when to harvest corn?

Hello,
How do you know when to harvest corn? The stuff I've read talks about moisture content. What exactly is that? How do I measure it without buying a scientific device? Or is there another way? I've got a backyard garden, with about 15 corn plants. I'm not going to buy expensive farm equipment for a garden this size.
I've also heard people say that you can just open up an ear and look at it. What do I look for? When?
The seed was called "90-day corn". But it's growing in partial shade, so I expect it to will take longer than 90 days.
When responding, assume that I don't know what I'm talking about.
Thank you.
Ted Shoemaker, certified Gray Thumb
Madison, Wisconsin, US
USDA zone 4/5 AHS heat zone 4/5 Sunset zone 43
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Nothing necessary except fingers and eyes. When the tassles are completely brown, it's ready to eat. If you begin gently squeezing the cobs as they develop, you will also be able to tell when the kernels are ready all the way to the top. Never peel back the husks to check development. Where they're peeled back, no kernels will develop.
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I always thought it was when the silk withered but, hey, don't go by me. I check moisture content by pressing my thumbnail into a kernel and seeing if the juice squirts into my eye.
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

you need an elephant.
Carl
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Carl 1 Lucky Texan wrote:

Thanks, everyone, for the good advice. As for the elephant, YOU feed him! ;)
Ted Shoemaker
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I think you're thinking of harvesting field corn, which is allowed to dry down before combining. Did it say something about 15% moisture? If so, you're talking fully matured corn, not sweetcorn, which is eaten quite young.

Actually, sweetcorn tends to be at its best about 2 days after the rackety- goons get it. <g>
A fairly reliable indicator for folks who know *nothing* about sweetcorn is to harvest about 20 days after the silks appear. Other clues are that the silks are starting to brown almost all the way to the cob, the ear has started to firm up in its husks, and the kernels toward the "open" end of the cob start feeling fairly good sized (the very tip rarely fills out completely). However, if your corn isn't getting 6 hrs of sun a day, or if the pollination was poor, those are not going to be quite as reliable indications as if it were grown under "standard" conditions.
The real test is to open the husks a bit and punch a kernel with a thumbnail. If you get a milky fluid out, it's pretty much ready to eat. If you get something that looks pretty doughy, it's past prime (you get about 1 week of the milk stage at summer temps for most corns.)
There are some pictures here that might be helpful: http://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/articles.01/Grainfill-0717.html You want the "R3" stage.
Even more helpful would be to stop by a local farmstand, farmers market, or grocery store with a knowledgeable produce manager, and ask them to help you choose some corn, and show you what you're looking for. (I'm an Iowan transplanted to Oregon, and I seem to amaze folks by sorting ears of various maturities without having to open the husks -- it really just takes some experience, and once you've learned, it's like riding a bicycle.)
Unless you've planted SE or Supersweet corns, it's good to harvest just before you cook it -- within an hour or so of cooking. It's not necessary to start the water boiling before you go out to pick and run back with the harvest, shucking as you go, but that's sure good corn when you do. <g>
Kay
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Kay Lancaster wrote:

with bare areas with few or no kernels. Is this because of poor pollination? This corn patch is a square of 16 plants, 4 rows of 4 each. three rows were Golden Bantam, one row was a butter and sugar hybrid called Epi d'Or (I live in France, hence the French variety name.)
I also wondered - why is corn planted in hills? Fields of corn are obviously not, but all home gardeners I know plant corn in hills. Is it to give the roots an easier time in looser dirt?
Thanks.
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horselover wrote:

Probably yes. The tassels have one silk for every potential kernel. If a silk is not pollinated, that kernel will not develop, while nearby kernels that were pollinated will develop.
This corn patch is a square of 16 plants, 4 rows of 4 each.

Since pollination is so important, I plant in hills so each of the stalks in the hill will have an opportunity to pollinate all the others. I have also had good results with rows (like three rows planted close together, with pathways between the groups of three so we can week and harvest). A single long row would probably not achieve decent pollination.
I have also stopped planting multiple varieties in my small garden, as some hybrids do not get along at all with others, and I have read that if a SE hybrid cross pollinates with a non SE variety, you will end up with field corn, and I don't have a horse to eat that.
I had decent results this year with two plantings separated by three weeks and my tomato plants. That gave a longer period of harvest, but some beast started visiting our corn when it was almost ripe, so my wife picked the remaining ears before they were perfectly ripe, rather than letting the beast get them.
I had read that the French don't eat corn, considering it a food for animals. That's their loss, if you ask me.

