Friday, 7 September 2012

Sweetcorn in a polytunnel

Growing sweetcorn in Scotland may be considered a frivolous luxury. But when you cook that first cob and know that that taste is only enjoyed from a freshly picked cob it makes the growing truly worthwhile.

This year our last frost in spring was at the beginning of June and at the end of August we had our first light frost of autumn. Not a long growing season this year for tender produce! Growing sweetcorn outdoors would not be possible. Fortunately the polytunnel kept that August frost at bay and also protected the tall stems of the sweetcorn safe from the gales that raged at the beginning of September. Now the sweetcorn is ready for harvest.

Is it difficult to grow? No, embarrassingly easy. Being a grass it isn't too fussy about soil type or depth, and it is best to grow the individual plants closely together to ensure that there is good pollination. I have even grown the plants in a large fish box with excellent results.

I start the seed off individually in modules around April in the warmth of the greenhouse. It does not like the cold and it is important to ensure that it is planted out in the polytunnel once the risk of frost has passed. Larger plants can withstand cooler conditions. This year I potted up the plants partly because the space wasn't ready for them and also because the spring was so cool. Once they were planted in the polytunnel they were given extra protection on cold nights with a tent of fleece.

When the warmer weather came they romped away and then it is just a matter of shaking the male flowers at the top of the plants to let the pollen fall onto the female tassels below. Keep watering and finally start to check the cobs at the end of August. Ripe kernels will release a milky fluid when the skin is broken. Have the pan of water on the boil and put the cobs in once you have stripped off the outer covering. In a few minutes you will be enjoying a taste only home producers have the privilege of experiencing.