Fourth of July is upon us, and it’s looking like the Tennessee state song knows what it’s talking about: Corn don’t grow at all on Rocky Top, nor do it grow in my Nashville back yard.
If you plant corn after the first frost, it should be knee-high by the Fourth of July, they say. But my crop is looking like a bunch of lawn cowlicks, those stray blades of grass that escape the mower.
It’s possible I planted later than I should have. I was aiming for Tax Day, but it was still a little chilly here, so I waited until my husband said it was time. Admittedly, he doesn’t know Shinola about farming, urban or otherwise. He’s a hedge fund analyst. But he was on a conference call one day in May and his macro-strategy commodity fund managers happened to mention that Big Ag was starting to plant. That sounded like solid intel, so I ploughed the back 40. Forty feet, that is.
Anyway, I’d say we have about a one-in-six yield of stalks growing from seeds planted. What’s worse, the anemic stalks that are emerging could double as dental floss.
The problem is not that the dirt’s too rocky by far, as the song says. The problem is that there’s no sun in my yard. There used to be, and when there was, we grew one helluva an ear of corn. Literally, one ear. But dammit, it was good. It tasted like Summer herself had shape-shifted into a grid of sweet, milky bubbles, smooth and crisp to the tooth, but silken and custardy inside. Oh good lord, it was delicious. Unfortunately, bugs got all but that one ear. Farming — urban or otherwise — is a difficult business. Big Ag, I salute you.
Anyway, the summer after that magnificent crop of one, we relocated our garage. The original garage in our 1930s house was built to fit either a Model T or a bicycle built for two or some other vehicle too narrow to meet the transportation demands of today’s traveling fat-asses. It was so narrow, in fact, that twice I pulled off the front panel of the building when reversing my 2000-era station wagon. When I finally succumbed to a minivan, I couldn’t even fit that bubble-butt bus inside.
Building codes being what they are in a historic neighborhood, we couldn’t construct a new garage on the footprint of the old garage. Go figure. So we scooted a few feet to the left, i.e. north. The new garage helped the parking, but seems to have put an end to our corn cultivation. Too much shade. Hence, the feeble crop of lawn cowlicks.
I was weeding this morning, taking care not to extirpate the cornstalks, which, in some cases, were dwarfed by more robust invasives. Like big, strong clover. Miraculously, the weeds were replacing themselves as fast as I could pluck, like the Augean stables filling up with manure as fast as Hercules could muck. Or like Whac-a-Mole. Pick your metaphor. Either way, it was supremely frustrating.
As I rhythmically ripped crab grass from the furrows and smacked sweat bees against my thighs, it occurred to me that this was the kind of fruitless labor that could drive a person to drink. A familiar tune crept into my head.
“Corn don’t grow at all on Rocky Top, dirt’s too rocky by far…”
Then it hit me: I wouldn’t be the first failed farmer to turn to the bottle. As the song goes, that’s why all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar.