Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Corn Confidential (page 4 of 4)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Breeder's Favorites Revealed

Back in the good old days, you had few decisions to make about which corn variety to choose, because just about everybody planted either'Silver Queen' or 'Seneca Chief'. All you had to decide was which color corn you'd prefer to eat.

The choices are more confusing now. Besides the "normals," which have the normal sugar gene (su) and its variations (su+ and su++ ), we now have sugar-enhanced corn (indicated by the symbols se, SE or EH, depending on its genetic makeup) and supersweet corn, also known as shrunken two corn or sh2. Within these three main categories, there are still other variations (some of the newer supersweets, for example, have both the sh2 and su gene).

Each type has its merits. If sweetness is what you're after, supersweets are the way to go. Thanks to the sh2 gene, these have a very high sugar content, and because they don't convert that sugar to starch, they stay sweet for weeks. But the kernels are less vigorous than other types, requiring soil temperatures of 75oF and plenty of moisture and fertilizer to germinate. And for the home gardener, they can present a space problem, since they must be isolated so they won?t cross-pollinate with any other corn (it turns the kernels starchy).

David Wolfe, assistant professor and corn breeder at Cornell University, says, "For the home gardener, the sugar-enhanced varieties are the way to go. They're still plenty sweet but are creamier, giving a better flavor." Most breeders we talked with agreed. "Sugar-enhanced varieties are not sickeningly sweet, have much better cold tolerance, and are more tender than the supersweets, yet still hold their quality," explains John Gale, horticulturist at Stokes Seeds, Inc. There are still plenty of the old standard varieties that are excellent, too. 'Silver Queen' holds its title as the top seller in the South, for instance, and yellow 'Seneca Horizon' is popular throughout the country.

Which type should you grow? There?s no easy answer. "Choosing sweet corn is subjective, according to the taste and color you're used to," says Rob Johnston of Johnny's Selected Seeds. Northeastern gardeners, for example, generally opt for the bicolors, those in the West, Northwest, and Midwest stand by the yellows, and white sweet corn is the favorite in the South.

When we talked with breeders to find out which were their top corn varieties, we quickly discovered that everyone has his own favorites. Some are listed below.

Supersweet: 'Honey 'N Pearl' and 'Illinichief';

SE: 'Sugar Buns', Bodacious', 'Miracle', and 'Silverado'

Normal: 'Merit', 'Seneca Horizon', and 'Silver Queen'

Lodging

Another problem home gardeners face is lodging: plants toppling over in heavy wind and rain. It makes a mess out of the corn patch, but it can also impair pollination and sometimes even pull the roots from the ground. The looser and more tillable your soil is, the worse the problem can be. To prevent lodging, take it easy on the mulch. If you must mulch with an organic matter, wait until late in the season, after the tassels show. You can give the plants added support by hilling them up or planting in a three- to four-inch-deep trench, filling it in as the seedlings emerge.

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