Journal of the American Agricultural Association, 1(3-4): 55-60 (July & Oct 1891)

The Experiment Farm of the "Rural New Yorker"

SPECIAL WHEAT AND CORN CULTURE

The farm of the RURAL NEW YORKER is situated in Queens County, 20 miles from New York City, near the ocean. The soil is a sandy, sometimes gravelly, loam, with a gravelly sub-soil. The farm is conducted for the purpose of testing all new plants or seeds of promise which are offered to the public, the results being published as soon as arrived at; of originating new varieties; of improving old varieties by selection; of ascertaining the best methods of cultivation; and, finally, of comparing the effects of farm manure with those of concentrated fertilizers.

We propose at present to confine our remarks to corn and wheat. Twelve years ago Mr. A. E. Blount, now Professor of Agriculture in the State College of Colorado, began the improvement of a kind of white dent corn, with the special object of rendering it as prolific as possible. The land was well prepared and manured; the best ears only, from those stalks which bore two or more, were selected for seed, preference being always given to the topmost ear, which he usually found to be best developed. By such means, and by others to which we shall allude further on, this strain of corn, as it may be termed, was changed, so as to ripen earlier, to bear a greater number of ears to the stalk, while the cob was made smaller and the grain of uniform size and color. Four years ago it was first raised on the RURAL Farm. A plot of a quarter of an acre was planted, the grains 14 inches apart, the rows four feet, the cultivation flat. The yield was 18 bushels of shelled corn, or at the rate of 72 bushels to the acre. Several stalks bore six ears. The best of these were selected for the next year's seed-plot, while Prof. Blount's entire stock was purchased for free distribution to all who applied to the RURAL NEW YORKER. What is meant by seed-plot may now be explained. A plot of land—perhaps one-fortieth of an acre (33 feet square)—is spaded up, fertilized and raked. Rejecting the butts and tips of the best ears of the stalks bearing five ears or more, as above stated, the largest kernels left are planted 18 inches apart, the rows not less than four feet apart. The surface is kept mellow by shallow, flat cultivation, and, as soon as the sets appear, the tassels of all stalks not bearing a certain number—let us say five—are cut off. It will appear then that the silk of all the sets must receive pollen only from the most prolific stalks. The corn plant is monoecious (the same as the chestnut, alder, pine, spruce, castor oil plant, melon), the male organs, or staminate, being contained within the flowers of the tassel, the female being the silk or pistils of which the fertilized ovary becomes the kernel or grain. It is plain, therefore, that if we desire to increase the number of ears to the stalk, it is just as essential that the seed to be planted should have had a fertile male as that it should have had a fertile female parent. When it is considered that all the varieties of corn—flint, dent, gourd-seed, pop—whether black, white, red, yellow, streaked—whether the plant grow two or fifteen feet in height—whether it requires 60 or 160 days to mature—have all sprung from one kind, it will be seen how sensitive this plant and its fruit are to changes of climate and soil, and how responsive to careful selection and breeding. Thus it has occurred that 134 bushels of shelled Blount's corn were produced on one acre of land at the RURAL Farm during last year (1880), though no doubt this great yield was due to other causes as well. Of this the reader may himself judge. The facts are very briefly as follows:

The field had received no farm manure in seven years. It had been mown and in pasture during that time. The sod was plowed under in early Winter, and in the Spring was thoroughly harrowed, rolled and harrowed. The corn was drilled in 12 to 15 inches apart, the drills 4 feet 3 inches apart. One dressing of concentrated corn fertilizer, at the rate of 300 lbs. to the acre, was given previous to the last harrowing. When the corn was several inches high it received another application of the same fertilizer, at the rate of 100 lbs. per acre, and when 18 inches to two feet high another of 100 lbs. of concentrated potato manure. The field was cultivated four times—twice with a cultivator that penetrated the soil scarcely two inches in depth, twice with a hoe, always flat, all hilling up whatever being carefully avoided.

The promise of a remarkable yield upon this field, as well as upon another, was so apparent before the corn was ripe, that it was deemed advisable to have it examined and measured by well-known persons, who could have no interest in misrepresenting the yield in any way. Accordingly, it was examined by no less than twelve gentlemen, all in one way or another prominently connected with agriculture. The following report is all that need here be presented:—

