My Father’s Corn Patch

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By Henry Bennett

When I was a boy in the 1950’s, my father decided he wanted to have a corn patch to grow corn for our family to eat.  He approached this project in the same way he approached his scientific research, and he was a highly esteemed research scientist in the field of Cytology – the study of cells.  At the time he was the Chairman of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle, Washington.  My father researched how corn is grown in the Corn Belt of the USA, and the climatology of the American Midwest and of the Pacific Northwest where we lived at the time.  He also researched what it takes to grow good corn, and what varieties grow well and are good to eat.

My father learned that the climate of the American Corn Belt included colder winters and hotter summers than did the climate of the Seattle area.  He also learned that the planting time in the Midwest was such that corn plants that were “knee-high by the Fourth of July” were considered to be an indication that the year’s crop of corn would be a good one.  He felt that he could beat that standard if he started the corn indoors and transplanted it to the outdoor corn patch after the last frost of the winter had occurred.  As an added precaution against the possibility of a late frost, he learned of a product called “Hot Caps” which were essentially translucent waxed paper domes that could be placed over each individual hill of corn and which would prevent the frost from harming the newly sprouted corn plants.

In addition, my father researched what type of nutrient solution he could whip up that would help the newly sprouted corn (indoors) grow quickly to a suitable size for transplanting to the outdoors.  Everybody in our family pitched in to help with this project, although our main means of helping was to NOT throw out the empty plastic coated milk containers and juice containers we had.  Instead we would rinse them and put them in a storage place in the basement.  With the tops cut off, these served as planting containers for corn seeds.  He then planted the corn seeds in sand in these containers and hung them in the windows of his and my mom’s bedroom, which had a Southern exposure.  My mom, being a saintly person, lovingly put up with all of this!  The corn was then watered with the special nutrient solution my father concocted, and which he called “Kickapoo Joy Juice” after some fictional Native American characters that appeared in a then popular comic strip called “Lil Abner”.

All this effort worked extremely well and when Winter was over and the frosts were gone my father and I would transplant the corn into the prepared corn patch we had on our property.  My father had pre-planned the size and layout of the corn patch and a week before the great transplantation we would plow and till the soil in it so it was ready to receive the newly sprouted corn.  Each hill of corn plants would then be covered with a “Hot Cap” in case of a late frost.  The corn hills on the outer perimeter of the rectangular corn patch were also planted with various kinds of squash and pumpkins.  When the danger of the last frost had passed we would go out to the corn patch and very carefully slit the tops of the Hot Caps to let the corn grow up through them.

The result of all this effort was my father would proudly exclaim that HIS corn was “Knee-High by the Fourth of June”, and we had a truly prodigious crop of corn from his corn patch every year – so prodigious that we could not possible eat it all unless we had corn nearly every evening for dinner, so my parents rented a frozen food locker in town and we froze about 90% of the crop, and we could enjoy corn-on-the-cob all year around!  It was so prodigious that we would give a modest amount of it to our neighbors for them to enjoy.  Also, my father had discovered some type of pumpkin to grow in the corn patch that routinely produced very large pumpkins in the 30 to 40 pound range.  We would use a couple of these as Jack-O-Lanterns on our porch when the Trick-Or-Treaters would come around.  These were so popular that our neighbors began asking where we got those amazing pumpkins and my dad told them we grew them and offered them some seeds from our pumpkins.  By the time we moved on from that area, about 8 or 10 of our neighbors were growing their own huge pumpkins from seeds my father had given them.

At that time we also had a neighbor who was a very kind man, but who enjoyed drinking beer a bit too much.  He and his wife enjoyed the corn that my parents gave to him very much, and one year he decided that he was going to grow his own corn.  He asked some members of his church to come over and help him prepare the ground for his “corn patch” and planted his corn.  They did so and he promised them that when his corn came in he would have them all over for a dinner that would feature corn he had grown in his “corn patch”.  Needless to say, his corn did not do well at all, and one day, in the middle of the corn season, my mother saw him out in OUR corn patch picking corn, which he then took home with him.  A few days later she noticed that several cars were parked outside his home, so she went out in the corn patch and picked a whole shopping bag full of corn.  She then took this corn to our neighbors’ front door and rang the bell.  When he opened the door she could see his wife and church members eating our corn which he had told them was from his corn patch which they had helped prepare.  She very sweetly told him that she knew his corn patch had not done very well so here was a bunch of corn from our corn patch for them to enjoy.

I am sure there is a very good moral to this story, and I will let each reader make up his or her mind as to what that is!

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