Fall isn’t just the season for leaf peeping, apple picking and pumpkin carving. It’s also the time to wander around a corn maze, getting lost amid the 10-foot-tall stalks.
Corn mazes in the region include those at Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard in Greenville; Hicks Family Farm in Charlemont, Ma.; and Gaines Farm in Guilford, Vt.
So how do these living labyrinths get made? It takes a bit of work.
On Hicks Family Farm, it starts in the spring, when they draw the design, according to owner Paul Hicks.
“We plant the whole field, and we plant some both ways, so it makes it hard to look down rows,” Hicks said.
Then, once the stalks start growing, they mark the paths with sticks and go in with a rototiller or back blade to dig out where the paths will be. They’ll do that a few times in the summer. Hicks said they make the paths to be as smooth as possible, so they are wheelchair accessible. As fall approaches, they trim back the leaves.
They also place items in the maze for a scavenger hunt. Each year has a theme; this time, it’s chickens.
The maze is 7 acres, with about 1¼ miles of paths. Hicks’ sister is stationed in a tent in the middle of the maze, to guide people who seem a little too lost.
Tim Anderson of Washburn’s Windy Hill Orchard said the Greenville farm has been growing corn mazes since the 1990s.
First, they till and smooth out the soil and plant about five acres of corn. Then they draw the paths on a piece of graph paper. A good design should have some repetition so it’s not too easy, Anderson said.
When the corn has grown to 1½ to 2 feet, he said, they designate the paths with spray-paint and pull out the stalks by hand.
“The reason we pluck it is because it prevents it from growing back,” he said. With five or six people working at it, it typically takes around eight hours.
Once the corn has grown tall, they pluck any stalks they missed, clear rocks out of the paths and get it ready for opening weekend.
Hicks said his farm made its first maze 11 years ago as a way to produce more income.
The designs change year to year, and sometimes include visual flourishes like pumpkins. But Hicks said he’s more concerned with the on-the-ground experience than how it looks in aerial photographs.
“Some mazes go really hard for the photo seen from above, and I’m just more worried about making it a maze,” he said.
For him, that means it should take a little time to figure out, but not get visitors hopelessly lost. This year’s design includes a large wagon wheel with eight spokes, only one of which leads out.
The farm’s corn maze is open through October. After that, the corn is harvested and chopped up for the farm’s cattle, which number about 35.
“The corn maze does feed the cows for about three months,” Hicks said.