HARRISBURG - Growers around the state are reporting come of the earliest sweet corn harvests ever - and the crop is looking real good.
Chris Powell from Strasburg in Lancaster Co. reported they started picking corn about the June 21 while Jim Paulus from Mechanicsburg in Cumberland Co. said they have been picking corn for two weeks now. Both growers indicated they were expecting a good supply of quality corn for the coming weeks. In western Pennsylvania, Ron Beinlich in Monongahela, Washington Co. was harvesting corn by June 22 and Art King in Valencia, Butler Co. was harvesting corn by June 24, about a week than usual.
The unusually warm weather this spring allowed growers to plant earlier than most years and also pushed crop along once it was planted. While there were some very we periods in some parts of the state that may have interfered with planting schedules, the generally favorable weather during June has produced a very promising outlook for this year’s sweet corn crop. As a result, consumers can expect abundant supplies of Pennsylvania sweet corn at community farmers’ markets, roadside farm markets and supermarkets across the state this summer. Fresh, local sweet corn is the best tasting corn to be had.
Growers start planting corn about the middle of March under a clear plastic mulch. The warm moist environment under the clear plastic mulch is ideal for rapid seed germination and seedling development in cool March and April days. Some growers plant their seeds through black or green plastic mulch and cover it with row covers.
Other growers go an extra step and start their corn in the greenhouse an transplant it to the field under the clear plastic row covers supported by wire hoops. All these systems represent a greater investment for the grower in terms of time, equipment and supplies but enable the grower to hit the early market. Corn planted on bare ground without mulch or row covers generally matures two to three weeks later.
Irrigation is essential to a good corn crop in many years. The critical period for adequate moisture for corn is during silking and ear development. Traditionally corn has been irrigated by overhead sprinklers or large irrigation guns that over a large area at once. Many sweet corn growers are now turning to trickle irrigation which is the most water-efficient method of irrigation available. With this method of irrigation, a plastic tube with tiny emitters is laid down between every other row of corn. Water and fertilizer are pumped into the tubes and trickles out of the roots of the sweet corn crop.
The key to great-tasting sweet corn is freshness. The sugar in sweet corn rapidly begins turning to starch within hours after being harvested. About 40 percent of the sugar can be lost in six hours at room temperature. Refrigeration slows this process, but the sooner corn is eaten after harvesting, the better it will be.
Most growers are growing sugar-enhanced or super-sweet varieties that genetically have more sugar in the kernels. Some of these early sugar-enhanced varieties where developed at Penn State University. Because they have more sugar to begin with, they can be stored for longer periods and still have acceptable sweetness. However, standard sweet corn varieties, when purchased freshly harvested, will still have a delicious, traditional corn flavor and sweetness.
According to growers across the state, most Pennsylvania’s prefer bi-color corn, traditionally known as Butter and Sugar. However, in south central and southeastern Pennsylvania, white is the preferred corn. Certain localities and clienteles still like their corn to be yellow so many growers also grow some yellow varieties.
Sweet corn is one of the leading vegetable crops in the Commonwealth with about 16,000 acres grown annually. About 95 percent of this sweet corn acreage is grown for fresh market sales. As a result, Pennsylvania ranks as the eighth largest fresh-market sweet corn producing state in the nation. About 1,000 acres of the sweet corn acreage are grown to be processed into frozen or canned products available year round. Fresh corn will be available from late June into October.
While fresh sweet corn is a delicious ingredient in many recipes, it is most popular served right on the cob, and is so simple to prepare with these tips from Penn State Cooperative Extension. Simply boil husked ears for four to seven minutes in unsalted water-salt may toughen the kernels. If you prefer grilled corn, removed the silk from the ear but leave the husk on. Soak the ears for 10 minutes in cold water and then grill them fro 15-20 minutes. To roast, remove the silk and husk from the ears, brush with melted margarine or butter an wrap in foil. Roast the wrapped ears for 15 to 20 minutes on the grill.
Fresh corn-on-the-cob is also easily prepared in the microwave by wrapping two husked ears in a damp paper towel and cooking them for seven minutes on high power, turning the ears once.
Many roadside farm markets offer larger quantities of corn for home freezing. Penn State University offers detailed instructions on the web at http://foodsafety.psu.edu/lets_preserve.html. This information is also available at any Penn State Cooperative Extension office or by contacting the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program at 717-694-3596. Many general cookbooks offer detailed instruction and recipes as well.