Baby corn is awesome isn’t it? Great hot or cold, depending on the dish, and is actually delicious right out of the can. So many will want to know how to grow this delightful dwarf vegetable in the indoor garden, because ‘baby’ gives you the idea that the plant will be petite.
Guess what… it’s not a corn variety, its just immature ears of corn. Yep, it’s any kind of corn at all that’s harvested a couple days after the silk appears on the wee ears. The plants are pretty big by the time there are baby ears to harvest, and since most corn varieties produce 3-4 ears per stalk, you’ll be hard-pressed to produce a good harvest without a good chunk of actual ground. So, in case you were wondering, it’s not efficient to grow tiny ears of corn inside your house.
You can grow corn shoots though, which are sprouts, and you don’t even need a grow light. How cool is that? Way cool, really, except for the cost of the seed! That and finding a source that can deliver a reasonable price sans the icky insecticide coating. Be prepared for sticker shock, because organic corn seed sells for $3.00 USD an ounce or $20 per pound. How many corn seeds are in an ounce? I saw it noted somewhere that it’s 30-40 kernels. So getting seed for corn shoots this way makes it more expensive than filet mignon. Pretty ridiculous, but you have to remember that you’re not making efficient use of the seed itself with such a harvest.
But, before you give up entirely on enjoying the sweet, delicious flavor of corn from you little indoor garden, there is hope. That is there will be if you go about this properly. Don’t even try drying corn on the cob sold at the grocery store. That won’t work, and neither will you be farther ahead buying the said immature corn seed from your local farm market. Sweet corn is picked long before the kernels have reached the stage that they will sprout. For that to happen the fruit has to mature on the plant, and in the case of corn, you wouldn’t want to eat it once this stage of ripening is reached. It’s tough-skinned and far less flavorful. People like sweet, juicy, and tender young corn. Once it reaches the point where it’s heading into the viable seed range of life – most would toss it in the compost heap after the first bite or two.
Which is why anyone who tries growing corn shoots (aka corn sprouts) by drying store-bought corn discover that all they wind up with is mold. Would you expect a crouton to grow wheat? There’s just no reproductive stuff inside the corn you’d eat for dinner. It’s still wet behind the ears… so to speak.
You can grow corn shoots from organic popping corn like you’d find in a dried form pre-bagged at places like health food stores and Whole Foods. You can also grow this quick to harvest crop from organic field corn. Yes, the same stuff that when grown to maturity is used to feed organically raised cows, pigs and chickens. They’re both still sweet in it’s immature forms. It’s sweet corn that will always be the most expensive.
Corn shoots are grown in total darkness using the same methods one would to grow any kind of sprouts, but they do need air circulation. Basically what you need is water and a sprouting tray, or a growing tray and a soil taco like those we featured in Issue 4 of Garden Culture Magazine (yeah – the print version). Even when migrating to more budget-minded types of seed, the cost of growing corn shoots will remain much higher than other types of fast and easy indoor crops. Like anything sweet, view it as a treat one enjoys now and then. Especially when your yield is 1-1.5 times the weight of your seed.
Is there a difference between corn sprouts and corn shoots? Yes! Sprouts take a few days – check the notes on sprouts on our earlier post, Grow Your Own Sunflower Greens. Shoots take a few weeks – Cook’s Info has some great notes on this salad/stir-fry version of corn you can grow indoors.