How sweet it is

Published 6:00 pm Friday, August 3, 2018

Some of us may remember how Jackie Gleason would end some of his shows by saying “How sweet it is!” Our sweet corn can be certainly sweet this year with all the rain we’ve had. 

The best time to pick is when the silk has dried and turned dark brown to black. The earlier in the morning that you pick, the sweeter the corn. As the day warms up, the sugars in the kernels start to turn to starch. 

When you start to shuck the corn you may discover some unwanted visitors, namely the corn earworm. When you peal back the husk, you’ll see feeding damage and frass, caterpillar poop. It’s not a pretty picture. You can cut off the offending part of the ear.

You will rarely see more than one or two feeding on the tip end. Corn earworms tend to be cannibalistic and have good appetites. Corn earworms overwinter in the soil as diapausing pupae which translates as a dormancy stage.

The adult moths emerge in early May and mate at night. They can make a mess of your windshield if you’re not careful in corn country. The female moths will lay from 450 to 3,000 eggs. They lay them singly on each strand of silk. 

As the worms hatch they travel down the silk into the tip to begin feeding on the juicy kernels and each other. The larvae develop between five and six instars (the larval stages between successive molts).  

They get big enough to bore a 3/16th inch diameter hole through the shuck as they exit the ear. They drop down and burrow into soil to pupate. In another two-three weeks, another generation will appear. You can have at least three generations in one year. 

What is the solution? The integrated pest management strategies is to select resistant varieties which have a very tight shuck. This reduces the feeding to just the silks, which may result in unfilled sections of the ear. 

You can also purchase Bt sweet corn which has been genetically modified to kill certain caterpillars. This has been proven safe to beneficial insects. It’s not “bullet proof” though. Corn earworms may still feed on the ear tips.

Last but not least in an IPM strategy is to apply an insecticide, either organic or inorganic. You begin the application when the silks first appear and continue until the silks turn brown. This can be every three days up to every five days. Call the office for the exact pesticide recommendations.

Keeping corn earworms out of your sweet corn can be a challenge. If you are persistent, you may say “How sweet it is!” at suppertime.

What’s going on in Extension?

  • Beekeepers Meeting: Monday, Aug. 20, at the Extension Office at 7 p.m.
  • TCCA Meeting: Tuesday, Aug. 21. Topic: Improving Forages. Dinner begins at 7 p.m. Dinner is at 7 p.m., cost $6, call ahead and the program begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Ag Center.
  • Market on Main: Every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. just off the square. Come by and enjoy the pick of the day.  

If you have any questions or concerns, stop by or call the office. 

The Troup County Extension office is located at 144 Sam Walker Drive, LaGrange, GA. 30240 (706) 883-1675. It’s open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to  5 p.m. Email: