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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 PST

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.

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: Crops & Soil

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

by:
from issue:

The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

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from issue:

While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

Ginseng Culture

Ginseng Culture

U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1184 Issued 1921, Revised 1941 — The evident preference of the Chinese for the wild root and the unsatisfactory state of the general market for cultivated ginseng have caused grave doubts as to the future prospects of the industry. These doubts will probably be realized unless growers should strive for quality of product and not for quantity of production, as has been the all too common practice in the past.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

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from issue:

The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Cabbage

Cabbage

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from issue:

Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. 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. 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.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

by:
from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Lost Apples

Lost Apples

The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

by:
from issue:

Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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from issue:

Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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from issue:

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.

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