It is going to be difficult to know when sweetcorn is ready to pick, especially if you have never grown them before. Why? Because the entire cob is hidden by layer after layer of thick, fibrous husk. The trouble is that you need to get the timing right – pick too early and you have just wasted an ear, pick too late and the corn has lost all of its delicious, sweet flavour.

All things considered, you can expect your corn to be ready for harvest at the end of the summer, but to pick it at its optimum quality will require a bit more information and experience. The ripening of the cob will of course depend on the weather, however you can expect it to be ready for harvesting any time from 17 to 25 days after the time the first silks have appeared - but you are going to have to keep a close eye on it. A good indicator for this time would be when the silks have turned very dark brown to black. Of course sweetcorn will mature more quickly in hot weather and slower in cool weather.

Sweetcorn are ready to harvest when the kernels are in the 'milk' stage, and there is a simple test that you can do to check this. When the fluid inside each kernel is still liquid and the skin of the kernel is still tender then the cob is ready for picking so puncture a kernel with your thumbnail to make sure. If a clear liquid appears, then the corn is immature. If the liquid is milky, then the corn is ready, and if no liquid appears then the corn is over-ripe.

Once the cobs have been picked they can turn very quickly as the sugar within the kernels will rapidly turn to starch. Even when stored properly they can be past their best within a couple of days, however there are steps you can take to make the most of this short harvesting period.

Try to harvest sweetcorn in the morning before you get a build up of field heat but if this is unavoidable submerge the cobs in cold water for a minute or so to let them cool down. Then – as soon as you can – they need to be refrigerated with a mind to being eaten over the next couple of days. There is an old wives tale saying that the pot should be boiling when the corn is picked and although that is a slight exaggeration it does convey the importance of speed when it comes to picking and eating corn at its best.


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