Alcova Sweet Corn, 2010 marks 50th corn crop
Alcova – First on the market in 1960, this year marks 50 years of sweet corn at Alcova.
Harry and Kay Eichorn began the endeavor, known simply as Alcova Sweet Corn, when they lived and worked on what was then Miles Land and Livestock north of town.
“We began with 24 rows, maybe 30 feet long, of sweet corn,” recalls Kay from her present-day home in Alcova. “We grew it for ourselves, and to feed the ranch hands. When we first started we also hauled corn to various markets and groceries in town, and at that time we hand-picked everything.”
Kay says at that time the government camp was still in Alcova, filled with families who worked with the power plant, so their children would come out and help pick sweet corn each season. “I ram-rodded probably up to 15 kids in those days. Some of them stayed at our place, while others were shuttled back and forth to Alcova,” she says, adding she also had some extra adult help.
Harry and Kay had four kids of their own, and Kay says three grandchildren also grew up in the sweet corn patch. “Last year two great-granddaughters were out there picking corn, and thinking it was wonderful,” she says of the next generation, ages six and four years old.
In the early years the Eichorns staggered the planting dates of the sweet corn. “Being a crop that turns fast, you have to move it. When we hauled to the market, that worked fine to stagger it,” says Kay. “With the influx of people, the volume of business has increased, with a good market, so now they plant it all at once.”
When traffic to Alcova Reservoir began to pick up in the 1970s, Kay says that’s when they didn’t have to haul sweet corn to town anymore, as everyone from town came out for their own.
“Once in a while we would still take some in to the farmers market, it just depended on the crop and how prolific it was,” says Kay.
Customers can either pick their own sweet corn, or purchase ears by the dozen, already picked.
“I remember back when we still had the patch, and I had a 94-year-old man come out, and he wanted to pick his own,” says Kay. “With the irrigation running down, the rows get kind of wild, but we went out and he thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing as he picked sweet corn. A lot of our senior citizens enjoy doing that.”
“On the weekends we’d go ahead and get as much pre-picked as we could, before we had the automatic picker,” says Kay. “With the kids, it was always a challenge to see how high they could get it stacked on the pickup, and how many truckloads we could get ahead of the game. By Sunday evening, when all the people from the lake were headed to town, it wasn’t a fun time to keep up with the demand.”
To keep the pre-picked ears cool, the Eichorns would set sprinklers atop the pickup loads of sweet corn.
Today Alcova Sweet Corn utilizes an automatic picker, which moves down one row at a time and picks everything off the stalks, so it has to be sorted before it’s counted into dozens.
Kay says she and Harry grew several crosses and strains of sweet corn throughout the years, though she says it was hard to stick with one good variety, as the seed dealers would often substitute new, and what they thought were better, varieties.
“It’s always an experimental thing,” she says. “I can remember one year where it almost took a machete to get the ears of corn off the stalks. That variety was so hard to pick. We like to be able to go down the rows and snap them off and have them in the wheelbarrow.”
Whatever variety they plant on a given year, it has to have a short growing season, usually around 58- to 62-day corn. Planting dates all depend on what kind of spring presents itself.
The sweet corn is grown in rotation with alfalfa, something the Eichorns did since they started. “We tried to do three years of sweet corn, then put it back in alfalfa,” says Kay.
Of the leftover sweet corn at the end of the season, Kay says she “absolutely” froze the extra. “I always had enough friends who would come in and pick and help me out. Those were fond memories, too, putting up the corn.”
When the Eichorns first began growing corn, Kay says they had the most problems with antelope getting into the patch. “At that time the Game and Fish said the antelope wouldn’t eat it, but the kids had grown a patch for a 4-H project, and the antelope hit the patch and ate the silks off. The silks are what feed the kernels, so their corn was gone. We had a to-do with the Game and Fish about antelope, and now they’ve got them pretty well under control.”
Now the biggest challenge can be blackbirds. “They’re the ones that give us the biggest headaches nowadays,” she notes.
Following Harry’s retirement in 1984, the Eichorns’ son Jerry Eichorn took over the sweet corn management through 2005, when the ranch was sold to John Martin and became Gray Reef Ranch. Today ranch employees Stacy and Mark Schmidt oversee the sweet corn operation. Jerry still advises the Schmidts on growing and harvesting the crop.
Both Kay and Stacy agree that, with the cool, wet June Wyoming experienced this season, the sweet corn will be ready much later than usual. They expect harvest to come around Labor Day weekend.
“Our biggest challenge this year was the cool, wet spring, and we’ll have the late harvest, but we’re happy to still have corn, and it’s doing well,” says Stacy.
“But, I hear next week is supposed to be cooled down, and we need warm nights to put the sweetness in the corn and make it develop,” notes Kay, who still keeps a watchful eye on each year’s crop.
When Alcova Sweet Corn is ready to harvest, the word is spread through radio spots and a few newsprint advertisements. “The Eichorns built it up so big, and it’s so popular, that people look for us at the road to know when it’s ready,” says Stacy.
“It’s a lot of fun, and we love it and it’s an honor to keep the tradition going,” says Stacy of running the sweet corn patch. “It’s so hectic, and we work long days during harvest time, but it’s special to be a part of this, and the Eichorns are so good to work with.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.