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horselover wrote:

Incomplete pollination. Each kernel must be pollinated through its "silk" which is actually its stigma and style which receive the pollen and transport it to the ovaries (immature kernels).

This is the reason for poor pollination. You are restricting the ability of each variety to pollinate other like plants. You would be better off with 4 hills. Where each hill was a small square of the 4 similar plants. The Golden Bantam should have pollinated the best since there were more of them.

Farmers use seed planters which are designed to plant rows. They plant many rows of all the same variety so that pollination is not a problem. If you look at a corn field, the rows on the outside of the field have the poorest pollination. Most home gardeners use the hills to facilitate pollination and harvesting. If the plants are optimal distance apart, you will get 2 to 4 ears per plant and they will be completely pollinated except in droughts when the silk sometimes dies before pollination is complete. There must be adequate potassium in the soil for healthy pollination also. Corn likes a fair amount of fertilizer.
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Not@home wrote:

I guess I don't have the right mental picture of this - why would the fact that the stalks are on hills make pollinating easier than if they were planted at the same closeness but on flat ground?

Indeed! For a nation that's supposed to be so expert with food, they are surprisingly clueless about corn. You do see it in the supermarket occasionally but the ears are weeks old and tough as wood, and usually moldy to boot. But in my experience the French are very conservative about food and not eager to catch on to new ideas. Broccoli is a recent addition to the veggies available, only showing up in the past ten years, a native tells me.

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horselover wrote:

My parents planted in hills, but never said why. I know their garden didn't have good drainage, so perhaps the reason was to avoid having the seeds in standing water, as they didn't have the treated seeds available then. Now, I just use the term to distinguish from planting in rows; by the time I put the seed in the hills, and tamp down the dirt, the hills are virtually flat. The closeness of the stalks is what is important for good pollination.
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Poor pollination. You might try hand pollinating, as you're growing so few plants of each cultivar. To do this, watch for the pollen starting to be released from the tassels -- in most cultivars, this happens about two days before the silks are ready. Break off a couple of the tassels and brush the tassels that are shedding pollen all over the silks. Repeat every day for about 8 days (break off some fresh tassels each time, so the pollen should be nicely viable), and you should see good pollination.
If you don't want your corn to mature all at once, you can also plant serially... one row this week, one row the next, etc., etc.
Another cause of poor pollination is heat damage just before the tassels are mature. Pollen formation is quite heat sensitive, so temps much over 100oF/38oC can do some real damage if the heat comes at the wrong time in the growth cycle.

There's probably some advantage to it for early plantings in areas with lots of spring moisture. Sweet corn is much more sensitive to some of the soil fungi, and because it tends to need more heat to emerge than field corn does, if you plant it in a hill, there's 1) good drainage to help keep the soil fungi somewhat suppressed and 2)the hill is a smaller amount of soil, so heats faster in the daytime. That's the reason most sweet corn seed sold here is treated with a fungicide. All that said, I've never bothered to hill corn when I lived in the midwest, and now that I live in a cool Mediterranean climate, I plant in furrows with seeds I've pre-sprouted on sand in the house -- I plant just as the radicle (first root) is emerging.
Kay
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Kay Lancaster wrote:

planting corn again next year, assuming I can find a place. This year we were able to use the garden space of some friends who were away all summer. We have a small yard behind our house but a few hills of corn would take over the whole place, and also it has high walls all around and so doesn't get sun except for a few hours at mid day.
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Pull back the leaves, like pulling back a foreskin, and stick your fingernail into a kernel. If it exudes a milky juice, it is ready to harvest. Enjoy.
Hello,
How do you know when to harvest corn? The stuff I've read talks about moisture content. What exactly is that? How do I measure it without buying a scientific device? Or is there another way? I've got a backyard garden, with about 15 corn plants. I'm not going to buy expensive farm equipment for a garden this size.
I've also heard people say that you can just open up an ear and look at it. What do I look for? When?
The seed was called "90-day corn". But it's growing in partial shade, so I expect it to will take longer than 90 days.
When responding, assume that I don't know what I'm talking about.
Thank you.
Ted Shoemaker, certified Gray Thumb
Madison, Wisconsin, US
USDA zone 4/5 AHS heat zone 4/5 Sunset zone 43
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