This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
Figs. 1058-1060. This is a well-defined species-group, characterized by horny, more or less crinkled, wrinkled or shriveled kernels, having a semi-transparent or translucent appearance. Sturtevant, in 1899, lists sixty-one distinct varieties. He gives the first variety of sweet corn recorded in American cultivation as being introduced into the region about Plymouth, Massachusetts, from the Indians of the Susquehanna in 1779. Schenck, in 1854, knew two varieties. It appears, therefore, that the distribution of sweet corn into cultivation made little progress prior to the last half of the nineteenth century, green field corn having largely occupied its place prior to that period.
Sweet corn is preeminently a garden vegetable, although the large kinds are sometimes grown for silage or stover. As a garden vegetable, it is used when it has reached the "roasting ear" stage, the kernel then being well filled and plump but soft, and "in the milk." The kernel is the only part used for human food. When sweet corn is used as a fresh vegetable, it is often cooked and served on the cob. Dried sweet corn, though never an important article of commerce, was formerly much used, especially by the rural population. It is gradually being generally abandoned for canned corn, for other cereal preparations or for other vegetables, but recently desiccated corn has been put upon the market and is finding sale in certain districts, particularly in the South and in mining and lumber camps. It is practically unknown outside North America.
In the last quarter of the last century, canned sweet corn came to be an important article of domestic commerce in the United States and Canada. The total pack for the United States and Canada for the year 1898 was 4,398,563 cases, each containing two dozen two-pound tins. The following statement shows the number of cases packed for the United States for the five-year period from 1907 to 1911: on medium heavy loams that are well supplied with humus or organic matter. It luxuriates in rich warm soils. The crop rotation should be planned so as to use the coarse manures with the corn, which is a gross feeder. On the more fertile lands of the central corn-belt, nitrogenous manures may not always be used to advantage with corn, but in the eastern and southern states, where the soil has lost more of its original fertility, stable manure may often be used profitably with this crop at the rate of 8 or 10 cords to the acre, or possibly more.
In the northern part of the corn-belt in the central and western states, that is to say north of the Ohio and Missouri rivers, deep fall plowing of corn land is generally favored, but in experiments at the Illinois and Indiana experiment stations, the depth of plowing has had little influence on the crop. In sections of the eastern states, shallow plowing late in spring is favored, especially if the land be in sod. In warmer, drier regions, as in parts of Nebraska and Kansas, listing has been much practised on stubble ground. The listing plow, having a double mold-board, throws the soil into alternate furrows and ridges, the furrows being 8 or 9 inches deeper than the tops of the ridges. The corn is planted in the bottom of the furrow, either by means of a one-horse corn-drill or by a corn-drill attachment to the lister plow, consisting of a subsoil plow through the hollow leg of which the corn is dropped.
Fig. 1059. Early Marblehead sweet corn.
Fig. 1060. Golden Bantam sweet corn.
Great care should be used to secure seed-corn having high vitality as a precaution against the rotting or weak germination of the seed in the soil, should the season be cold and wet after planting. Select the seed-ears early before any hard frosts have come. At this time the large, early, and well-matured ears can be distinguished from the rest of the crop, as the husks about the early-maturing ears will have started to turn brown. Early maturity is a vital point to consider in selecting seed-ears and this quality should never be sacrificed for the size of late unmatured ears. In selecting seed for a field crop, seek systematically for stalks having little or no growth of stools and bearing single, large, and early-maturing ears. For garden use, seed from more productive stalks is desirable, even though the ears be smaller. The seed-ears should be dried at once by artificial heat so that the seed may better withstand unfavorable conditions of temperature or moisture. In many localities so-called kiln-dried seed is much in favor.
In the North, sweet corn should be planted as early as can be done without involving great risk of loss from frosts or from rotting of seed in the soil. In New York, field-planting is generally done from May 10 to May 20; in central Minnesota from May 10 to May 30. The ground having been plowed and prepared so as to make a seed-bed of fine, loose soil 3 inches deep' the seed should be planted to a depth of 1 to 3 inches. The drier and looser the soil, the greater should be the depth of planting. In planting small fields, the ground may be marked in check-rows so that the hills planted
Comparatively little of this corn was sent abroad, most of it being consumed in the States, Canada, and Alaska. In 1911 Iowa took first rank in the output of canned corn with a pack of 2,774,000 cases, which was nearly 20 per cent of the total output of the United States for that year. Illinois, New York, Maryland, Maine, Ohio, and Indiana followed in the order named. These seven states packed about 88 per cent of the total output of this country in 1911. These figures are the best obtainable and give a general idea of the progress and distribution of the corn-canning industry. Maine produces as good canned corn as is put on the market and grows the crop largely in localities having too short a season to mature the seed.
