New England Farmer 2(8): 124-125 (April 13, 1850)

For the New England Farmer.
CULTIVATION OF INDIAN CORN
F. HOLBROOK.
BRATTLEBORO, VT, March 26, 1850.

MR. COLE: A field of stout corn, with lusty ears standing out in every direction, has always been a pleasing sight to me; and it has been rather a matter of pride with me, to grow about as good corn as any body. I now propose to give you an account of my management of two fields of this grain; and should your patience tire with the particularity of my details, I must remark that I am often obliged to lay aside that which I read upon farming, as of no practical use to me, because of the absence of details important for me to know.

I shall first mention a field of ten acres, that had lain to grass four years, and the soil of which is a warm, sandy loam. It was nicely ploughed to the depth of nine inches, in November. The manure was drawn on to the land in the fall, winter, and early spring, and placed in large heaps to prevent evaporation, and at convenient distances for again loading it into carts for spreading. One heap of forty loads was of muck from the barn-yard, upon which the cows had been yarded nights through the summer; other heaps were of muck, turf, and scrapings of various sorts, thrown to the hogs, and by them worked over; others were a compost of two parts muck to one of horse or cattle manure; and the last was sixty loads of muck, composted with six hogsheads of fresh lime, of seven bushels each, mixed in August before planting.

In May, these heaps were deposited over the field in smaller heaps, for the purpose of spreading, and at the rate of thirty loads per acre. The loads would average about thirty-five bushels each. The compost was evenly spread on the inverted furrows, and at the same time a heavy hinge-barrow was started lengthwise of the furrows, going several times in a place, and then across the furrows, until the soil and manure wore perfectly pulverized and mingled to the depth of three or four inches. I harrow planting ground as much again as farmers in general do, and find my account in it too; for the extra fine tilth thus obtained, makes much easier and better work of planting and the first hoeing, besides contributing to the rapid growth of the young corn.

The field was next marked out in rows, north and south, and east and west, at three and a half feet apart each way. Much care was used to keep straight rows both ways, in order that the horse and cultivator might afterwards work the crop with the best execution. If rows are straight, one can shave the weeds, and stir the ground close up to the hills with the cultivator, leaving little for the hand-hoe to do. Besides, I perfectly abhor the sight of crooked corn-rows. Three and a half feet is pretty wide planting; but my corn is a large sort, and it will cover the ground at that distance apart, giving larger ears, as well as standing a drought longer than if planted nearer. I am suspicious of the reasoning by which the conclusion is arrived at, that close planting obviates the effects of drought; for each stalk, in seeking to perfect itself, draws on the soil for its due amount of moisture, and the demand is in this respect greater than that by evaporation.

In planting the corn, six to eight kernels were well scattered in each hill. I find that corn ears heavier, if well spread in the hill, than if thrown down into a heap, one kernel on the top of another. As the soil was a light sandy loam, the seed was covered about three inches deep. I have had my corn fail to come up well for wont of sufficient covering. If a dry spell succeeds planting, the corn will find more moisture to set it growing if well covered; and again, if a frost succeeds, which is not unusual with me, the little tender plants will not be injured permanently, if the planting has been deep; but if it has been shallow, their vitality is destroyed. The seed was planted dry, with the belief, after a trial of various steeps, that it is as well so as any way.

As soon as the corn was up sufficiently to follow the rows well, the field was worked with a horse and cultivator, twice in a row, both ways, and the hills were dressed with the hoe. A week or so after, the horse and cultivator were again used, both ways; and so again, in another week; and again, for the last time, the earth, this time, being slightly raised with the hoe, making the hills broad and flat. The stalks were also thinned to four or five in a hill. Nothing more was done till harvest, and nothing more needed to be done. The ploughing had been nicely executed the fall previous; in the spring the surface was clean of grass or weeds, and brought to fine tilth with the harrow; the manure was sufficiently fermented to destroy the seeds of weeds contained therein; the frequent use of the cultivator kept the surface clean, and so mellow that the young corn came rapidly forward; and soon after the second hoeing, the ground was completely covered with the crop, and all weeds were choked down.

My cornfield was a handsome sight, on account of its perfect uniformity of luxuriance. It yielded me seventy two-bushel baskets full of ears to the acre. Premiums are frequently taken for single acres, yielding double the corn that any one acre of mine did; but whenever I can grow ten acres of corn, averaging seventy two-bushel baskets of ears per acre, I say to myself, that is doing very well.

Last year I planted a field of two acres to corn, in drills. The preparation of the ground did not differ materially from that of the ten acre field just described. From some experiments in drill planting tried on a small scale, in previous years, I was induced to think that on good land, well manured, corn would yield rather more in drills than in hills. This lot being one where these conditions were all right, I marked it out in rows three and a half feet apart, and dropped the seed in the rows nine inches apart, which gave just the same number of stalks to the acre as if I had planted in hills three and a half feet apart each way, four kernels in a hill. The seed was dropped by hand, and covered with the hoe; and it took about twice as long as it would to have planted in hills three and a half foot apart. The corn was worked with a horse and cultivator at six several times, in quick succession, and dressed twice with the hoe. As the rows were very straight, the cultivator was worked up close to the stalks each time, and the hoeing was not much, if any, more laborious than usual.

As I was absent from home during the whole of harvest time, no measures were taken to ascertain the exact yield of this field. But myself and others were well persuaded, upon comparison of the corn growing in drills with that in hills, on equally good ground, that the yield of the former would exceed that of the latter by at least fifteen bushels per acre. The stalks standing singly, nine inches apart, had each a better chance at air, moisture, and pasture; the ears in consequence grew larger, and more of the stalks bore two ears, than would have been the case if planted in hills. On the whole, I was well pleased with this crop, and intend, this coming season, to plant five acres in drills.

While upon my present subject, I will say a word about saving seed corn. All experienced farmers are aware that the productiveness and early ripening of any kind of corn, depends very much upon the manner of selecting the seed. I have a long-eared variety, which I have been planting and improving for some ten or twelve years; and although during that time I have tried, I presume, a dozen other sorts, I give the preference to the first-named sort. Whatever may be said in favor of a change of seed, as regards other crops, there is no need of changing seed corn, provided proper care is used in the yearly selection of that for planting. By proper attention to this matter, a variety may be perfectly adapted in its habits to a given climate and soil, and changed much for the better as to productiveness. The difference in product, between careful selection in the field, and taking seed at random from the crib, will, in a very few years, be much in favor of the former mode,—the soil and cultivation being in both cases alike.

As soon as the earliest ears are thoroughly glazed, I go over the field myself, selecting from those stalks that are "stocky" and vigorous, and that produce two good ears. The selected cars are taken immediately home, braided, and hung up in a dry, airy place. When I commenced with my favorite variety, it was difficult to find twin ears; but now they are abundant. My crops also ripen ten days earlier than at first. I will not mention the length of the ears that might be found in my fields, but will say to you, Mr. Editor, come and see for yourself.