"Report on a field of corn near Hewlett's Station, Long Island, belonging to the RURAL NEW YORKER, made October 12th, 1880.—Size of plot, 310 by 122.4 feet, or .87 of an acre of corn (Blount's White Prolific), sown by machine in rows 4 feet 3 inches apart, and each single kernel intended to be 15 inches from its neighbors; flat culture.—[Details as expressed above, here made in the report, need not be repeated.] From a judicious selection of stooks and careful measurement and weighing, we find the total yield was 227 bushel baskets of corn on the cob, or 261 bushels upon an acre. We also shelled and weighed a quantity, and ascertained the gross weight of three and seven-eighths bushels to be 136 pounds, or 35.1 to one bushel, and further, that 35 pounds of corn in the ear gave 28.95 pounds of grains and 6.05 of cob, and measured 17.1 quarts. This calculation showed that the equivalent of 861 bushels of corn on the cob was 139.4 bushels of grains, and about three bushels, or a little more, which Mr. Carman had selected from the most prolific stalks, and had already placed in the barn, or a grand total of about 142 bushels of shelled corn per acre.

(Signed) Robert J. Dodge. C. E., Pres. Farmers' Club, American Institute.
W. N. Habirshaw, F. C. S., Chemist N. Y. State Ag. Society.
L. C. Benedict. Ag. Ed. N. Y. World.

Husked not until some time afterwards, and measured as cribbed, the yield proved to be, as previously stated, 134 bushels per acre, or eight bushels less than the above estimate.

Upon an adjacent field of somewhat over four acres, a variety of yellow dent called the Chester County Mammoth was raised, the best acre of which yielded 150 bushels of shelled corn, while the entire field, though a portion was poorly drained, yielded 112 bushels to the acre. The soil of this field has always been considered the poorest of the farm, being gravelly and dry. It had received no manure of any kind in over twelve years. It was treated the same in all other respects as that upon which the Blount's was grown, except that but 350 lbs. of concentrated corn manure were sown before the last harrowing, and the seed was drilled in the rows 3 feet 10 inches apart.

As it is evident that these yields, which have never before been equaled upon considerable areas under inexpensive manuring and cultivation, could not alone have been due either to naturally rich land or to the liberal application of manures of any kind, the varieties of corn, the peculiar methods of planting and cultivating, must also be considered. To test these points has been made the object of an experiment field the present season. It contains about five acres, and has received no manure in at least eight years. The soil, as nearly as may be judged by the eye, is quite similar to that upon which the Chester corn was raised last year. The sod, a very poor one where it existed at all, was plowed under late in March. The soil was then repeatedly harrowed until it had become as mellow as that of a garden plot. The seed was drilled in, May 12 and 13, the rows 3 feet 10 inches apart. Except upon special plots no manure of any kind was used. Upon the middle portion, as that was thought to be a fair average of the soil of the entire field, one measured acre (132x330 feet) received 600 lbs. of corn fertilizer previous to the last harrowing. In order to provide against sowing this fertilizer outside of the acre, a string was stretched about it and the fertilizer extended with damp earth until all dusty or dry portions were fixed. Now the difference in yield between this acre and the unmanured parts will not only tend to determine whether the commercial fertilizer pays for itself, but it should throw light upon the question to what extent the immense yields of last year were due to the commercial fertilizers then used.

Another series of experiments conducted on this field is the testing of special fertilizers upon plots of a twentieth of an acre. For example: No 1 received 7 1/2 lbs. of nitrate of soda; No. 2, 35 lbs. of phosphoric acid; No. 3, 7 1/2 lbs. muriate of potash; No. 4, nitrate of soda and dissolved bone-black combined; No. 5, nitrate of soda and muriate of potash; No. 6, bone-black and potash; No. 7, all combined; No. 8, sulphate of lime. The object of this experiment, which many others are also carrying on, is simply to determine what manurial constituent the land most needs. But Mr. Carman is of the opinion that such tests will, as a rule, prove little upon such small plots, and that even upon larger plots the same experiments should be carried on for a number of years.

Several objections have been made to the RURAL methods of drilling in corn seed and flat cultivation. One is that the plant is more liable to fall under high winds. This is not admitted. It is true of the young plant before its roots have extended much ; but young plants always right themselves, so that the objection can only apply to older plants. Both the Blount and Chester Co. Mammoth are tall-growing varieties, the former averaging eleven feet when fully grown, the latter over nine, which is considerably taller than the kinds cultivated by the neighboring farmers. Nevertheless, the RURAL corn has stood high winds fully as well as theirs. It should be considered that the lateral roots of corn extend, late in the season, well across the rows, and in hilling up the soil is taken from the extended roots, where it is most needed, to heap about the stems, where it is less needed. Thus the weight, so to speak, is taken from the long lever and placed upon the short lever. Again, in plowing to hill up, some of the lateral roots are severed, and the plant is thus deprived of their support entirely.

