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I recently harvested another batch of corn, and I feel like I am getting better at knowing when my corn is ready to harvest. Now there is tons of information on the web about this topic, but I am going to share what I have learned. I hope this will help some people because even with all the information out there on this topic, I was still unsure at times on when to harvest my corn.
Lastly before I describe the steps, DO NOT rely on seed packet harvest recommendations or certain time frames on how long ears should form. The batch of corn from this post is a perfect example. It was peaches and cream corn and is supposed to be 83 days to harvest. This batch came in at 61 days from start to finish!
I will break this information into three categories on how I tell when my corn is ready: Size and feel of ear, silk color and dryness, and most importantly kernel fluid. I have posted pictures showing examples of each category.
Step 1: Size and Feel of Ear - This is what I use as a starting point. How big is the ear? Does it feel full and do the kernels feel formed all the way to the top of the ear? Is the plant leaning toward one side? This for me is the least reliable of all methods, but this is where I start when I think ears are getting close.
Step 2: Silk Color and Dryness - What I have found is that you can't just look at the silk color and when it is brown pull the ear. What is brown? Are we talking light brown, medium brown, dark brown? Each variety of corn is gonna vary so the color isn't as reliable an indicator to me as the dryness. When the corn silks first form they have kind of a glossy sheen to them. When an ear is ready to be picked the silk will look really dry almost like straw. If I find an ear in this condition, I move on to step 3 for my final judgement.
Step 3: Kernel Fluid Color - This is the final and most important step. I expose the tip of the corn ear and then pierce one of the kernels with my finger tip. If the fluid comes out milky, then it is perfect and it is ready to harvest. If the fluid comes out clear, you are a little too early, cover the ear back up and wait a few more days. If no fluid comes out, but squirts starchy gunk then you have waited too long. There is nothing wrong with the ear at this stage, it just won't be at the optimal sweetness.
I hope this information is helpful, please see the pictures below for details.
Step 1: See how this corn plant is leaning. You won't always have this, but this actually prompted me to take a closer look at this batch since this corn was only sixty days old. Sure enough 75% of the corn was ready to be picked upon further inspection.
Step 1: This is the ear of corn from the leaning stalk. Look at how big and full it looks, you could feel the kernels too at the tip.
Step 2: From the same batch of corn, here is a perfect example of what the silk will look like when ready to harvest. Notice how dry it looks, but it is not necessarily dark brown. Color is not always the best indicator.
Step 3: I expose the tip of the ear, and you can see the kernels were fully formed to the tip even though there was some damage on this ear from ants / silk worms. This is why I do not trust feel alone, many times bugs will eat away the tips of your ears and they won't feel full at the tip even though they are ready.
Step 3: Finally, I pierce a kernel and look for milky discharge. This is just right.
If you follow the three steps listed above, you should have great looking corn picked at its peak like this.