Cultivated by ancient civilizations all across the Americas, the corn plant, or maize, has remained a staple in the human diet and is the most commonly planted crop in the US today. The most planted types of commercially-grown corn, such as field corn and sweet corn, possess long green stalks and the well-known yellow kernels, but there are many other varieties available that differ in color, levels of sweetness, and purpose (e.g., livestock feed versus picnic corn-on-the-cob). For home gardens, we recommend picking a variety that will match your needs, climate, and level of growing expertise.
Painted Hill is a beautiful open-pollinated variety that’s a cross between Painted Mountain and Luther Hill varietals of sweet corn. Stalks grow 5–7′ in height and produce about 2 ears of corn per stalk approximately 7–8″ long. The ears of corn, which are mostly white and speckled with red, yellow, and purple kernels, are beautiful but tend to be less flavorful than other varieties. That said, what it lacks in flavor it makes up for in its tolerance for cold weather and ability to germinate at a lower temperature than other varietals.
Seed Depth: 1–1.5″
Space Between Plants: 12″
Space Between Rows: 24–36″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–80°F
Days for Germination: 5–10
Sow Indoors: Not recommended as corn doesn’t transplant well. If you need to start indoors due to a short growing season, plant corn in deep containers or biodegradable pots to limit root disturbance and transplant before plants are 6″ tall. As the Painted Hill variety does particularly well in cool weather, we recommend starting outdoors.
Sow Outdoors: 2–4 weeks before average first frost date.
Grows best in warm weather and will not tolerate frosts. While most varieties require soil temperatures to be at or over 65°F for good germination, the Painted Hill variety will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 50°F.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Will grow under high output fluorescent or HID lamps. Needs at least 6 hours of light daily; however, more is preferred.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy soil with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished. Generally, the earlier you are planting, the lighter and sandier soil you want. Later crops will prefer a heavier soil.
Soilless: For container growing, use a soilless mix with plenty of nutrients and good drainage.
Hydroponics: Thrives in hydroponic systems, including media beds, but will need a lot of space.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems, but will need a lot of space.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Aim for about 1 inch of water per week. Use drip irrigation to prevent water from getting on leaves. Production will be best with consistently moist soils, but avoid overwatering or allowing water to pool at the base of plants. The most important time is the few weeks leading up to the corn’s silk production.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. Amend soil with cottonseed meal and/or compost before planting. Sidedress with compost, liquid kelp, or fish emulsion when plants are 6″ tall and again when they are knee high.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar feedings of compost tea.
Mulching: Use mulch to conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, and keep weeds under control.
Covering: Protect young plants from light frosts using row covers. In cooler climates, grow corn in dark-colored raised beds or containers to warm the soil.
OTHER: Corn has shallow roots, so take care when weeding not to damage them.
Deficiency(s): A nitrogen deficiency will result in slow growth and reduced production.
Rotation: Plant corn after clover, beans, peas, or other nitrogen fixing crops. A 3- or 4-year rotation is recommended.
Companions: Grows well as a member of the Three Sisters. Avoid planting with tomatoes.
Harvest: Pick ears of corn off their stems carefully and with a slight twist when the silks are beginning to turn brown and dry out and the ear feels plump and full, usually about 3 weeks after silks first appear (earlier if growing in warm weather). You can check the ears by pulling the outer husk back and poking a kernel. Ripe kernels will emit a white milky sap; if underripe, the sap will be clear, and if overripe, it’ll be too creamy. It’s best to harvest in the morning when plants are still cool.
Storage: Keep ears of corn in the refrigerator for up to one week. The earlier you eat it after harvest, the sweeter the kernel will be. If stored too long, sugars convert to starch.
Fun Fact: The United States is the world’s top producer of corn, accounting for almost 40% of the globe’s total production! The majority of corn produced in the US goes towards feeding animals, which is a real shame considering how many lovely varieties of corn are available for human consumption. Help increase diversity in your own backyard by trying out varieties such as Painted Hill, and be sure to share them with your friends!
Preserve: Corn can be frozen fresh or blanched and frozen for later use. Also try canning fresh kernels using a pressure canner.
Prepare: Sweet corn is a big part of traditional Latin American diets. Commonly paired with beans, the two plants together provide all the necessary amino acids for good health. Add fresh raw kernels to salads and salsas. Boil, grill, or steam and eat straight off the cob for a buttery afternoon snack.
Nutritional: A gluten-free cereal, sweet corn is a good substitute for gluten products for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Sweet corn is one of the best sources of dietary fibers as 100g can provide 5% of daily fiber. Sweet corn also possesses high levels of ß-carotenes, vitamin A, flavanoids, lutein, xanthins, thiamin, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese, and ferulic acid.
Medicinal: Ferulic acid is being studied for potentially anti-cancer properties, while flavonoids may prevent lung and oral cavity cancers.
For a true taste of summer, try this Sweet Corn and Caramlized Tomato Farrotto. The Painted Hill kernels will add even more color to this already gorgeous dish!