Another objection made to flat cultivation is, that neither the cultivator nor plow can be run but one way, and that consequently the narrow belt upon which the plants grow must be hoed or the weeds suffered to grow. This objection is a valid one. Still, if the rows are straight, the cultivator may be run so near to the plants that very little hoeing is really necessary. This is the only objection to drill rows that has been discovered, while, for the rest, it seems evident that corn planted one foot apart in the drill will thrive better and bear more grain than when three or four plants are crowded together as in the old check or hill system. Root-pruning, that is, plowing corn after it has grown to any size, is very decidedly objected to at the RURAL Farm. It is contended that the corn plant cannot have too many roots, and that they should be permitted to branch out in every direction, as nature intended they should. The fact that fruit trees growing too luxuriantly may be brought to fruitfulness by root-pruning does not here apply. The one is a perennial, the other an annual. One bears fruit for many years, the other but once. It is admitted that large crops of Indian corn have been raised though deep-plowing were practiced. But the question is asked, if those crops might not have been greater had the land been cultivated near the surface only?

These experiments, now carried on for the third year at the RURAL Farm, must the present season determine in a measure the relative value of the above peculiar methods as compared with the old. On every side of the RURAL Farm are thrifty farmers. Their fields are well tilled and manured. And yet they have never equaled the above yields, produced with no farm and but a small quantity of commercial manure. If, now, an old field that has not been manured for eight years at least, can be made, under any otherwise economical system of planting and culture, to produce more grain than neighboring fields which have been richly manured, it must speak well for the methods which effect that result.

Many observations have been made during the past three years to ascertain whether the silk of a given stalk is, or may be, pollenated and the ovules fertilized by the pollen of the tassel of the same plant. The conclusion arrived at is that some ears are never so fertilized, the pollen ripening before the silk (pistils) is ripe. This is the case with many kinds of field corn, notably with that of Blount's White Prolific. In this variety, it sometimes happens that the pollen of a given stalk is shed before even the sets appear. It has been stated within the past year, by those who should know, that all kinds of Indian corn are proterandrous. But Mr. Carman has pointed out that this is not so, and has shown that in many kinds (many of the sweet corns, for example) the silk is receptive at the same time that the pollen is mature.

WHEATS

There were not less than 80 different varieties of wheat grown at the RURAL Farm the past season. Most of these were new kinds, not yet offered for sale by seedsmen, many of them originating at the RURAL Farm, through selection, through the changing of Spring into Winter varieties, and by crossing. While great and successful efforts have been made to improve most cf our ornamental plants, as well as those cultivated for their seed or fruit, is it not surprising that the wheat plant, which stands foremost among the agricultural crops of this country—of the world, indeed—should have been so neglected!

Those visiting the farm express surprise that they should see so many different kinds of wheat, all apparently thriving, and many of them bearing heads and kernels of a size to which they hail deemed wheats could never attain in the soil and climate of Long Island. True, they may not thrive elsewhere as well as there. Only a comprehensive test could determine this, and it will require several years ere these wheats can be distributed for this purpose. As wheats cannot inter-cross by natural agencies, their generative organs being confined within close-fitting envelopes, the origin of many new varieties of wheats, could it be known, would, no doubt, prove highly interesting. We give the following history of one of the kinds seen at the RURAL Farm, many of the heads of which measured seven inches, some eight:—

Four years ago, many different kinds of Spring wheats were tested, among them Defiance and Champlain. Though the straw was heavy and the heads large, daily showers and intervals of a scorching sun, while the grain was in the milk, so shriveled the kernels that at harvest they proved to be mere shreds. It is thought by many that shriveling does not impair the value of wheat for seed. To ascertain the degree to which the kernels might be shriveled and yet germinate, these shrunken grains were sown in the following Fall on a half acre. They germinated freely, and the yield the next Summer, though light, was far greater than was anticipated, because the plot had not received any manure for this crop, and but little for a number of years. The several bushels saved were, the next Fall, without any special object in view, again sown upon this same half acre, with a light spread of leached ashes only, not until Nov. 10. These seemingly trivial items should be borne in mind, since to them, or to some of them, the remarkable results must be traced. The seeding was thin and the stand of wheat light, but the straw was double the thickness of most other Winter wheats, while thousands of heads measured six inches, hundreds nearly seven. The entire character of the grain seemed to have undergone a change. It ripened not until ten days after Champlain and Defiance, sown in adjoining plots also in the Fall, and the kernels were of a darker color. Taking four average heads of the Defiance, raised for the first time as a Winter wheat from plump seed, 160 kernels were found, weighing 87 grains. The heads averaged 17 spikelets or breasts. Four heads from the shriveled seed, sown two years as a Winter wheat, averaged 22 spikelets, with 244 kernels, weighing 148 grains. Why seeds from a Spring wheat, so shriveled as to form mere shreds, sown on poor land late in the season, two years successively in the Fall, should have undergone a change so remarkable, is not explained. From this crop seed from the longest heads only was selected. This was sown Oct. 5 of 1880. The past season's crop differs from that of 1880 in one respect alone, viz., that the heads average still longer, many of them being seven inches, and a few eight inches, in length. The season of ripening is again at least 10 days later than the Winter Defiance from plump seed.

