William Thomas Ainsworth.

Practical corn culture, written especially for the corn belt farmers online

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A 5




Notice the shallow furrows made by the furrow openers attached to the
planter runners






Written especially for the




Actively Engaged in Farming for Forty Years, and Still at It.


Secretary Illinois Corn Growers' and Stockmen's Convention.
Member Illinois Seed Corn Breeders' Association.

' ' Oh, the corn, the royal corn,
within whose golden heart there
is of health and strength for all
the nations. ' '

Ex-Governor Oglesby.




3 3 . 1


DURING the past ten years great progress has been
made in the cultivation and care of corn, both for
seed and market. During this time few books have
been written which have kept up with this progress. What
has been written has pertained largely to the attacks of
insect and fungous pests and to the selection and care of
corn for seed.

Very little that would be of practical benefit to the busy
farmer has been written on the culture of corn. We have
long felt the need of such a book and have at length been
induced by our friends to attempt the work ourselves. The
result is seen in the volume now placed before the public.

Our aim has been to make this book up-to-date in every
particular and to cover the entire practice of corn growing,
from the cutting of the stalks in the spring to the selection
and testing of the seed for next year's crop.

We have purposely started with the preparation of the
seed bed because we know that some readers will start this
book and will not finish it. If only a little is read, we are
especially anxious that the reader get that part pertaining
to the growing of the crop.

The writers are both actively engaged in farming seven
hundred acres of land, and W. T. Ainsworth has been growing
corn on his Cloverdale farm for over thirty-five years.

No apology is offered for the manner in which the subject
is treated. The public must be the sole judge as to whether
the book is deserving of commendation.

We do not claim originality for all of our methods since




many of our operations have been suggested by neighbors and
the reading of bulletins and farm papers.

Changing conditions, from year to year, demand new and
different methods of culture. The farmer, to keep abreast of
the times, must be ready to adopt new ideas. If any of us
should disregard the opinion of others and depend solely upon
his own judgment for ten years, he would find that he would
be left far behind in the march of competition.

We wish gratefully to acknowledge the sympathy,
encouragement and suggestions which we have received from
farmers in Illinois and in other states. To mention each one
would be out of the question, but our gratitude for their
kindness is none the less sincere.

Such rapid progress is being made in the methods of
growing farm crops that this book will undoubtedly be a back
number in less than five years. For this reason it is our
intention to rewrite it every two years. If the reader will
send a return stamped envelope we shall be glad to answer
any questions, in our power, in regard to conserving soil
fertility and the culture of corn.


Mason City, Illinois.
January, 1914.




Introduction 7

Preparing the Seed Bed 12

Planting 29

Cultivation 48


The Rotation of Farm Crops 57

Leguminous Crops 68

Stable and Barnyard Manures 83

Phosphorus and Limestone 90


Selecting the Best Ears for Seed 95

The "Ear to the Row" Breeding Plot 105

Drying and Storing Seed Corn 117

Preparing Seed Corn for Planting '. 122

Insect Enemies and Plant Diseases 129


Letters on Corn Culture from Practical Farmers 140



Farmers in the United States are beginning to appreciate
the fact that they are not raising as much per acre on their
ground as do European farmers. This subject is being
brought constantly to their attention by government bulletins,
the agricultural press, farmers' institutions, etc. The early
settlers on the soil found a virgin fertility which they did
not stop to think would some day be exhausted; and they
and their successors did little or nothing to compensate the
soil for what they took out. We have now come to the point
where the subject deserves our serious consideration. We
must not only recognize the fact, but must act. The difference
in productivity, however, is not due entirely to low soil
fertility, but may be influenced by culture and by the time,
method, and rate of seeding. Unquestionably each of these
factors influence the yield to a considerable extent.

When crop prices were low in the United States, the
excuse was often given that European farmers could farm
better because their farm produce commanded prices which
made intensive agriculture profitable with them but not with
us. This may have been true twenty years ago, but during
the last five years wheat, oats, and especially corn, have
brought good prices, in some cases higher than the prices
in Europe.

