Sonoma County Garden Docs: Here's how to harvest corn at its sweetest

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THOMAS B. OF SANTA ROSA ASKS: I am growing a variety of sweet corn called Bodacious. How can you tell when the corn is ready to pick? So far they’re looking good!

Corn is ready to be picked as soon as the ears have completely filled out. This goes for all types of corn. You can tell when they are filled out by gently squeezing the end of an ear. If the ear is rounded or blunt rather than pointed, it is ready to harvest. Look also at the silks. They will turn brown and dry up when the ears are almost ready to be picked.

If you’re just not sure after squeezing the ends, pull back a little bit of the husk to see if the kernels have filled out. They should look creamy yellow or white. Another trick is to pierce a kernel with your thumbnail. This is a good test for ripeness. If the liquid that squirts out is watery, that ear isn’t quite ready. If the liquid is white or milky, it’s ready to be picked.

For the best taste pick the corn as close to the time you’re going to eat it as possible. Better yet, have the water boiling when you head out to harvest! To pick your sweet corn, grab an ear and twist it down and pull it off the stalk.

If you want the corn to be as sweet as possible, try to harvest each ear at its peak. The natural conversion of sugar into starch is sped up when you harvest the ear. The moment you pick an ear of sweet corn, its sugars start to change into starches. In about 24 hours, most corn varieties will convert more than half of their sugar content to starch.

The new super sweet varieties however, will stay sweet much longer after harvest compared to the old standards and heirlooms.

NANCY L. OF WINDSOR ASKS: I grow a few different lettuces during the fall months, as I like a variety of lettuce in a salad. But it proves to be too much lettuce to grow for one person. I saw microgreens on a restaurant menu, ordered them and loved them. How can I grow them?

Microgreens is a general term for a variety of leafy greens that are picked at a very early stage of their growing cycle. Known as the “coteleydon growth stage,” this is the time when plants sprout their first set of true leaves. Depending on the varieties, microgreens can be harvested as early as two weeks. This is what makes them so appealing to the seasoned and beginning gardeners alike. Common types of vegetables that can be used for microgreens include arugula, beet greens, bok choy, chard, dandelion greens, kale, onions, mustard, radish greens, spinach and watercress. Herbs such as basil, chervil, chives, cilantro and parsley can be added as well.

People who eat microgreens say they have a very strong and concentrated flavor, much stronger than the mature plant’s flavor would be. The nutritional value of microgreens is exceptional as well. Microgreens differ from sprouts in that sprouts are grown using only water and microgreens are grown in soil, taking up the nutrients as they grow and increasing their nutritional value. And since they also undergo more photosynthesis than sprouts, which adds to their nutrient value.

To grow microgreens, take a shallow tray with drainage holes. Fill it with a good potting soil, level it out, and tamp it down lightly. Sow the different seeds of your choice or buy a pack of seeds that are already mixed for you. Sprinkle the seeds on the soil surface, covering most of the soil. Cover the seeds just enough so you can’t see them. Place the tray in a sunny location, inside or outside and keep a careful eye out for possible frost. Water carefully so as not to dislodge and move the seeds around. A spray bottle works well. Keep the soil damp and do not over water.

When the sprouts are about 2-3 inches high, use sharp scissors and cut what you need. Then enjoy!

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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