The Q&A Archives: Corn is tough and starchy

Question: Last year, the first dozen ears of my Illini Super Sweet corn tasted great, but the rest of the ears were tough and starchy. I watered and fertilized the corn well and no other corn was growing in the area. What happened? John Black Fort Salonga,NY

Answer: It sounds as if the ears were overmature, says Virginia Hildebrandt, sweet corn breeder at Stokes Seeds Inc. in Buffalo, New York. It's important to pick this corn variety early or it will get tough and starchy. Illini Super Sweet is basically a field corn with the sh2 gene attached to it. The kernels are naturally tough and if picked late, they get even tougher, she explains. I'd suggest picking the second ears earlier, or switching to a variety with softer kernels, such as Extra Early Super Sweet. It's also possible that unbeknownst to you, there were other corn varieties growing near your plot. As an sh2 variety, Illini Super Sweet should be isolated by about a mile from any other corn that's releasing pollen at the same time, says Hildbrandt. Or, plant a variety that releases pollen a week before or after Illini Super Sweet does.

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