Present food prices for farm products are an incentive to
better farming; if they continue wonderful strides should be



made during the next ten years. We believe present
farm prices are here to stay, unless, perchance, they go


The last census shows that the population of the' United
States increases over twenty per cent every decade. This
increase in population has been much greater than the in-
crease in the available supply of land. The demand for farm
crops has increased faster than the supply, with the result
that farm crops and farm lands continue to bring higher
prices. This is especially true of corn and corn land.

At least eighty per cent of the corn land in the corn belt
proper is now under cultivation. If, then, we are to grow
more corn in the future, it will be necessary to grow more
bushels to the acre. More bushels mean better farming, and
better farming requires not only more thorough and intelli-
gent culture but the building up of the land and more care-
ful selection of seed.

"While we are confronted by depleted soils and the stern
necessity of better farming, we are cheered by the fact that
the resulting higher prices are making better farming exceed-
ingly profitable. Twenty years ago the farmer was excusable
for following bonanza methods (we have excused ourselves)
with corn selling at fourteen cents per bushel.

From 1890 to 1895 it was necessary for the corn belt
farmers to economize in every possible way in order to meet
necessary expenses, to say nothing of buying manure spreaders
and turning under leguminous crops. Automobiles did not
exist, and if they had existed, the farmer could' not afford
to own one. During this period, careful farmers did well to
play even ; while with the majority farming was a losing
game. Crops were often sold at a price which brought the
farmer less than their value as a fertilizer.


Even as late as 1895 the corn belt farmer did not worry
much over the fact that he was depleting his soil. Since the
farmer had no surplus and no working capital his farming
equipment was inadequate. Corn was not considered as being
worth more than three cultivations. If he wanted more corn
he planted more acres. During this period of low prices the
farmer's outlook was not optimistic.

Let us take time to contrast this with the last five years
on the farm.

During the summer and fall of 1908, with corn at sixty
cents on the farm, prices of farm crops rose to a new high
level; and if our memory does not fail us, it has been worth
at least fifty cents per bushel (sometime during the year) for
the past five years. At the date of this writing, corn is bring-
ing sixty-five cents at the country elevators. With hogs and
cattle at eight cents per pound there is surely a margin of
profit large enough to give the thorough farmer a working
capital, and a working capital means better farming.


With corn land selling at $150 to $300 per acre, we believe
that an investment of this surplus in manure spreaders and
in the growing of leguminous crops to be returned to the
land will bring greater returns in dollars and cents than
the use of this money or credit for the purchase of more
acres. There are indications on every hand that farmers
as a class are beginning to appreciate this fact and to realize
that it does not pay to practice crop rotations that do not
include the turning under of at least one leguminous crop
every five years.

Another good use to which this surplus may be put is the
improvement of equipment by acquiring more horses and
better implements with which to do more thorough farming.
What is more pathetic on the farm than to see one man trying


to do the work of two or three. Our own experience has
taught us that too much work can hardly be put on good corn
ground when the crop is worth from fifty to sixty-five cents
per bushel. In every case additional work with us has meant
an increase in the margin of profit.

Spurred on by this we have gradually increased our farm
equipment until ^today we are employing considerably more
men by the year than we did ten years ago. Although we
grow fewer acres of corn and small grain, we have many
more horses in the field. This increase in equipment for the
purpose of better farming, (including the building of houses
for farm help), has cost us several thousand dollars, but
what are the results?

In the first place we are building up our farms by having
more time to haul manure from town. With three spreaders
we haul annually eight hundred tons of manure from the
town of Mason City. (See Chapter VII.) We are growing on
an average fifteen bushels of corn more per acre than we did
as late as ten years ago. With better land to start with we
are able to cut the stalks and double disc before plowing,
where corn follows corn. The corn is cultivated four to six
times, the last time being with a high arch gopher cultivator.
If the corn is too thick, it is thinned and suckered after the
last plowing. This sums up briefly what we are accomplishing
with our additional investment in equipment.

We are sure that what we have invested along the line of
more intensive farming has paid us well in dollars and cents,
and still better in satisfaction. What we have done is being
done by others and can be done by every land owner and
farmer in the corn belt.

What about the tenant farmer? Many tenant farmers
are among our best farmers and the tenant really has the
same opportunity as the landlord farmer, provided he has
been given a long term lease. A tenant would be more


than human if he tried to build up a farm when he felt that
his successor would reap the benefits of his labors. A five-
year lease with privilege of renewal, we consider a good fair
lease for an appreciative tenant who has first been tested out
on a one or two year lease.


