways to harvest corn that I know of! I will go over these below.


Milk Stage Harvesting

Out of the 5 main types of corn, usually, only Dent and Sweet corn will be harvested this way. (The milk stage is the period of time when the kernels are filled with milky-sweet sap, this usually occurs 18-20 days after the silk appears and is pollinated by the corn tassels.)

The silking happens 50-65 days after sowing the seeds depending on the variety you’ve picked. To harvest in the milk stage, you’ll want to start watching it for signs of readiness around 70-80 days after sowing. The ears will be green in color and will feel full and firm when you grab them, and the silk will look dried out and brown.

To make sure the corn kernels are ready, you need to gently open the leaves and use a sharp object to pierce a corn kernel. You hopefully should see a sweet and milky sap rather than a clear and watery liquid. If you see the milky liquid, you’re all set to harvest. But if it’s watery, cover the kernels and give the ear some more days to mature. In order to harvest the ears of corn, you need to grip them with your hand and gently twist or bend them down until they break off from the stalk.

You’ll want to consume or preserve sweet corn within 6 hours of you picking in order to get the best flavor. In the days after you harvest the corn, the sugars start to turn into starch and causes the corn to become less sweet and soft. If you do choose to store the corn before eating it fresh, you need to leave the ear inside the husk, wrap it in damp paper towels or towels, and then refrigerate for up to four days.


Want To Preserve Corn?

Blanch the ears of corn in boiling water for three minutes, then let cool for a few more minutes, and then you should cut the kernels off the cob at a depth of 3/4ths of the kernels height. Once cut, freeze them in a plastic bag/ Tupperware container, or can them.

If you want Creamed Corn, you should repeat the above process but cut the kernels away at half of their depth so you don’t get the base of the kernels as they’re tough and unenjoyable. Then scrape the rest of the corn off the cob and mix it in with the cut kernels. To freeze your corn, you want to boil the ears for 7-11 minutes and then cool them in an ice bath. After that, cut into 4 to 6-inch pieces and store them in the freezer. Frozen corn will keep in the freezer for about 12 months.


Dry Harvesting

For popcorn, flint, flour, and dent varieties, most corn growers wait until their kernels are completely dry. This is because popcorn needs a moisture level of 13-14 percent to give it an amazing pop. The Flint, flour, and dent cob varieties are used for decoration, livestock feeding, or ground into cornmeal! This maturing and drying process usually takes about 110-120 days in total. All you have to do is wait for the corn to dry completely. The husks, silks, and tassels will all be brown. The kernels should ideally feel as hard as rocks, but too much or too little moisture can result in poor popping results.


How To Test Moisture:

Step One:

Grind up some of the corn kernels into a coarse flour, and weigh it. Once weighed, you should dry it in the oven at 250°F for three full hours, and weigh it again.

Step Two:

Then subtract the dried weight from the original weight and divide it by the original weight to find the percentage of moisture in the popcorn. You’ll then know whether it needs to be left to dry for a little longer or not!

Step Three:

When the popped kernels taste light and feel crisp on your tongue, pull the ears off of the dying corn stalks and use a butter knife to scrape the kernels into a bowl. Make sure to try and get most of them. Some people also scrape off the end kernels, but some people do not because they aren’t as big as the core kernels.

Step Four:

You can store the popcorn in an airtight container for up to two entire years. Make sure to store the popcorn in a dry and cool area.


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