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Cut to the Chase: Growing sweet corn tougher than eating it

By Rebecca French Smith

There are those of us who are of the persuasion that it’s never too early to start thinking about sweet corn. Why, it’s almost an ant-and-grasshopper story.
Right now, farmers and gardeners across Missouri are planting. Some of them are planting sweet corn. Sweet corn is not a major crop in the state, though there are a few farmers who grow enough to share and sell. In fact, only 2,325 acres were harvested in Missouri in 2012, according to the most recent Ag Census.
Even so, sometime in July, for the past few years, my kitchen has been taken over by a small section of the Sweet Corn Preservation Society. This group has only a handful of members — me, my husband and our boys.
We are but a small club in a larger, albeit unorganized, consortium that husks, blanches, chops, bags and freezes this fresh, savory treat so that we might enjoy it when the cold wind blows outside.
Because of our affinity for sweet corn we have grown it. I say “grown” in the past tense because to grow sweet corn is to learn certain lessons about nature, wildlife and your willingness to share.
You see, raccoons and squirrels love sweet corn too, and they also wait in great anticipation for the summer’s first fruits.
Farmers use a variety of tactics to stave off the “thief in the night” onslaught as the sweet corn begins to ripen. Electric fences, moving the garden annually or just growing enough to feed everyone are some common solutions.
For us, moving the garden isn’t possible, nor is growing enough for “them” and us. We have a garden fence that keeps out everything that doesn’t climb, and since the sweet corn was the only thing the thieves were interested in climbing the fence for, we abandoned that crop.
Raccoons know, like we do, when the corn is about ready, as apparent by the trail into the woods of corn stalks, husks and cobs. Trust me. Nothing is more frustrating than looking forward to picking the first harvest of corn for dinner, only to find that the raccoons beat you to it. Not only did they beat you, but they rubbed it in your face by leaving the cobs and husks behind for you to clean up. Something just isn’t right about that.
So our little society now travels to southeast Missouri to buy our sweet corn from a farmer who is particularly adept at growing it — best we’ve ever had, especially since we don’t have to battle the wildlife for it. Sadly, we have been out of our frozen stash since November.  Is it July yet?

Rebecca French Smith, of Columbia, is a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Farm Bureau.

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