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Westerberg column: Thanks to technology, fresh corn is near

Bea Westerberg may be contacted at bea.in.the.wool@gmail.com.

It's full speed ahead for the summer time after the Fourth of July. It's time to start asking when the sweet corn and the homegrown tomatoes are ready. It's time to stock up on sunscreen and those swimsuits before they are all out of stock and winter coats come in. It's time to cut and bring in some of your backyard flowers or stop by the farmers markets to pick up a bouquet. It's time to enjoy fresh local strawberries. It is also a great joy to not have to take five minutes packing on the outdoor clothes and looking for the gloves.

Speaking and/or dreaming of sweet corn, the McNamaras, who have been filling our tummies with that great treat for many years, estimate that the first local crop may be in about the third week in July. The field corn that local farmers have planted is consumed with growing. You almost have to get out of the way of the corn growing. I have heard that some people say that when the weather is hot and humid you can hear the corn cracking as it grows.

Times have really changed in the field corn growing program. Do any of you remember, or maybe you were a part of the detasseling detail? This employed a large number of school age people in the most hot and humid part of the summer to prepare the corn for the seed corn business. I would think everyone really earned their paycheck and no doubt sweated off many pounds each summer.

Back in the days when "Mid Century Modern, 1950s" was being born, the corn expectations were not anywhere what they are today. Farmers used the term "knee high by Fourth of July" hoping they were really having a great corn year. Sometimes it might have been necessary to stand next to the corn stalk and pull up the leaves to your knee on July 4 to be almost telling the truth.

Some farmers used a method involving wire called "checking" that got all the rows to line up both ways so crews could cultivate in both directions. One could easily walk between the rows and maybe even have a party. At that time, it was the way that top corn production was done.

Corn planters of today would have considered that a real waste of space. Technology rocketed off and it certainly is not your father's corn planting anymore. With highly increased production capabilities of today's corn, it is planted extremely close together and grows much, much faster. On June 28, 2018, I walked into a field near my home and it was taller than my 5-foot-4-inch height. Might have been knee high a few weeks after it was planted!

Tomato, tomato

Besides fresh local sweet corn saying its SUMMER, fresh locally grown tomatoes are at the same level. This is the first year in over 40 years that I have not planted any of those goodies.

I started out with something like two plants when we lived in the city and then I went totally out of my mind when we moved to the "country" and got gardening fever. At my peak I was starting 125 varieties of tomatoes from seed that averaged 30 seeds per packet, give or take a few, yielding a large number of tomato plants. We had enough tomatoes for fresh eating, canning, freezing, sharing and sharing some more, leaving them on doorsteps and I know we could have had tomato baths every day if we wanted to.

Our dog Chadwich enjoyed eating them fresh and then we played tomato fetch with any not-perfect tomato. We would throw it into the woods and he would run and find it and bring it back to us and put in a pile near the compost pile. He had a very gentle mouth and it was amazing how many came back almost whole. Ah, those were the pre-salsa days.

I still love fresh tomatoes and I will get my supply for eating at the farmers market or I would be open to an occasional doorstep delivery this year.

Tomatoes are the most popular item grown in a home garden. In case you get tomato fever, now would be a good time to start planning for next year. Tomato plants are readily available at nurseries, garden club sales and other places that sell plants. With over 5,000 or so varieties, you will only be able to purchase a very small selection of tomato varieties. It still pays to check a number of places as they often have different suppliers.

Starting your own from seed will give you the best selection of tomatoes that appeal to you. Tomatoes can be grown directly in the ground and also in pots, buckets, upside down, trellised, greenhouses or strawbales. Every few years a new "hot tip" or a "recycled hot tip" on how to grow the best tomatoes makes it rounds. Tomatoes need to be planted in sunny locations and have a good watering program in place.

The downside of tomato growing is the diseases and problems that tomatoes can present. We will cover some of that information next week. Keep thinking "the local tomatoes are coming"—yes, they are!

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