Sweet corn dreams

John Gibbs

The garden seed catalogs are out and gardeners are poring over them, shopping and drooling and making their plans for garden 2018. What a pleasant task to sit inside, warm and toasty on a Wisconsin winter day, watching an It’s-a- Wonderful-Life style, snow globe snowfall outside and day dreaming of what’s to come.

John Gibbs

Soon (around Valentine’s Day) Joe Brandt will crank up Greenhouse #1 at the Village Greenhouse in Gays Mills. We’ll then have a place to visit that’s warm and humid and green again, filled with juxtapositioned young plants as — just beyond the plastic, inches away — the late winter drags on as it always does. The Greenhouse in February and March is a real spirit lifter and a hopeful promise of coming spring.

Sweet corn is a much-loved garden standard. It’s right up there with tomatoes as a favorite garden crop. Sweet corn is a prideful thing to grow, tall and bold, those dark green leaves decorated with a showy, tawny tassel. It’s an all-American symbol of summer’s bounty. 

One of my first FFA projects in high school was sweet corn. I partnered with my friend Craig on a one-acre field of Golden Bantam near a major thoroughfare. We learned a lot on that project and the next year we expanded to three acres. We planted and pampered the corn, cultivated, hand weeded, irrigated, applied sulfur powder to the silks (for earworm control) with a paintbrush, and picked it.

Dave Huth takes a look at bulk Iochief sweet corn seeds at Bennett's Greenhouse.

It was sold from a roadside stand that we had cobbled together on the edge of the field. We got 50 cents a baker’s dozen for the crop and thought we were rich when we were done. In those days when we were too young to get hired for other jobs, it seemed like a lot of money.

Thousands of acres of corn decorate the landscape around us here every summer. But that’s field corn, grown for grain or silage, and, much of it anymore, for ethanol production.

I’m told that if you catch it just right, field corn can be eaten like sweet corn. All corn goes through the same growth stages and the best one for human consumption is when the kernels are in the milk stage. Full of sugary liquid before it turns to starch, the milk stage occurs quite fast when conditions are right.

Scientists have been busy for decades creating sweet corn that is bred for its high sugar content and a longer window of time for harvesting at the milk stage. The scientists are still busy; new varieties appear every year to tempt gardeners.

Once a new variety is developed, an important step is to give it a name that will appeal to gardeners. In the lab, the label KG107K8 might help the seed technicians keep dozens or hundreds of experimental varieties straight. However, the advertising department has to come up with a suitable and memorable name for the varieties that are sold to John and Jane Gardener.

UW-Madison agronomy professor Bill Tracy views "Who Gets Kissed??" sweet corn seeds in the department's Seeds Building in Madison.

Below are listed some of my favorite daydream-worthy, sweet corn variety names chosen from a list of hundreds: Krispy King, Challenger, Whiteout, Earlyvee, Double Standard Triple Play, Golden Bantam, Jubilee, Painted Hill, Aztec, Captivate, Sugar Dots, Absolute, Xtra Sweet, Brocade, Camelot, Silver King, Precious Gem, Summer Sweet, Sundance, Aspen Treasure, Cinderella, Avalon, Renaissance, Xtra Tender, Pay Dirt, Revelation, Cameo, Sugar Baby, Iochief, Aloha, Inferno, Kandy Korn, Bodacious,  Sugar Pearl, Alpine, Delectable, Honey Treat, Fantastic and Cloud Nine.

John Gibbs is a retired high school ag teacher who writes a weekly column, 'Drift from a Driftless Place' for the Crawford County Independent and Kickapoo Scout located in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.