Before taking up the culture of corn in detail, let us
state briefly the four factors which enter into the producing
of a crop of corn. They are: Culture, Soil, Seed and
Climate. In the first three chapters comprising culture we
shall ask the reader to go with us into the fields and stay
with us until the crop is laid by.

In the four chapters entitled "Building up the Land,"
we shall explain the methods followed by experiment stations
and the best farmers in their efforts to increase the fertility
of their farms. In addition to this, we give the results of our
own experience with rotations, manure and fertilizers.

The remaining chapters deal with the breeding, selecting,
drying and testing of corn for seed. All field and corn illus-
trations in the following chapters have been taken on our
own farms during the crop seasons of 1912 and 1913.





Iron-clad rules cannot be laid down for preparing a seed
bed for corn. The methods suggested in this chapter have
been found practical on our own farms and have been tested
out from two to ten years. Our soil is a black level silt
loam, with a deep, porous subsoil that makes a natural drain-
age for surface water. A heavier soil would need more rolling,
and a lighter one would need less; so the farmer who would
benefit from reading this chapter should compare each opera-
tion carefully with his own practice and not make a change
until he has satisfied himself it is adapted to his local con-

There is a great diversity of opinion among farmers as
to the best method of preparing a seed bed. There is not
this difference of opinion as to what constitutes a good seed
bed. The best farmers agree that an ideal seed bed, to be in
good physical condition when the time comes to plant corn,
must be aerated and not run together. The soil particles
must be fine and free from lumps or clods. A maximum
amount of moisture is conserved in the subsoil by having
a shallow dust mulch on the surface. A large number of
weed seeds have been sprouted and all that show on the
surface have been killed immediately before planting. "We




try as nearly as possible to have these conditions at planting
time. Our success varies with the season and the equipment
that we can put in the fields.

The implements used are those most commonly found in
Central Illinois, namely: two-row stalk cutters, single disc
harrows (disc pulverizers), gang and sulky plows, spike tooth

(Courtesy Parlln & Orentlorff.)


harrows and a corrugated roller. All these implements; 'in-
cluding the harrow teeth, should be as sharp as the black-
smith can get them before spring work sets in. Five dollars
paid the blacksmith in getting tools in shape will save many
times that amount in horseflesh, besides doing a much better
job in the field.



The stalk cutter should be the first implement in the field
when corn follows corn. Unless the fields are very small, a
two-row cutter should be used in place of a single row. In
the first place, it gets over the ground twice as fast as a
single row cutter, and owing to its greater weight and better
balance does a much better job. The two-row cutters have
two tongues and are drawn by three horses. With this imple-
ment a good fast team will cut twenty acres in one day. All
the stalk cutters we have ever tried have been satisfactory;
but the farmer who has never used a stalk cutter must not
expect it to cut every stalk if the stalk growth is rank and

If the stalks are heavy it will be necessary to follow with
a disc harrow either single or double discing. Where a stalk
cutter is followed by a sharp disc, lapping half each time, the
heaviest growth of stalks will be cut and the ground left
level ready for the plow. If the ground is single disced
after the cutter it is advisable to have the horses walk on
the ridges. This cuts down the ridges and leaves the ground
fairly level.

For several years we dispensed with the use of the stalk
cutter in preference to double discing; but the objection to
this method was that the standing stalks continually worried
the team and the time lost would almost amount to the time
required to cut the stalks.

When practicable, it is a good plan to run the stalk cutter
on afternoons only, since the stalks are dryer and the cutter
does a much better job. The disc will do nearly as good a
job in the forenoon as it will in the afternoon.

We have tried breaking the stalks before discing, but the
results were very disappointing, since the stalks became so


bunched between the rows that the disc, although very sharp,
would often ride over them.

When we first started, several years ago, to cut the stalks
on ground to go in corn, we felt that the objections would
almost offset the advantages to be gained. The stalks would
clog under the planter runners, and during the first cultiva-
tion many hills of corn would be lifted out by the cultivator
shovels catching the stalks. This was due to following
directly after the stalk cutter with the plow and the stalks

(Courtesy John Deene Plow Co.)

