Knee High By The 4th Of July

On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


Knee-High By The 4th Of July

Growing up in the snow belt of Northern New Jersey, the Footloose Forester was aware of the fact that our little town was about 10 degrees colder than in metropolitan New York City, where most of the daily weather forecasts originated.  New York was only 43 miles away, according to the road signs at Netcong Circle on Route 46; but far enough away that we kids learned to discount what the weather reports said about how hot it was going to get, but especially about how cold it was going to be in the winter.  So it was not surprising that when late spring and early summer came around, we would also hear expressions like “April showers make May flowers”; and “Knee-high by the 4th of July.”  The latter cliché was about the corn crop growing in the fields.

Wise farmers in our area didn’t plant corn until about the 10th of May because of the danger of late frosts.  It was good advice because there were plenty of late frosts in the Morris and Sussex County region of Northern New Jersey.  In South Jersey, they could plant a couple of weeks earlier because their springtime temperatures were a bit warmer.  We kids didn’t think too much about that during those growing-up years, yet we kind of understood that crops got started earlier in the South.  But the cliché about growing corn was right on the mark.  If a farmer planted corn after the 10th of May, he could expect to see his crop knee-high by the 4th of July.  That is, if the rainfall patterns and normal rise of daily temperatures continued to be routine.  And the wise and attentive farmers kept their eyes on the corn crop as the days marched by.  Even the youthful Footloose Forester looked forward to inspecting farmers’ fields here and there, to see if the growing season was reliable enough to produce corn stalks that were tall enough to pass inspection. That also included going into the fields to stand next to corn stalks and measure how high they came up your leg.  As a young teenager, he worked at Mooney's Dairy Farm and had plenty of opportunities to go into those cornfields.  


Corn crop photographed on July 1st, 2013

Fast forward to the 21st Century and the continuous introduction of superior plant varieties that not only grew faster and produced heavier grains but also were more tolerant of inclement weather conditions.  Of course, in Northern Virginia that also means that farmers don’t wait until the 10th of May to plant corn.  Thus, for this area at least, we can forget about the expression, “Knee-high by the 4th of July.

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