Such a sweet success

Ry Kliewer holds an ear of sweet corn from his 4-acre corn patch south of Klamath Falls. Kliewer has enjoyed growing the frost-sensitive crop and considers the corn an experiment.
 

September 8, 2005

Klamath Falls Herald and News

It's been a sweet bit of work - and a learning experience, too.

Ry Kliewer is in his second year of growing an uncommon Basin crop, sweet corn, on 4 acres along Delfatti Lane south of Klamath Falls.

"This has been our little experimental plot," Kliewer said.

Kliewer is growing two early maturing varieties, a 67-day yellow variety and a 72-day bi-color corn, which he's been selling locally to Sherm's Thunderbird Market.

"We sold about 6,000 to 7,000 ears this weekend," said Norm Aldinger, produce manager at Sherm's Thunderbird Market. Aldinger said the store was close to selling out of the first delivery of corn Tuesday morning.

And not just the customers were eating it up.

"Gosh, they sure were good," Aldinger said.

Finding corn grown in the Basin is an uncommon sight in the produce section of most grocery stores.

"We usually handle Medford corn, which is the closest we've got," Aldinger said. "But this is right out our back door. I kind of like to support the local farmer here - try to work with them a little bit."

The second variety of corn, the sweeter-tasting bi-color, should be harvested on Friday, said Kliewer, and it too, will be sold to Sherm's.

Kliewer and his wife Laurinda grow 250 acres of mostly organic alfalfa and grain. Growing corn is different than the other crops Kliewer is used to raising.

"It's fun to watch corn grow, in my opinion," Kliewer said of the fast-growing crop. "You get to see what you put into it."

And even though the frost-sensitive crop isn't usually grown commercially in the Basin, it's a fairly common sight in many back yards.

"It grows here quite well," Kliewer said. "People grow it in their gardens all the time. At this elevation you can grow really good sweet corn," Kliewer said.

This is Kliewer's second year of growing corn on a 4-acre plot owned by Jason and Shawn Blodgett.

Sweet corn grows on Ry Kliewer's 4-acre plot south of Klamath Falls. Kliewer has been selling his corn to a local grocery store.
 

Last year Kliewer harvested only 2,000 ears, which he sold at Ray's Food Warehouse. Frost claimed the majority of the second variety of that crop just as the ears were ready to pick.

"That was a heartbreaker," Kliewer said.

He estimates he would have had 10,000 ears from what was destroyed by frost.

This year Kliewer has harvested more corn, but hasn't gotten as much for the crop as he had hoped due to some ear worm damage and some immature ears. Pickers have had to pull the husks back from the ears to look for ear worm, and some immature ears required trimming.

"We're not going to make a lot on this," Kliewer said.

Kliewer is learning as he goes along. He did most of his research through the Internet from information available from state college crop studies. He also got a lot of helpful advice from Roger Taylor, a Basin farmer who grows field corn for dairies.

Important elements for growing corn, Kliewer said, include plant spacing, subsoil ground development because corn roots go deep, lots of nitrogen fertilizer and plenty of water.

Kliewer used a pivot sprinkler system on the corn this year that was put in by the Blodgetts through their sprinkler and irrigation system business B Tech Corp.

The system worked well, Kliewer said, putting water down evenly on the crop.

"You want corn to be wet as much as you can, but heavy on the nitrogen," Kliewer said.

New this year to Kliewer's experimental plot were a flex planter, and a piece of equipment appreciated by his family and friends - a mechanical picker.

Last year's crop was harvested by hand with help from lots of friends and family.

Kliewer had worked on the harvesting problem over the winter, sketching a design for the kind of machine he felt would do the job of harvesting on his small plot before he bought the picker out of British Columbia.

"I sat down and I actually designed a machine. When we got that here, it was almost identical," Kliewer said.

And as in most projects, one solution creates another problem.

Most corn stalks will produce two ears, but very rarely are both ears prime at the same time. With the mechanical picker Kliewer is only able to use one ear per stalk.

"It's a rare instance to have them prime at the same time," Kliewer said.

With this year's crop nearly in, Kliewer is looking on to next year's experiment.

"I'd like to find an earlier variety," Kliewer said, with intentions to plant by April 15. "I'd like to have corn by the Fourth of July."

Kliewer is targeting the earlier planting date, hoping to coax the crop to an earlier harvest in order to accommodate harvesting his main crops - hay and grain.

Kliewer says he will rely on the soil's temperature to prevent the tender crop from sprouting too soon.

"It's your soil temperature that's going to make your seed sprout," Kliewer said.

Organic sweet corn is also something Kliewer is considering and if the Round-up Ready variety of bi-color sweet corn he wants is available, he is considering that, too.

"If they have that, that will make weed control easier," Kliewer said.

Kliewer is enjoying the challenge of experimenting with a crop on a small scale.

"We'll probably try this for a few more years," Kliewer said. "The one I'd like to try is carrots."

But for now, the experiment continues.

"It's been quite a learning experience," Kliewer said.



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