August in Alberta usually means it’s time for Taber corn. The roadside stands pop up on parking lots in local towns and big cities alike as soon as the first cobs are ripe and ready for long summer-evening barbecues and family reunions.
But this year and last, cool, wet summer weather has hit heat-loving corn hard, and the sweet corn season has been late and short. Most growers were hoping to have corn for sale for the last weekend of August.
But a newcomer to the local sweet corn market hit the streets in mid-August with the sweetest corn you can imagine. Ivor and Kim Magill seeded some sweet corn “just to see how it would do” on their acreage east of Lethbridge. They used a precision planter they imported from Belgium which seeds, applies pre-plant herbicide, lays down plastic mulch and puts soil over the plastic so it doesn’t blow away, all in one pass. The plastic is biodegradable and designed for sweet corn, virtually disappearing by picking time.
Ivor had used the two-row planter in his native Ireland, where it’s used for silage corn for dairy cows. Natural soil temperatures there are too low for corn to germinate but, with the plastic, the soil warms up so corn emerges and thrives, protected from weeds by the mulch.
Ivor seeded their first sweet corn the last week of March and put in a second seeding two weeks later, just before a spring storm dumped well over a foot of wet snow over it for several days. Both seedings survived and stayed well ahead of conventionally grown corn in the area. They sold their first corn August 12.
“I’m selling boutique corn,” says Kim. “We hand pick it every morning, and check the quality of every cob. We strip off extra leaves so every cob is perfect and just needs a minute and a half in the microwave or three or four minutes in boiling water.”
“We guarantee all our corn,” says Ivor. “If any of our corn is not perfect we’ll replace it.”
“Every cob is checked at least twice,” says Kim. “If a cob isn’t filled right to the end we discard it or add another cob to the bag. Because we pick by hand, it’s handled gently and the corn is not bruised as it can be with machine picking. Damaged parts of corn spoil very quickly.
“We use brown paper bags so we don’t have plastic bags sitting in the landfill for years, but we’ve also found the paper keeps the corn fresher. One day we had a few bags left over and next morning when I threw them out they were still fresh and moist,” said Kim.
On the advice of some of their market gardener clients, Magills chose the tastiest rather than the earliest corn varieties. Ivor figures with earlier varieties they could have corn at least three weeks earlier than conventionally grown crops, but he’s not sure that’s the way to go.
The Magills and their neighbours have fed guests other corn picked a few minutes earlier, and say theirs has been judged best time after time. They say they’re going to keep producing the best-tasting sweet corn possible.
corn grower, east of lethbridge