The Cultivator 5(3): 73-74 (March, 1848)

Culture of Indian Corn
F. Holbrook

EDITORS OF THE CULTIVATOR—It must be apparent to every one, that the aggregate value of the Corn Crop is immense to our country, and as almost every cultivator of the soil, throughout all its varied climate, and on all its variety of soils, is a grower of this crop to a greater or less extent, it becomes a matter of importance that it should be managed to the best advantage. I know of no better way to arrive at the desired result than the practical experience of successful corn-growers, made public through the columns of the agricultural press. We may all learn something from one another; indeed I never had a hired man even, in my life, however ignorant, that had not a way of his own of doing something from which I obtained a new and profitable idea. These considerations must be my apology for any apparent egotism in the frequent use of the personal pronoun in this communication.

I do not expect to add any thing new in information upon my present subject, which has been so often and so ably handled by others before me, but simply to show by what process I have been successful in raising much larger crops of corn to the acre than would be considered an average yield in this section, at least. The average yield of my corn crop, on 8 to 12 acres annually, has not fallen so low as 60 bushels per acre in 10 years, while in the more favorable seasons and on my best lands, it will come up to 80 to 90 bushels per acre. It is proper also to state, that some of the fields would not cut 500 lbs. of hay to the acre 10 years ago.

The land intended for corn is always broken up from 6 to 9 inches deep, varying with the quality of the soil, late in the fall, in order to that perfect pulverization of the soil which the frost of winter contributes so essentially to secure. The plowing is performed with great care and precision. No baulks—no crooked or imperfectly turned furrows are at all allowed, but the whole soil to the required depth is turned over. I have been troubled to find plows that do good work in a deep furrow—the Centre Draft and Eagle No. 2, a cut and description of which is given in the April number, vol. IV, of the Cultivator, turns a perfect furrow 8, 9 or 10 inches deep.

The heaps of compost manure are made up on this land in August or after, beds being plowed up to receive them. These heaps are ranged at convenient distances to load into the cart in the spring, and spread on the land with the best economy of travel, and contain 30 to 40 loads each, which is the quantity usually applied to the acre. Thirty-five to forty bushels is called a load. In the spring the manure is laid on the land in small heaps; the rows of heaps about four paces apart, and the heaps in the rows a little less distance span, because a given number of loads, fine manure particularly, can be spread with more ease and expedition by making more heaps of a load, and planting them near together, than by following the more common practice of making larger heaps wider apart.

The harrow, going twice in a place, is started as soon as the workmen commence spreading the manure, in order that it shall be immediately incorporated with the soil without the loss of its valuable properties by evaporation, and also to divide and pulverize the soil above the sod, so that the plow afterwards may be used in a light furrow without disturbing it. Great improvements have been made in harrows by constructing them in two parts, connected together with hinges—the play, up or down, upon the hinges of either half, enables the harrow to adjust itself to the surface of the land in all places; and, whether smooth or uneven, it will always hug down close, and "keep digging." No farmer who has ever used a hinge harrow would be without one for five times the cost of making. When the harrowing is completed, the plow, with a sharp point, and a roller on the beam gauged to the proper depth, covers the manure 3 to 4 inches, which, after trial of all ways, I consider about the right depth for fine compost.

The land is then furrowed out as nearly north and south as the shape and surface of the field will admit, and also east and west, the rows being 3 1/2 feet apart each way. I prefer this distance to planting nearer. In my earlier farming operations, I used to plant corn considerably nearer both ways, of course growing a greater number of stalks and ears to the acre. In a favorable season, as to moisture, probably a few more bushels may be obtained by closer planting; but in offset the labor is also considerably increased. There are more hills to plant and hoe, and the ears being usually much smaller, the labor of husking a given number of bushels is greater, and no man can husk small ears and "nubbins" as fast as large ones. Besides, I find by actual experiment, that a closely planted field will not stand a drouth nearly as long as a field planted wider apart. Every stalk requires its due proportion of moisture from the earth in order to carry the ear of corn to full perfection, and of course the greater the number of stalks to the acre, the greater the draft upon the soil for moisture. In planting on a scale of 8 to 12 acres, therefore, I go for more space between the hills, notwithstanding there has been much said in favor of shading the ground by close planting, to prevent the effects of drouth. It is of considerable importance to have straight rows both ways, the use of the horse and cultivator being much more effective in this case than in crooked rows; besides, no farmer having a spark of honest pride, wishes to gaze all summer at so unsightly an object as crooked corn rows, or expose the same to the gaze of others.