Sweet corn is commonly grown for canneries under contract, the canning company supplying the seed and guaranteeing it to be good and true to name, while the farmer agrees to grow a certain specified acreage and deliver the whole crop to the cannery at a stipulated price. In Iowa the price now paid the grower is about $7 per ton of good ears. A yield of three to four tons to the acre is considered good. The ears are snapped from the stalks with the husks on and hauled in deep wagon-boxes to the canneries. The stalks, when preserved either as ensilage or as stover, make excellent fodder. The overripe and inferior ears, being unmarketable, are left on the stalks and thereby materially increase their value, as a stock food. The stover keeps best in loose shocks, as it is liable to mold when closely packed in large stacks or bays.
As a field crop, sweet corn is grown most extensively at the intersection of the rows will stand about 3 feet 4 inches to 3 feet 6 inches apart each way, and the corn planted by a hand-planter, which each time it is thrust into the ground drops from four to five kernels, which is usually the number desired. Three feet apart is too close to allow the cultivators to work easily. For large fields, the check-row type of planter should be used. These planters drop and cover the seed in hills at uniform distances apart, planting two rows at one trip across the field. Two types of furrow-openers are now used on corn-planters; these are the runner furrow-openers and the disc furrow-openers. The former are less satisfactory on sod land or in fields covered with trash, as the runners will often ride out and leave the seed uncovered. It is better to use the disc furrow-opener on such land; besides opening the furrow better, it also pulverizes the soil about the seed. Field corn is often planted in drills by planters adapted to this purpose, but sweet corn should be in hills so that the surface of the ground may be kept loose and entirely free from weeds.
Till for the purpose of retaining soil-moisture as well as to kill weeds. This requires frequent shallow cultivation, pulverizing the surface of the soil so that it will act as a mulch to retard the evaporation of soil-moisture. Tillage should begin as soon as the planting is done, using the slanting-tooth harrow and the weeder types of implements until the corn is nearly 6 inches high, providing that the weeds are small and the ground is in friable condition. After this time the spring-tooth cultivators or the two-horse cultivators, having preferably three or four shovels on a side, are generally used, depending somewhat upon the kind of soil to be cultivated. This type of two-horse cultivator is preferable to the double-shovel type which was formerly much used. The two-horse revolving disc cultivator is sometimes used in damp, weedy ground. One great objection to this type is that too much earth is thrown toward the corn and the middles between the rows are usually left either untouched or bare of the loose soil which is needed for a mulch.
For the later cultivations the two-horse surface cultivator is coming more and more into general use.
Till at intervals of seven to ten days. At first the cultivator may run from 2 inches deep near the plant to 4 inches deep midway between the rows. Each successive cultivation should gradually increase in depth towards the middle between the rows; throw 1/2 inch or more of earth towards the corn and cover the weeds. At the last cultivation the cultivator may be kept a little farther from the corn. It should leave the soil pulverized to a depth of 2 to 3 inches over the entire field. The earlier cultivation may be deepened, if necessary, to kill weeds, even though some corn roots are severed, but cutting the roots by deep cultivation near the plants late in the season is to be especially avoided. Till the soil until the corn gets so large as to prevent the use of a two-horse cultivator. Occasionally a later cultivation, with a one-horse cultivator, may be necessary if heavy rains leave the surface soil hard and start the weeds. Often catch-crops for late pasturage, cover-crops or crops of winter wheat or rye are sown in the cornfield and cultivated in with the last cultivation. The seed is covered deeply by cultivating it in because the weather is apt to be dry at this period.
The lower part of the furrow-slice is thus left compact, furnishing a compact seed-bed, in which small grains delight.
The cultivation of sweet corn in the garden should follow the general lines indicated for field culture, but stable manure and commercial fertilizers may be used more liberally. Except on very fertile soils, it is well to put a small amount of a complete commercial fertilizer in each hill and mix it well with the soil before planting the corn. A fertilizer which has a large amount of nitrogen in quickly available form should be chosen for this purpose. Dwarf early-maturing varieties may be planted, for early use, as soon as the ground is sufficiently dry and warm. A little later, when the ground is warmer, the second-early main crop and late varieties may be planted. Later successional plantings insure a supply of green corn till frost kills the plants.
Corn is not grown commercially as a forcing crop. Attempts to force it in winter have not given encouraging results, but it may be successfully forced in spring, following any of the crops of vegetables which are grown under glass, providing the houses are piped so as to maintain the minimum night temperature at 65° F. Provide good drainage. Give a liberal application of stable manure and thoroughly mix it with the soil. In the latitude of New York the planting may be made as early as the first of March. As soon as the first leaf has unfolded, the temperature may be allowed to run high in the sun, if the air is kept moist by wetting the floors and walls. The glass need not be shaded. Keep night temperature close to 65° F., not lower and not much higher. After the silk appears, jar the stalks every two or three days, when the atmosphere is dry, and thus insure abundant pollination. Early maturing varieties, like Cory, give edible corn in about sixty days when thus treated. Corn may be forced in the same house with tomatoes, eggplant, and other vegetables which require similar range of temperature.