Sweet rewards from sweetcorn
Published on: Sunday, January 05, 2020
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A stack of sweetcorn ready to be eaten raw or steamed.
HAVING stumbled and staggered out of the recent stupor as a result of celebrating the dual holidays of Christmas and New Year, it is now time to get back to the real world in the garden or pottering around with containers.  

Once the ambling and bungling legwork has stopped, just go and grab a piece or two of gardening tools such as secateurs or trowels, and you should be on your way to a very productive commencement of the new year.

And what better and easier way is there than to grow grass, the type that can yield something edible.  

Yes, grass, as grass is so prolific that it can easily green up vast stretches of land surface both in the rural as well as urban areas.  

Along the way, a succession of flora will come in, from the small plants to the large trees. If left unattended, nature will reclaim whatever that rightly belongs to her in a matter of time.  

This is what is happening to the huge swaths of land that is at the moment abandoned at Tanjung Aru where it is possible to find many varieties of creepers, grasses, shrubs, trees etc, together with a few animals too.  Many people would describe the scenario as belukar, while others would say it is more akin to a youthful jungle.

It so happens that one of the grasses that can yield edible stuff is sweetcorn which is the soft and sweet form of corn or maize.  Therefore, to kick off your new gardening plans for the new year, nothing is more encouraging, simpler and rewarding than to start growing grass of the sweetcorn type.

This does not mean that as sweetcorn is a member of the grass family, no care and attention is required.  However, one might be excused for thinking that since the grasses in the fields, on the traffic islands and in the belukar are capable of growing so luxuriantly without much or any care, then sweetcorn should hopefully be able to perform just as well under the same circumstances.


Only a pair of seedlings are allowed per planting point.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.  If you should neglect your plants, then you might just as well sing sayonara to them.  

Like all domesticated plants, some form of care and physical inputs are necessary to ensure good performance or better yield.  And in the case of the sweetcorn, large cobs and juicy kernels are what we want.

Within the state of Sabah, the sweetcorn is widely grown and is a very popular edible product.  It can be eaten raw, steamed, blanched, boiled, fried, roasted etc.  

Not only that, even other members of the animal kingdom enjoy raiding the corn plot once in a while, especially those in isolated locations planted by people of doubtful origin or character.  Such pests may range from six-legged insects, to creepy-crawlies, to two-legged mammals, including humans.  Sadly, the latter group often forms the greediest and most destructive of pests.

At the ongoing price of RM7-10 for only several fibrous and miserable cobs, the sweetcorn can still be considered as pricey even after having been popularised since decades ago.  

This is more so especially since consumers are not averse to wolfing down several cobs at a sitting which may therefore cost a tidy bundle to feed the appetite.

However, with today’s advances in horticulture, it is still possible to have lots of the yummy cobs without digging deep and right through your pocket.  How? Just get cracking and produce your own cobs!


A small bed of sweetcorn grown in the backyard.


How to grow sweetcorn at home

Sweetcorn can be easily grown in your backyard, or even in pots if you do not have the compound.  So it does not matter whether you are living on the ground with large gardens or perched high up in apartments or condos. 

There are a few things to do, though.

Inputs – these are the things you need to provide for the successful cultivation of the crop.  First of all, you need to have some of the necessary things like seeds, tools, fertilisers/manure, and suitable soil.  A pair of gloves would also be highly beneficial too especially for those with delicate and thin skins.

To grow good plants, sweetcorn seeds being hybrids, must be bought for every planting.  Avoid collecting seeds from old plants as they will produce very disappointing results.  It is necessary to have some organic manure such as granulated chicken dung that may be bought in packets, as well as NPK compound fertiliser. The former is clean and does not smell so awfully but will be completely odourless if covered with soil after application.

Soil Preparation – choose a site that is flood-free and unshaded.  If the soil is fertile, proceed to dig to a depth of 20-30cm while at the same time loosening up the lumps of earth.  If the soil is poor, it should be supplemented with the addition of sufficient quantities of a good topsoil. Manure and NPK should also be mixed in thoroughly while spreading the soil in a planting bed of up to 20cm high.  The bed of soil is then allowed to settle for one to two weeks before sowing of seeds may commence.

