The week before the Fourth of July is generally one of the busiest weeks of the year for us at Terra Firma Farm. We grow just about all the fruits and vegetables people associate with the Independence Day holiday, especially sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelons. And thanks to our location and its microclimate, we are able to harvest abundant amounts of these items a few days before the holiday. Most other farms north of San Francisco struggle to make it to market with 4th of July holiday produce.
It’s not easy for us to pull this off, even with the warming effects of climate change. Take sweet corn for example. In order to harvest by July 1st, we must plant it in early April. Corn is seeded directly into the ground, not transplanted, so a week of wet weather at the wrong time makes it impossible to plant at all. And if it’s too cold or too wet, or if it rains in the 3-4 days after planting — fairly common in early April — the seed will rot. This is a particularly serious issue for organic growers because we’re not allowed to use seed coated with fungicide.
Moreover, corn must be harvested within a day or two of reaching maturity and has a fairly short shelf life. You can have a bumper crop of corn ready on June 25th, but it won’t still be fresh on July 4th. Very warm weather can accelerate the ripening, while cool weather can dramatically delay it. So corn planted on April 7th one year might be ready on July 1st, but another year not until July 7th. Having a beautiful field of corn that matures after July 3rd is kind of like having a surplus of Christmas trees after December 24th.
We try to hedge all these risks by doing multiple plantings of corn, each a few days apart, between March 25th and April 10th. With the drought this year, there was no wet weather to navigate. In fact, we had to pre-irrigate the fields prior to planting in order to ensure the corn had the moisture it needed to germinate. Pre-irrigating in the spring is always a bit of a nail-biter. If you soak the field a week before the scheduled planting date, even a small rainstorm can leave the field too wet to plant. But we actually had the opposite problem, as very strong dry wind made it difficult to get the field wet enough, and then dried it out more quickly than expected. The moisture in the soil was uneven, and led to some delayed germination of the seeds.
We ended up with two spotty fields and two beautiful ones, but they all arrived on time and we will finish harvesting them this week. There is plenty for your CSA boxes as well as for our other customers who rely on us for their local organic 4th of July sweet corn.
Once the holiday is over, our sweet corn plantings are much smaller and the harvest activity is much less intense. We’ll have corn for your boxes every week through July and possibly a week or two into August.
We hope your enjoy your 4th of July box and have a great holiday.