CROSSING WHEATS

The many different varieties of wheat raised at the RURAL Farm the past season gave excellent facilities for crossing. Where few kinds are raised, the selection of both parents is, of course, restricted, and it is often impossible to obtain pollen when needed. Crossing wheats, even to those who are skilled in crossing flowers in general, is a delicate operation, and requires both a steady hand and a fair share of patience. The outer husk, chaff or covering (botanically glume) may be compared to the calyx in other flowers. Within this husk are two other husks (botanically pales, palets or paleae), which may be compared to the corrola or petals of other flowers. Between these palets, the first of which is awned in the bearded kinds and in the beardless kinds merely pointed, are the stamens and pistil. In crossing different kinds, the two pales which rest closely together must, of course, be separated, so that the three stamens may be removed and others inserted in their place—stamens (anthers) from the kind with which it is desired to effect a cross. After the stamens of the head to be fertilized have been removed, which is easily effected by the use of a sharp-pointed stick, and other anthers introduced, it is best to wind a worsted yarn about the spikelets to hold the glumes and palets together, and so exclude the pollen from other flowers. The anthers should be selected when of a golden color, just before they are ready to burst. If used earlier the anther will dry up and the pollen become impotent.

The inner kernels of wheat spikelets are always smaller than the outer ones, and they are later in ripening. In establishing any new variety of wheat, therefore, by cross-breeding, the outer flowers should alone be operated upon, and the outer kernels alone be saved for seeds. A breast and spikelet of wheat have the same signification, the first being the familiar name, the second the botanical name, of one of the sets into which a wheat-head is separated. Some breasts bear three, some five, flowers. In the three-flowered, the middle is generally abortive, as in the noted Clawson, which usually bears but two kernels in a breast or spikelet. In the five-flowered, two are usually abortive, so that the breast bears but three kernels. Such differences, which seem never before to have been considered, make a great difference in the yield, and farmers should, by selection, endeavor to establish and to cultivate those varieties which bear three or four grains in a breast. It is urged, indeed, that in all seedsmen's catalogues the descriptions of wheats should state how many grains there are to a breast. Whether it contain two or three grains, all else being equal, makes a difference of one-third in the yield.

Most farmers are careful to shell off the butts and tips of seed corn. They should be just as careful in the selection of seed wheat to reject all but the outer seeds of every spikelet, and to cut off the "tip" and the "butt," so to speak, of the wheat ear. Those breasts just about the middle of the ear or head, or a little above, are the first to bloom, the first to ripen their grains. It is very evident that saving seed in this way in quantity would be absurd. But the RURAL advocates Seed Plots just the same for wheat as for corn. For this purpose plots 33x33 feet (one-fortieth of an acre) are plenty large enough. The seed, carefully selected from the largest, heaviest heads, while yet standing in the field—the butts and tips cut off with a pair of scissors—are planted a foot or less apart each way. This plot is cultivated once in the Fall, again in the Spring. So planted, only a little over 1,000 seeds are required, and these are furnished by about 75 heads. If an acre be laid off in ten-inch squares, it will require about 67,500 grains to plant it. Now, if we suppose that each grain produces 20 heads (which is not excessive for grain so sowed or planted), and every head 20 grains, allowing 600,000 grains to the bushel, we have a crop of 45 bushels to the acre. The yield of these cultivated plots is, in most seasons, surprising, and the straws and heads are fully double the usual size. If we were to suppose that seed wheat yields but thirty fold, one bushel of seed should produce 30 bushels of crop. But every seed produces, by tillering, more than one head, and every head will produce at the least estimate 20 grains. When, therefore, two or three bushels are sown to the acre, we may see what an immense waste of seed there is. When wheat is planted as above described, one grain every foot, it is found that nearly every grain germinates, and the plants so tiller as to cover the ground by mid-Spring. In the usual methods of sowing wheat, either broadcast or by drilling, it has been found that for the soil of the RURAL Farm not less than 1 1/2 bushels will produce the best yield. As, however, the land is rich and well prepared, a less quantity should serve, and the same may be said of oats, rye, barley or corn.