Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture of the State of Michigan, 17: 447-449 (1878)

Prof. W. J. Beal, of the Agricultural College, Lansing, Mich.


Peter Henderson speaks of offering an old man $50 per pound for some seeds of a certain kind of cabbage, but could not procure an ounce. The man kept his good seed, got ahead nearly ten days with his early cabbages, and made a little fortune by the operation. On another occasion one pound of seed purchased as Silesian lettuce, proved to be the curled India, and worthless for forcing. This was the most serious loss from bad seeds I ever encountered, amounting to at least $1,000.

Dr. Sturtevant in a recent number of the Scientific Farmer says that he had two varieties of seed corn, which presented an almost identical appearance of grain and ear. Yet planted on the same field in adjoining plats, the one yielded 55 bushels, the other 110 bushels of shelled corn per acre on the same manuring; and an unmanured strip alongside, planted with the better seed, furnished at the rate of 68 bushels of crop per acre. Gardeners pay great attention to the selection of their seeds. The farmer is apt to consider the seed used as of less account, and to ascribe differences in crops to the amount of manure used. "Manure and good seed, good seed and manure, neither without the other, and there will be a most cheering increase in the crop."


Those who have not seen it would be surprised at the care with which a florist or a nurseryman watches his plants. At different times during the year, he passes through and through long rows of plants, looking for sports or something new. He well knows that a good novelty will bring money to his pocket. The least difference does not escape his notice. These sports are watched, cared for, propagated and further tested. How many of our farmers are carefully watching their fields of wheat, corn, oats, for something new and better? They may learn a lesson from the gardener. Here certainly is a chance for good observers, and who dare say that even the farmer would not be benefited by a training in botany? Although agriculture is not my department, I have for two or three years past been much interested in looking through fields of ripe wheat to pick up all the varieties I could find, or any specimens of extra size.


The notion has long been quite prevalent among farmers that there is an advantage in changing seeds from one kind of a soil or from one part of a country to another. In many portions of the southern States it is impossible to raise good potatoes without procuring seed from farther north, where they grow in greater perfection. In Central, and even in Southern Michigan, we all know that Dent corn is inclined to become earlier, with shorter kernels which become round at the outer end. To keep the corn near what it is, we must use especial care in selecting the seed or get seed occasionally from farmers south of us. In a climate and soil well adapted to a plant, it will thrive for a long time in one place, but I believe even there the same pains, with some change of seed, will produce better results. By this I mean that two men living twenty miles or more apart may each take great pains with his corn, wheat, etc. After a few years I think each man would be benefited by procuring seed of the other. I know that there are many cases which may seem in opposition to this idea, but I have seen so many cases of improvement in yield by a change of seed that I consider this subject of some importance. I quote the same idea from F. W. Burbidge, a recent English horticulturist of some prominence. He says "Cereal crops deserve more attention than they have hitherto received; and careful selection and judicious change of soil every two or three years would do much to improve these and other farm crops. One of the most universal and potent of these is cultivation and change of seed, which means a change of soil."


Plants which are indigenous to a certain region often—I may say generally—thrive much better when they are introduced into a foreign country. This is the case with many of our worst weeds. Some of them are much more thrifty, prolific and troublesome in our country than they are in their native country. The same is true in many parts of Europe and South America. To aid in securing this change of location, many plants are supplied with a wonderful variety of contrivances. This is familiar to all. The burdock has hooks to hold to hair or wool; the thistle seed (fruit) is floated in the air by a growth of down which acts as a miniature balloon; the seeds of pines have wings. Some float in the water. The pods of peas burst elastically and scatter the seeds. The fruit of the witch hazel shoots its seeds with considerable force. Birds and beasts eat seeds and fruits and distribute them for long distances. Nuts are buried by squirrels. Even insects and fishes contribute something to this work. Man exceeds them all in scattering far and wide, the good and the bad seeds. From these shall we not take'a hint to remove seeds to new ground or new places? If wild plants like a change, why not those which are well cultivated.


In selecting seeds something else must be taken into account besides large size, though when everything else is favorable, large seeds are probably the best. I could make numerous quotations to show this in case of beans, peas and other plants. With corn and wheat, I should prefer a medium-sized kernel from a large, fine ear, to a large kernel from a small, short ear.


One of the best illustrations in point is from Frederick F. Hallett, of England, and was reported in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, 1861, page 371. He began by selecting the best spike of wheat he could find, paying especial attention to the quality.

Length. Grains. No. Ears on
Finest Stool.
1857, origlnal ear 4 3/8 inches 47 ..
1858, finest ear 6 1/4 inches 49 10
1859, finest ear 7 3/4 inches 91 22
1860, ears imperfect from wet season .. 39
1871, finest ear 8 3/4 inches 123 52

"Thus," says Mr. Hallet, "by means of repeated selection alone in this short time the length of the ears has been doubled, their contents nearly trebled, and the ‘tillering’ power of the seed increased five-fold." This remarkable change was brought about in the following manner: The seeds were planted, one in a place, nine by nine inches. The plants were well cultivated. What does this amount to? From seed raised in this way a whole field of ten acres, in a very unfavorable year, yielded fifty-seven bushels to the acre, while with ordinary seeds on previous years the same land yielded from thirty-two to forty bushels to the acre. As we might expect, after continuing the experiments, Mr. Hallett found that the heads became more uniformly of good size and good quality and yielded well. Like a well-bred flock of sheep, where the owner had bred toward one standard, they were even and uniformly good.

Change of Stock/Seed/Conditions