7/24/2017 10:19:00 AM July brings fireworks, promise of garden plenty
Ron Johnson Staff Writer
It's hard to believe the calendar is already past the middle of July. On the Fourth, Jessica and I along with our three primary pooches - Bravo, Verdell and Stieff - continued our Independence Day tradition and drove Van Johnson to the top of the driveway. From there, we watched the fireworks at Eastman, six miles away by road, and probably half that as the proverbial crow flies. I always find it odd to see the multicolored explosions in the night sky, but not hear them. Off to our right, and farther out, we also watched the sky light up. This batch of fireworks appeared behind and above Shanghai Ridge (I love that name) some two miles distant. We suspect these fireworks originated at Gays Mills, some 25 miles away by road, but again much closer when measured in bird miles. Once again, my first planting of sweet corn easily topped the traditional knee-high by the Fourth of July mark. The seeds of this year's first crop went into the ground on May 19. Last year, I planted my first corn on May 15. That was Early Sunglow, a 63-day variety. It was waist-and-shoulder high and had a few tassels visible on July 4, 2016. This year's first corn is Peaches and Cream. It's a 70-day variety whose ears sport yellow and white kernels. On July 4, it stood nearly chest-high on me. Ten days later, it topped the seven-foot point. For some reason, I particularly enjoy growing corn. Maybe it's because I really feel like I've gotten something for my time, sweat and money, when I see how the stalks have stretched skyward. Or maybe it's simply because I like sweet corn. Zea mays rugosa, the Latin name for sweet corn, is an interesting plant, as is its regular cousin. It's nothing short of a miracle that a plant that can reach a height of 10 feet or more can spring from a seed so small. The fact that it does so over the course of only three months or fewer is also amazing. How fast can corn grow? I've been told for years that on a hot and humid August night it's actually possible to hear the corn grow. That's because the nodes are elongating rapidly and make a popping sound. Researchers at the University of Nebraska placed microphones on corn plants and directly recorded the sounds corn makes when it grows. The scientists were not out to prove or disprove the notion that corn can be heard growing. Rather, they wanted to understand the mechanics that are involved when wind makes cornstalks break. The Cornhusker State scientists found the sound of corn growing is pretty much like the sound a cornstalk makes when it breaks. The researchers theorize that plant growth happens when millions of small breakages occur. The plant immediately hurries to repair the broken parts. As a result of all that breaking and fixing, a corn plant grows taller. This process has been compared to what happens when a person lifts weights. Microscopic tears take place in the muscles. As the tears are repaired, the muscles grow stronger. Plant scientists have also learned that a corn plant's leaves are the primary supports when corn is growing fast. Who'd a thunk that? Next month, I hope to sit by my garden as night settles in, the bats fly and the fireflies flash. I'd like to be able to say I've heard the corn growing. It would be fun to see it growing, too. While I haven't witnessed that, I have seen how much my sweet corn can grow in a given amount of time. On July 3, at about 7:30 a.m., I took my trusty yardstick to the corn patch. From the ground to where the top leaf began to bend downward was 36 inches. That evening, I measured again. Then the distance from ground level to where that same leaf began to bend was 39 inches. So that corn plant grew three inches taller in just 12 hours. I'd been buying a few ears of grocery store sweet corn, but have decided to wait for the really good stuff from my own garden. That first planting started to emerge on June 2. So, according to my calculations, I might have ripe, juicy, tasty ears around Aug. 11. The rest of the garden is doing well, too, as are the weeds. We have green tomatoes and have picked a few cherry tomatoes of an orange variety. The pole bean, squash, pumpkin, melon and cucumber plants are blooming, their yellow flowers abuzz with insect activity. My second patch of corn, planted June 2 on the upper slope, is approaching the four-foot-tall stage. Those four rows, each 30 feet long, are a blend of Peaches and Cream seeds I had left from the first planting and Northrup King 199. It's an 84-day variety I was able to buy in bulk at a local hardware store. With good weather and a bit of luck, I'll be enjoying fresh sweet corn well into September. We hope to put up many jars of salsa and pickles this year, along with my famous pickled green beans. We cracked open a jar from two years ago, and it truly was a mouthful of hollers. At this time of year, my garden reminds me of what I savor about summer - warmth, life and much of the world gone green.