Small Farmer's Journal

Facebook  YouTube

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.

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

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

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?

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

by:
from issue:

Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

by:
from issue:

After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

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.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

by:
from issue:

Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

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.

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…

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

by:
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.

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.

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.

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