Last revised February 2, 2010
NOTE: This file contains only information specific to the production of baby corn. For a complete guide to sweet corn cultural practices, see Sweet Corn for Processing. For information on growing baby corn, see Baby Corn Production (produced by Washington State University).
Baby Corn 'Tom Thumb'. Photo credit Bill Mansour: Oregon State University
All commercial baby corn is imported already processed from countries with low labor costs. It is hand harvested and hand husked from immature corn at or within 1-2 days after silking. The main varieties used are either prolific (multiple-eared) starchy feed corn types (Su), or supersweet (sh2). Research indicates the quality (sweetness and crispness) is equally good for all genotypes, but that yields are higher with prolific (multi-eared) starchy types. Varieties with small kernels and long ears are particularly suited. Pickled baby corn imported from Taiwan and Thailand is produced from special field corn (Su) varieties developed there for that purpose such as Tainan No. 5, Tainan No. 11, Tainung No. 351, or a supersweet corn such as Florida Staysweet (sh2).
Isolation from other types of corn does not affect the baby corn crop as the ears are harvested before pollination. However, adjacent sweet corn plantings could be affected by pollen from baby corn varieties of unlike genetic background. The baby corn crop planting can also be affected if some ears are left to be harvested as sweet corn. (See ISOLATION section in the file Sweet Corn for Fresh Market).
For baby corn two systems are used. One system uses standard populations of about 23,000 plants per acre, where the top ear is left on the plant for grain corn or sweet corn, and subsequent ears harvested for baby corn. The second system uses high plant populations of between 34,000 and 44,000 plants per acre where all ears are harvested for baby corn. Row spacings range from 24-36 inches apart. The standard plant populations produce yields of about 4,000 lb unhusked ears (400 lb husked ears) per acre, while the high populations produce yields of about 8,000-10,000 lb unhusked ears (800-1000 lb of husked ears) per acre.
Baby corn has to be hand picked at, or within 1-2 days after silks emerge from the ear tip. Feed corn varieties are harvested at silking, while supersweet varieties may be harvested up to the time silks are about 2 inches long but still fresh. Determine suitability of ears for picking by sampling for size. Market requirements limit size to 4.5-10 cm in length and 7-17 mm in diameter. Ears quickly become too long and tough. Carefully remove and husk the ear so as not to break or damage it. Ears intended for processing must be carefully hand husked and de-silked. Process immediately by pickling or canning.