In planting the corn, which is a nice operation, care is used to scatter it well in the hill, putting in 6 to 8 kernels. I always direct the planters to occupy 8 to 12 inches square with each hill. This may appear a small matter to some, but it is a fact that corn planted thus will ear heavier, and there will be more stalks bearing two good ears, than if the common practice of tumbling the corn into the hill at haphazard is pursued. Indeed one could better afford to pay a man two dollars a day to plant corn in the way I have recommended, than the common price, planted in the common way. The corn is covered at least 3 inches deep in sandy and gravelly soils, for two reasons. In this section of country we frequently have late spring frosts which nip the corn after it is up, and if covered but slightly the vitality of the tender plant is often destroyed by freezing down to the roots, whereas if covered 3 inches deep, no permanent injury is done. Again, we sometimes have dry weather about planting time, and if the earth drys down to the corn after it has sprouted, it may not come up at all; if it does it will be a long time about it, and at the end of three weeks will not be nearly as vigorous as that planted deeper. The seed is planted dry. I have tried a variety of steeps for seed corn, but have settled down to the impression that it is as well planted dry as any way. The most effectual "scare-crow" I have ever found, is a line of white twine strung round the field, and supported by long stakes.

In working the corn after it is up, the main dependence is upon the horse and cultivator. The construction of many of the cultivators in use is faulty. The upper part of the tooth is so short, and the frame work in consequence is brought so near the ground, that the implement goes bobbing about over the top of the weeds, clogging up with every impediment it meets—the weeds of course are not cut off or rooted up in a thorough or desirable manner, although I grant they are somewhat mangled. In a future communication I may give a drawing and description of a cultivator, made at my suggestion, by an ingenious blacksmith in this plane, which is not liable to the above objections. At weeding time the horse and cultivator pass through the rows both ways, perfectly pulverizing and mellowing the soil, and as the rows are always straight, the soil is worked up close to the bills each way, rendering the labor of weeding with the hoe comparatively light. The corn is again worked both ways with the horse and cultivator at the second hoeing, the feeble stalks are pulled out, leaving 4 to 6 standing in a hill, and a broad, flat hill made. I find it cheaper for me, so far as labor is concerned, to earth up a little than to hoe perfectly level, and the hills being made broad and flat, it is, for anything I can discover, equally as well for the corn.

I never hoe but twice. Having plowed the land the previous autumn, nothing green started up before the winter set in, and the frost immediately following, the grass roots were killed. In the spring the land was well harrowed and plowed above the sod; there were no seeds of weeds in the manure, it being well fermented compost, and thus the work of the season was in a great measure done before the seed was planted. After the second hoeing the corn has the entire occupation of the ground, no further trouble being experienced from weeds of any kind. The thorough working of the land before planting, and also by the use of the horse and cultivator through straight rows both ways, at the first and second hoeing, has the further advantage of bringing the corn along through the fore part of the season with great rapidity, which is of essential importance, particularly in our northern latitudes.

There is no variety of corn that is not either improved or deteriorated by the manner in which the seed is selected. As soon as the earliest ears are thoroughly glazed, I go over the field, selecting those for seed that are early and vigorous, and from stalks producing two good ears. The corn is immediately braided up and hung in a dry, airy place. I have a kind of very long-eared, eight-rowed corn, which I have planted for several years, selecting the seed in the field each year in the way described, and which will yield a quarter more, the quality and cultivation of the land being the same, than it would when I began raising it—the corn is also at least ten days earlier in ripening. At first it was difficult to find double eared stalks, but now, it would seem to an observer in passing over the field, that a large proportion of the stalks produce twin ears measuring, the two together, 24 to 26 inches in length; many of the single ears will measure 14 or 15 inches long. Of course no kind of corn can produce to any extent, two ears upon a stalk, of this length, unless the land and cultivation are both good. It is to be hoped there is "a good time coming," when no land will be planted with this luxuriant grain that is not good, or made good, by the liberal management of its proprietor.

As my communication is already too long, I will say nothing at present of the various modes of harvesting the crop; perhaps, at some future time, I may do so, and if I should my remarks will show the results of some practical experiments which I have instituted.

Brattleboro, Vt., Dec. 14, 1847.