Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Future of Alaska's Agriculture and Planting Corn

I didn't write las week because I was much too busy and not in the greenhouse. Oh, the greenhouse needed work done, and I did the maintenance watering and checking, but I had much more important work to do. That is an odd statement coming from me, because this time of year nothing really gets in the way of me working in my greenhouse. My family can attest to that--laundry goes undone, the housework slips, meals are not the best prepared and I even occasionally have to buy a loaf of bread. But last week something more important than the greenhouse work took place. That was the Alaska State FFA convention.
FFA stands for Future Farmers of America and it is fabulous! The convention was here in Palmer and it was truly inspiring! The youth in attendance came from across the state. They competed in competitions related to agriculture and leadership. This was a group of youth fired up about agriculture and dedicated to the future of agriculture in this state. I was able to help in a small way, coaching on of the teams and helping with the food preparation and I feel it was a great privilege to have been able to rub shoulders with the FFA. If you ever see them in their blue jackets, support them any way you can. They are our future!
Now for the present--this week is for corn planting--not outside, that will come next week. Every year at the markets people are amazed at the price of sweet corn in Alaska. We farmers do charge from $1.50-$2.00 an ear which sounds way expensive to those from the lower 48 who are used to paying that much for a dozen ears. However, for me, my corn is a bargain! Let me explain why. First of all, not just any corn will grow in our cool Alaskan soils. We must purchase specail seed which is quite expensive. Then we must plant the corn the end of April into six-packs and grow in in the house (the greenhouse night temperatures might be too cool). That is twoenty five flats of corn which need to be housed on tables thoughout my mom's and my house (not a great interior decorating theme).
Next week we will cross our fingers for a nice sunny day with no wind-what are the chances of that happening? When that happens (it must happen before May 10th) every other activity must cease and we must plant the corn. My sister who lives close by will be enlisted, my three married daughters will drop anything they are doing and my mom and dad and I will plant corn. The fragile corn seedlings will be coaxed out of their six-packs. Hopefully the roots aren't too long and coming out the bottom. We will have already fertilized and tilled the corn patch. We will make individual hills for each corn plant, six inched deep, eighteen inches apart. We will carefully plant each seedling in it's hole, giving each a drink of fertilizer laced water. The water must be warm water, brought in buckets from the house so that it will help warm the soil. After each seedling is planted we will stretch drip tape beside each row for irrigation. A trench will be dug all aroun the corn patch and then we will stretch 6 mil clear plastic over the whole patcth (this is why there can be no wind. Once the plastic is stretched, we'll bury the edges with dirt, place big rocks stategically on the plastic throughout the corn patch and hope it holds through all of our spring winds.
About the first of June we will need to carefully cut the plastic at each corn plant and gently pull it out into the open air. The irrigation hose will need to be attached to each drip tape and several times fertilizers will need to be applied. After all of this we hope for a 'good' summer, one with plenty of sunshine and some warm days. If all this goes well, and we get the sunshine and heat we need we can expect to harvest two marketable ears from every corn plant.
About every other year is a 'good' corn year, meaning that half the time we don't get a marketable corn crop and all the work and the expense yeilds only enough corn to satisfy the family. Bet you don't wonder now why I think Alaska corn is a bargain. You are probably asking why we, or any other farmers would even bother with growing corn since it's so much work and so unprofitable? Well, it's just because we can. Growing corn is like the Mt. McKinley of Alaska farming, you feel like a champion when you grow a successful corn crop and there is nothing like the rush of picking the first ear of corn of the season!


  1. Wow, I had no idea corn could be grown here. Thanks for the how-to (if I ever have enough time and willpower for all that babying required for success). I've never tried the Alaska grown kind, so I'll keep my eyes peeled this summer at the farmer's market.

    Christine in Anchorage

  2. Jennifer in New Britain, CTMay 15, 2015 at 5:28 AM

    Wow, my dad always cracks a joke, "whats the price of corn in Alaska" and I decided to look it up on Google, and to my surprise there was something!!!! And wow, did I just learn something. I am sorry that you have to go through so much just to grow a stalk to grow 2 ears and then charge so much! I wish there was something I could do to send some of the Connecticut weather to you to grow a field full and charge only $2.00 for 5 ears! Good luck to you and your plantation!

  3. I'm trying a Dwarf Sweet corn for the 1st time summer of 2017. I found a seed developed for cool climates and takes less then 70 days to grow.
    We'll See?