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How to Harvest Corn, Pick Corn, and Clean Corn

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Written by Aupoet   

corn on the cob 

 Knowing how to harvest corn, pick corn, and clean corn, is an easy to learn and valuable skill. Nothing beats the taste of fresh sweet corn while it is in season and freezing vegetables is a great way to enjoy their flavors all year. The corn harvesting season can be short though, as all the sweet corn ears in a patch will mature at roughly the same time. The grower is given an over abundance of corn production for a short period that has to be dealt with quickly to insure the best possible results. This article covers how to harvest corn, shuck corn, and clean, sweet corn to prepare it either for immediate cooking and eating or to get it ready for freezing. Freezing sweet corn is one of the best ways to lock in its fresh "just from the corn patch" taste to be able to enjoy it all year long.

corn fieldcorn

1.  When growing corn, it is important to know the signs to look for to pick corn at its peak. Watch for the corn stalks to tassel. The tassels are the pollen producing structures that form at the top of each corn stalk. The tassels will form when the young ears of corn are ready to be pollinated and have green silks at their top ends. Approximatly two to three weeks after tasseling, depending on how hot the weather is, the corn variety, and the health and vigor of the corn plants, the ears will reach what is known as the roasting ear stage and be ready to pick. Once the corn has started tasseling, you need to watch the ears for signs of maturity. The silks on each ear will start to turn brown when it is mature. Understand that the corn stalk, leaves, and shucks, will still be green when the ears are ripe, not brown and dried out. Corn to be used for animal feeds and as dry corn is left in the field to turn brown and dry before harvesting, not sweet corn. Want to learn more about growing corn and which corn varieties to plant? Try visiting my website, growitveg.com, which is all about vegetable gardening from soil conditioning and gardening designs, to planting schedules and vegetable choices. 


2.  When you see the silks starting to turn brown, check the corn daily especially in hot weather as it will mature rapidly. Pull back the green corn shucks on an ear and look to see if the kernels are filled out. Push a fingernail into one of the kernels and see if a milky liquid squirts out. Reaching the milk stage is a sure sign it is time to harvest corn. Once an ear of corn has been opened pests will get into it, so if the first ear is not mature yet, don't go through the patch opening many more as they will be wasted. If the ear is filled out and mature to your liking, notice how it feels compared to an unmature ear. See how firm it is and how brown the silks are. Once you have picked a few ears you will be able to spot the mature ones by how they look and feel. Pull the ear off the corn stalk by pulling it down and twisting it to break it off. Now about corn ear worms that will probably be present especially if the corn came from a home garden. Don't be put off by any worms you may find in the ears of corn, as I like to say "they are proof that the corn is good". Usually they are only in the tip end of the ear and have only done a small amount of damage that can be easily removed shucking corn. Don't crush them as that will only cause a bigger mess as their body fluids will run down the kernels. Commercially grown sweet corn will not have many, if any corn ear worms as it will have been repeatedly sprayed to kill them. It is up to you whether you would rather trust the safety of toxic chemicals or put up with the worms.

3.  After the picking corn it is important to process it as soon as possible. The sugars in the corn will start to turn to starch right after it is picked meaning the flavor will diminish with each passing hour. Also if the ears get too hot they will start to sour. If you cannot shuck and clean it right away, keep the ears as cool as possible. Don't leave them in plastic bags or containers that will hold the heat in. It is also best to harvest corn in the cool of the morning so the ears will not be heated up already and so you have the rest of the day to work with the corn. If you are buying already picked corn, check to see that it is fresh. Look for green shucks and milky kernels and ask when it was picked. As far as how much corn to buy or pick, you can count on each bushel or around 60 ears of well filled out corn to yield some 7 to 10 quarts of whole grain corn.


4.  Methods to shuck corn vary. The way I do it works very well if there are worms present as it insures that you won't have to cut into any worms as the ear is shucked. For this method you will need a large sharp butcher type knife. You will also need a container to place the shucks and other wastes in and a container to hold the cleaned ears of corn. It is best to shuck corn outside because of the mess and because of other insects that may be in the ears. Take an ear of corn and look at the end that was attached to the stalk. Notice that it has a shoulder where the top of the ear of corn is under the shucks. Look at the picture to see what I mean. You want to cut through the shucks and cob right below the top of that shoulder so as to not cut off much of the ear when shucking. Put you thumb on the opposite side of the ear and push the ear into the knife. You want to cut slowly and not all the way through the shucks on the side of the ear where your thumb is. Rock the knife as you cut through the center corn cob till the cob breaks off and then pull the still intact shucks on that side down to uncover the ear of corn.


5.  Now that the shucks are pulled down on one side of the ear of corn you will be able to see any worm and the mess it has made at the tip of the ear. Turn the ear over and slice off the tip of the ear removing all the worm mess in one swipe and pulling the shucks down and off on the other side. The silks can then be removed along with any other bad spots on the corn. Sometimes a worm will make a hole in the center of the ear. If you come across an ear with a wormhole on the side, pull the shucks down on that side first to see if there has been much damage. Sometimes, if damaged in the center, the ear may not be worth shucking all the way. If you see red areas on the corn kernels that is a sign that the ear is soured and is no good. Look at the picture to see what these red spots look like. Worm free corn can be shucked by hand pulling the green shucks down from the tip end and breaking them off from the ear at the stem end. Don't try to cut through the shucks and cob by laying the ear on a hard surface and pushing a knife through it. You will only crush the kernels on the opposite side of the ear. You may find ears of corn that are not completely covered with kernels of corn but are skippy. This is due to incomplete pollination usually caused by the corn being planted in one long row rather than in a patch of shorter rows. Corn is pollinated by the wind so a single row of corn stalks, when they are tasseling, can only have the pollen spread to adjacent stalks when the wind blows in one of two directions. Corn planted in patches of several short rows can have its pollen spread when the wind blows in any direction. Corn can also be skippy if it matured during a period of drought or from a lack of soil nutrients.


6.  Once you have shucked all the corn, it can be taken inside to be washed, thoroughly de-silked, and processed for immediate eating or for freezing. Corn can be frozen either cut off the cob or left on the cob. I prefer to cut it off the corn cob to save room in the freezer and because the cob seems to take some of the flavor out of the corn to me. Check out my other article: How to freeze fresh Sweet corn, to fill the freezer so your family can enjoy the sweet corn harvest all year long.


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