Miller's sweet corn is hot ticket at Farmer's Market

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
Friday evenings, when most of us are relaxing after a week of hard work, Mike Miller, brother Robert and family are feverishly harvesting sweet corn, working into the darkness for the Saturday morning Farmers Market.
It’s always picked the night before or sometimes again during the day of sale to ensure freshness for their customers.
You have to get up early to get fresh, sweet corn from Miller’s Produce at the Salisbury-Rowan Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Even those who arrive early may have to stand in line as they often sell out by 10:30 a.m.
The Millers’ sweet corn is easily one of the most popular items at the Farmers Market this season. Selling more than a hundred dozen ears a day at the market is not uncommon.
Growing sweet corn and vegetables for the Farmers Market is a secondary job for the Millers. They are actually dairy farmers, milking about 150 dairy cows in the south Rowan area. Mike Miller’s wife, Erica, a teacher assistant at Millbridge Elementary, is heavily involved at the market, selling other vegetables the family produces, as well as baked goods.
The Millers plant sweet corn in early April, gambling with corn transplants grown in paper cups started in their greenhouse. Silver Queen is the standard sweet corn in Rowan County, but Silver King, the variety Miller planted in early spring, has become an overnight sensation.
Miller is also using a super-sweet variety for his late summer crop. He betted against cold weather last year and lost, but this year he gambled again and the odds paid off. The Millers capitalized on the popularity of the early crop and continued to plant sweet corn every two weeks through July.
The biggest advantage is that staggered plantings allow for a continual harvest through September, a rarity in Rowan County. Sweet corn is very difficult for growers and utterly impossible for home gardeners to grow in late summer. Lack of water and massive insect infestations of corn earworm and European corn borer make production prohibitive.
Miller sprays with special insecticidal formulations containing Bacillus thuringiensis, designed to kill these hungry insects. This insecticide is a naturally occurring bacterium safe for humans, but death to corn ear worms and other caterpillar larva. Consistent sprays keep worm levels at an acceptable level for their customers.
Water is also a key ingredient for a successful sweet corn crop, especially as the kernels are developing. The Millers use a traveling gun irrigation system to augment natural rainfall.
Miller’s Produce is one of many vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods and flowers at the Salisbury-Rowan Farmers Market. The market is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is located at the corner of South Main and Bank streets in downtown Salisbury. Visit the market Web site at www.salisburyrowanfarmersmarket.com for more information about the market.
Darrell Blackwelder is an extension agent in horticulture for the N.C.Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 704-216-8970.

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