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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm
Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Luke planting 2011 crop with 999 JD Planter with plateless units.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by George Vastine of Millville, PA
photos by: Rachel Morris of Millville, PA

After hearing stories about great uncle Wilson Vastine’s Lancaster Surecrop corn, I purchased my own Lancaster County Surecrop seed, then available from Schell Seed Company in Pennsylvania, in 1971. The company also marketed Boone County White and eight-row yellow seed. Unfortunately, the operation closed after the Susquehanna River flooded in 1972.

My Lancaster County Surecrop failed because of its poor standabililty; however, I didn’t lose my interest in open-pollinated corn.

Later in the 1970s, in reading the Draft Horse Journal, I noticed an advertisement, one posted by Steven Young of Ohio, which offered white cap yellow dent corn. I purchased a bushel and subsequently shared the seed with Edwin Johnson, Morris and David Cotner (father and son). Again, we all experienced problems with standability.

After growing hybrid corn in the 1980s, I purchased Reid’s yellow dent seed and Krug from Ned Place of Wapakoneta, Ohio. I still use the yellow dent from that original purchase. Standability still vexes me, but I cut the corn by hand and shock it with a shocking horse, when the crop is dented in early September. By cutting and shocking the corn, I can get it before it falls down. I then husk the shocks in the field and shock the fodder for feed and/ or bedding for winter.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Shocking Horse and Cutters – horse used to hold up shocks while shocking and hand cutters used.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Shocks.

About ten years ago, I also acquired red dented open-pollinated field corn. Initially, the corn developed a problem: soft cobs. With proper selection, this corn has improved.

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I do not grow that much corn, but I usually employ six draft horses to improve soil fertility. I rotate crops and grow corn on sod, as well. Noticeable poor spots in the corn field rarely emerge.

I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Seed ear selection – shows the quality we look for and the average length of the ears.

The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob. Since I exhibit at the Bloomsburg Fair in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, during the last week of September, I begin my selection when I cut the corn. I cut the crop later than I used to at the beginning of September, so the ears are well dented and somewhat drier than formerly. The husks are usually brown, but the leaves are still green. At this point, the fodder makes excellent feed. I can start husking corn at the end of September or the beginning of October. I make my final selection of seed at the time of husking. Because of the effect freezing might have on the germs of the seed grains, I try not to let the seed ears freeze.

The standability improves somewhat through selection of ears that are not as high on stalks. Rotating the corn fields also helps eliminate corn borer which also weakens stalks.

In 2010, I purchased a 999 John Deere planter, one with plateless units, from Leon M. Brubaker of Port Trevorton, Pennsylvania. I planted corn thicker in rows than I normally do, but the crop did well. Our planter is set at 40 inch rows. It makes sense not to go under 36 inches with rows in growing open-pollinated corn. Generally, I try to cultivate twice, but this past year, I only cultivated once. The crop did well, planted on sod we had plowed in the fall and harrowed twice the day we planted. I orchestrated all the work with horses.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Husking Pegs – two different versions of the husking pegs we use.

I still believe in shelling the grains from an ear at the butt and tip; I only plant the flats from each ear. Although this process is unnecessary with a plateless planter. I hand shell the corn for seed but still may eliminate some undesirable seeds, via a pocketknife blade. Prior to having a plateless planter, we graded the corn with a hand held corn grader.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Seed grader.

This year, 2011, I am adding another open pollinated corn. Titus Martin Jr. of Watsontown, Pennsylvania is the vendor. The corn fairs well in our section of Pennsylvania. The corn ears grow 10-12 inches long and form lower on the stalks, thus seeming to improve standability. I researched the field corn right before husking. The corn is probably 100-105 day which contrasts to the Reid’s: about 90 day. The corn is a mixture of yellow and orange-red ears.

My family and I have found growing open pollinated field corn interesting. During autumn when we husk the corn, we frequently hear comments about the shocks and red/yellow corn ears in the piles, just waiting to be picked up by a horse-drawn wagon. Later, horses eat the extremely hard grain, which undoubtedly is suitable for their teeth. Occasionally, when we sell corn, we warn customers about needing to feed their feed grinders at a reduced speed.

We are usually the only people in our township who raise this crop and harvest it as described.

Tying Corn Fodder with Rye Straw

I would like to share an old method of tying corn fodder, one with rye straw that can be raised in a portion of a farm garden. Cut the rye, by hand, before it blossoms, in order to avoid the seed from spreading. Hand bundle and then shock the rye to dry it out. Then store the rye after drying it inside. Soak the rye straw in water, so it maintains its flexibility. Use several stalks of rye around a fodder sheaf and twist into a knot. Tying fodder this way minimizes rodent damage on sheaf bands and does not have to be removed when using for livestock feed or bedding.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Corn Tree with George (left) and Luke (right) Vastine.

Making a Corn Tree for Drying Seed Ears

  • Fit a smooth pole — six feet long and eight inches in diameter — with a base to hold it upright.
  • Drive rows of headless finishing nails (16 penny) into the post, 2.5 to 3 inches apart.
  • Thrust the corn on these nails, in order to have it stand apart for curing.

This corn tree holds sufficient corn to plant 15 acres on the check row system. The corn tree pictured is a scaled down version, one holding only 92 ears.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

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I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

TMAHK Tripod Haymaking

The Milk and Human Kindness: What I’ve Learned of Tri-Pod Haymaking

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I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes: Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

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To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

Russian Dacha Gardening

Russian Dacha Gardens

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Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

Horse Farming and Holistic Management

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Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory who was a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who was concerned that the advice he could give farmers didn’t work in the real environment and even when the advice was good it wouldn’t get implemented. He developed a program which helps farms create a clear Holistic Goal and then use the farms resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

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“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT