Sweet Start to Pa. Corn Harvest

7/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Philip Gruber Staff Writer

Getting crops to market early is a longstanding goal at Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana, Pa.

Dan Yarnick opens the farm store each year on the first day of spring with produce from the farm’s 19 greenhouses, and he has been selling sweet corn since June 28, a week before the traditional benchmark of the Fourth of July.

“So far, the fields are beautiful,” said Yarnick, a produce grower for 33 years.

Yarnick usually starts planting around March 22, but “with the cold spring, why, we got in the first of April,” he said.

In some years, Yarnick has corn by June 22, the date of two family birthdays, though he missed that mark this year.

Workers are already harvesting an extra-tender, 70-day supersweet variety, which produces a flavorful, nice-sized ear and is “real vigorous for being such a sweet corn,” Yarnick said.

“You give (customers) a good-tasting corn and they’ll come back,” Yarnick said. It is good to have “stuff that no one has.”

Yarnick started the corn this spring with a floating row cover and side-dressed heavily when the row cover came off. He also cultivated a lot to avoid spraying and slowing the corn down. The heat helped move the crop along, he said.

Despite the success, Yarnick said the season has been challenging.

His fields got 8 inches or more of rain in June, an excessive amount. Yarnick said he plants his early corn on hilly farms to keep them well drained.

Sweet corn season is a big agritainment draw for the farm. On July 8, Yarnick’s held its Feast on the Farm. Meals featured half-chickens, steak from the farm’s beef cattle — and lots of sweet corn.

Despite the threat of thunderstorms, almost 500 people attended to listen to the Spinney Brothers, a Nova Scotia bluegrass band made of former farmers.

“We had a very fun evening,” said Yarnick, an accordionist himself.

The farm’s website lists a sweet corn festival for Aug. 3, and sweet corn plays a big role in the October-long pumpkin festival.

“I try to keep (the sweet corn) as long as I can,” Yarnick said.

To make sure he has corn through mid-October, Yarnick has just kept planting. He put in five acres about a week ago and had two more plantings planned as of Monday.

Last year, Yarnick harvested some of his early fields of sweet corn, tilled them under and replanted them with more sweet corn.

It was the first time he had tried double-cropping two rounds of sweet corn in one season. The strategy worked, so Yarnick is planning to do that again this year.

Sweet corn has been the hot-selling item at Good Harvest Farms in Strasburg, Pa., this week.

Some white corn plantings have already been picked clean at the farm, and there is some planting left to do, said Levi Beiler, a worker at the farm.

The early fields will not be replanted in produce this year, Beiler said. At the end of the season, the plastic will be torn up and a cover crop will be put in.

Some ears did not fill right, but pests have been very light, Beiler said.

Good Harvest starts its early corn in greenhouses around April 15 and transplants them in May. “It gives us a head start,” Beiler said.

In the days before the corn is transplanted, the workers put the corn outside at night to acclimate the plants to the cooler environment. They do not put the corn out if frost is forecast, which was often the case this spring, Beiler said.

The corn is loaded on a wagon, so moving the plants between the greenhouse and the field is the work of a few minutes, Beiler said.

Good Harvest operates an on-farm store and sells most of its produce at the Lancaster County Farmers Market in the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne, he said.

Ron Markey of Kenmar Farms in York harvested the week of the Fourth of July — about the time he shoots for — and had corn by Independence Day.

Markey started planting in early March and got through the cool spring OK. “I have some south-exposed hillsides, but I don’t use plastic,” he said.

He attributes his success to certain varieties’ cold tolerance.

The county inspector found 19 corn earworms when checking the traps on Markey’s farm at the beginning of the week. “That’s not real high. That’s for a whole week,” he said.

Some of the corn never germinated and ended up with thin populations. “I’m not sure if that was weather or just weak seed,” he said.

John Mason, who grows almost 50 acres of sweet corn in Lake City, told Erie’s WICU-TV that the cold spring put him a week behind.

“We try to be one of the first to have sweet corn, and that’s why we do the plastic,” Mason said.

Sweet corn is a good way to keep customers coming back after the strawberry season ends, he told the station.

Steve Bogash, a Penn State Extension educator, said he is in his third week of bringing home sweet corn from local farmers, though the early white corn was about a week late in the Cumberland Valley.

After an unnervingly cool spring, “the crop is about as good as it’s ever been,” Bogash said.

“It was cool but also dark,” and the cool temperatures this week could slow things down again, he said.

There was a small increase in pests about two weeks ago, but for now there is not much worm activity, he said.

Bogash said his best growers typically get their early sweet corn to market just before the Fourth of July. There was some corn for the Fourth this year, “but it was not plentiful,” he said.

Now the harvest is in full swing. “A lot of my guys have already finished a field,” Bogash said.

Other produce is looking good too. Summer squash and zucchini are “really sharp-looking,” and Athena and Aphrodite muskmelons may soon start hitting the market in bulk, Bogash said.

The muskmelons are about a week late, he said.

Bacterial canker is the biggest problem for tomato growers right now. Bogash said he is working with four or five growers battling the disease.

Unlike late blight, which can be controlled well with fungicides, canker does not have good control options, he said.

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