Baby Corn Becoming A Big Money Crop

Business is booming for baby corn growers. You know -- those little ears of corn you find at salad bars and in oriental dishes.

Until recently, nearly all of those tiny ears were grown in Asia, says Carol Miles, an agricultural extension specialist at Washington State University. She's been working with farmers in her state to start filling the growing demand for baby corn.

Miles says there are two ways to produce baby corn. One is to use a variety selected specifically for immature ears. The second method is to plant a multi-eared variety of sweet or field corn and harvest all but the primary ear off the plants, and harvest that later when it matures. That way you get two crops off the same field.

Ears are harvested prior to pollination, usually somewhere between 1 and 3 days after silk emergence. Ears should be 2 to 4 in. long and 1/3 to 2/3 in. across the base of the ear. Kernels should be uniform and aligned in rows.

Miles notes that since the ears are harvested prior to pollination, the type of corn planted -- sweet, field, pop, etc. -- doesn't really matter as long as the immature ears are somewhat uniform in size. She recommends varieties like Kandy King, Bodacious, and other sweet corn varieties, as well as a field corn variety called Babycorn, which has been bred specifically for baby corn production.

Since baby corn is hand picked, you need to plant rows far enough apart to walk through comfortably.

Plant at normal corn planting times, using normal corn planting depth. If baby corn is your primary crop, plant at about 44,000 plants per acre, or a seed spacing of about 4 in. If it's only a secondary crop, plant according to the space needs of your primary crop.

Harvest timing can be tricky, and you may need to pick as many as 12 times over a 3 to 4 week period to get ears of a uniform size. A couple days can make a big difference.

For fresh market, baby corn is normally sold with the husks on. A baby corn variety will produce about 8,500 lbs. of unhusked ears per acre.

Miles has compiled recipes and other information on producing and marketing baby corn at the Washington State University Extension Website.