Sowing Seeds – before sowing, the planting points should be set out on the soil bed.  Rows should be 60cm apart while the distance between plants within each row should be 20cm.  Seeds are usually sown to a depth of 2cm at a rate of three to four seeds per point.  They are covered with a layer of soil but as the seedlings appear, they are later thinned to leave only one to two strong ones per point when they are about 15cm tall.   

Normally the gardening enthusiast decides for himself the specifications that best suits his own judgement but fortunately, everyone knows that over-sowing or over-planting will not bring optimum results.


Looking after your sweetcorn

Planting is easy, but that is not the end of the job.  In fact, that is the beginning of a journey of fun and enjoyment.  Just treat it as some form of exercise to keep out the belukar as well as the bulges.

Overall, the maintenance of your sweetcorn should turn out to be a real pleasure.  Since the number of plants on the ground or in pots are few, the various maintenance tasks such as watering, weeding, fertilising and pest and disease control are surprisingly breezy.

Watering – this is a simple but necessary job which must be carried out regularly.  In fact, it starts right from the moment seeds are sown.  Water should be applied twice a day on hot and dry days, that is, in the mornings and evenings, but when the weather pours, then it is considered a rest day.

Weeding – weeds should be removed by hand in order to prevent competition for nutrients.  As the corn grows, more and more roots are produced at a higher and higher level, and this therefore requires some earthing-up to reduce exposure as well as provide some support to the stem.

Fertilising – this should be carried out once in two or three weeks.  It is best to apply manures and fertilisers between the rows of corn.  Sometimes, this task is done together with weeding and earthing-up of the plants.  Some compost may also be applied over the soil around the base of the stem.  Otherwise, mulching may also be carried out at the end of the maintenance exercise.

Pests and Diseases – for a small plot of sweetcorn, the use of pesticides is not recommended.  A number of little stubborn suckers, chewers and borers such as aphids and grasshoppers are certain to invade after a number of plantings but these are mild irritants which can easily be handled.


A corn plant with double cobs which may, on average, be smaller in size.


Harvesting of sweetcorn

Surprisingly, sweetcorn grows very fast.  It takes only two weeks to grow from good seeds to a height of 20-25cm.  The first male flowers are produced within one and a half months, and the first tiny cobs can be seen a little later.  

Mature cobs can be harvested from 60-80 days for the common varieties, or a little later for some others. In fact, the one I grew gave me my first harvest exactly on the 60th day from the time seeds were first sown.

Normally, sweetcorn does not keep well after harvesting unless it is immediately cooled or deep-frozen for longer periods of storage.  

If this is not done, the sugars in the kernels may rapidly convert to starch under our high temperature conditions.

 Therefore, if the corn is not consumed quickly after harvesting, it is difficult for the kernels to maintain its sweet and tender quality for more than a couple of days.

So, for market-goers going out to buy sweetcorn this weekend, make sure they are the freshly harvested ones.

 Otherwise, don’t be surprised to chew and grind only on old fibrous kernels and tough fibres that lack the sweet juicy quality.

If you are harvesting your own sweetcorn, it is necessary to recognise the prime harvestable stage of the cobs.  At this stage, the kernels should be plump and well-filled, and when poked at, it should exude a milky fluid that is very sweet to the taste.  This is the time when the sugar content in the kernels is at its peak.  

There are claims from some people that such fluids are perfect for cooling, smoothening and tightening sagging, wrinkled or crumpled facial skins. Nevertheless, it is best to let the experts deal with it although the dream of turning 60 to 16 continues to live on since time immemorial.

To recognise a suitable harvestable stage, it is necessary to look at the silky hairs that grow out from the tip of the cobs.  If the silk is somewhat withered and a little dry, then the ears may be harvested for immediate consumption.  Some people tend to open up the husks or sheaths to look at the kernels but this is not a foolproof way to determine prime sweetness.

To store fresh sweetcorn for more than a couple of days, it is best to blanch the cobs and then deepfreeze them.  Just keeping them in the chiller of the refrigerator would not do as the kernels continue to degrade over time, and may become very fibrous and bland after a few days, thus affecting optimum eating quality.

Jom chomp, chomp, chomp-bah!


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