Saturday, August 13, 2011

How To Know When Corn is Ready to Harvest

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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.


Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

The corn looks good.probably will taste better because you grew it :o)..How'd you fix your blog , mine is running all over the place sideways :o(

Kris said...

Yeah, it always taste better when you grow it. Go into template designer and then look for page widths. I updated the post to include a screen shot of what it looks like. Check that and let me know if that helped.

Barbara said...

This was EXACTLY what I needed today! This gardening experiment has been fun and mostly successful but there's so much to learn and so much information out there that it can be overwhelming. You've really done a great job of putting some useful tips out here in a way that makes sense. Thank you!

Kris said...

Barbara - Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate that. You are absolutely right, there is so much information it is overwhelming to me too. I am always learning new things, and for me that is part of what life is all about. Learning by doing and then sharing that information with others.

Crafty Cristy said...


Thanks for this. This is my first year growing corn and I have no idea how to tell when it is ripe.

I have wondered why everything has started leaning lately. I must be getting close. (The kernels are still green, but maybe a week or two from your post.)

Kris said...

No problem Cristy, glad to help you anytime.

Michelle said...

Thanks for the info. I'm gonna check it tomorrow morning!

Kris said...

Your welcome Michelle, good luck to you.

christine_wasankari said...

Thank you for this amazing information. This is the first year I've grown corn, and not only that I'm in the northwest, coastal WA (strike two LOL) We had a bit of warmth finally so the last two months it really took off and I had not one idea of when we should harvest it. Thank you again, I think our is ready now and I should get on it. :-)

Kris said...

Christine - I am glad you found the information on this post helpful. Good luck with your corn harvest.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the help! This is my 2nd year planting corn - last year I had a dozen ears, and they were perfect! At least they were perfect for the raccoons and squirrels, because I didn't fence them in and they ate them all. Not only did they eat them, they were malicious, and tore them up for fun. I wonder why such cute animals are so adept at creating havoc, and for seemingly no reason! I just stood there and cried, I was so frustrated and sad. This year it's fenced in all 4 sides, and I have 40 or so plants, most about 8-9 feet tall! I've been hesitant to try pulling an ear off, as I have no experience with corn except to see it go the wayside to critters.
Thanks again for the info - I'm going out now to check!


Ellie Robertson said...

Hi! Thank you for the info. This is my first year growing corn and I really didn't expect anything as I'm in Scotland! I'll need to go check my 3 corn plants in the morning!

Kris said...


Thanks for the comment and sorry about the late response. Wow, Scotland is an amazing country. I hope your corn did well.

Kris said...


I hope your corn did well, and your right in that corn is so good that it is hard to keep the wild animals from eating it before you do. I was lucky that I lived in a subdivision and I didn't have to worry about that.

Jade Graham said...

Not even sure where to start on this one! My home has been sadly neglected since all my efforts have been put into the garden.

Rauel Blasi said...

Thank you very much, yes this helps me out enormously!!! You just don't know!!