This plow has two 12-inch bottoms

were not cut up sufficiently to turn under. During recent
years, when the stalks were properly cut up and turned under
as early as the 20th of April, we have had little trouble with
their bothering during corn cultivation. When the stalks are
turned under as late as the 10th of May, some little difficulty
may be experienced in cultivating the first time.

The question is often asked: Will soil dry out more
quickly when the stalks are turned under? The answer is,



if the stalks are turned under as early as the 15th of April,
they will be thoroughly water-soaked and partially rotted by
the time the corn is cultivated the first time. Stalks add
some humus to the soil the first year, and the more humus
there is in the soil, the better its moisture retaining qualities.

Decaying stalks are very beneficial in keeping the soil
loose. Loose soil allows the water to soak into the ground
during a rain. On the other hand, hard packed soil will shed
most of the rainfall "off, especially on hilly ground. On
hillsides, plowing stalks under is an additional benefit in that
it prevents washes.

Discing before plowing serves a three-fold purpose. It
cuts up the stalks, levels down the ridges, and pulverizes
the top soil, making a mulch of from two to four inches in
depth. This mulch aids greatly in the re-establishing of capil-
larity between the furrow slice and the bottom of the furrow.
Pulverizing improves the physical condition of the soil by
cutting up clods which could never be broken after they had
been turned under. It is the buried clod that is more detri-
mental than the one on top. . We consider the disc fully as
important an implement on the farm as either the plow or
the harrow. Our discs are kept bright and sharp and are
used over more acres than are the plows. Before the corn is
planted, the field is disced at least once. By discing before
and after plowing the furrow slice is pulverized clear through.


Since plowing is the slowest and most expensive of any
single operation on the farm, every effort should be made to
do it right. The furrow should be straight and uniform in
width and depth. The furrow slice should be clear cut and
all of the dirt moved. This does not mean that there should



be a complete inversion of the furrow slice. With the excep-
tion of heavy sods it is better to have the furrow slice slightly
on edge since it will work up more easily than if completely
inverted. I The ends sought in plowing are to alter the texture
of the soil and to bring to the surface new soil ; to bury com-
pletely all vegetation and trash and to pulverize and aerate
the soil.l

This pulverizing and aerating of the soil we consider the
chief objects of plowing. The plow may invert the soil in


This plow has one 16-inch bottom

the most perfect manner, but if the plow fails to do the
greater part of the pulverizing of the soil as well, and leaves
it in such condition that the disc and harrow cannot finish
the work in the cheapest and best manner, it is failing to
accomplish its principal function.

This pulverizing of the furrow slice is done largely by the
twist of the moldboard. For that reason a moldboard having
a medium twist should be used. At present we are using four


standard makes of gang plows on our farms, and the one
with the shortest twist is doing the best work. "We cannot
see but that it pulls as easy as the others. Since we have
never tested out the drafts of different twists of moldboards
we will quote from Prof. Roberts as follows:

"About 35% of the power necessary to plow is used up by
the friction due to the weight of the plow, and 55% by the
severing of the furrow slice and the friction of the landside.
If, after having done nine-tenths of the work, the plow allows
the furrow slice to escape without the greatest possible amount
of disintegration, great loss is sustained because the bolder
and more efficient moldboard may add but two or three per
cent to the draft."


We cannot recommend fall plowing of ground in Central
Illinois, except in the case of heavy sods which require the
erosion during the winter months to disintegrate the soil
sufficiently to work into a seed bed. Fall plowed ground
leaches badly unless plowed very late. Without a cover of
any kind, soil will wash during the early spring months,
even on land that is considered fairly level. To fall plow hill-
sides is to invite the formation of deep gulleys which will soon
make the field fit only for pasture land.

There are, in our opinion, just two good reasons for fall
plowing: First, the work is done at the slackest time of the
year when both men and teams might otherwise be idle.
Secondly, if the plowing is done late, it affords a splendid
opportunity to kill cutworms and other insects while they
are lying dormant in their winter quarters. During the last
five years we have fall plowed about ten per cent of our corn
ground and have winter plowed about five per cent. We
do not hesitate to plow clover sod in the winter time if the



ground is not too wet. In this latitude there is only about
one winter in four when plowing is possible because of the


Fields which have been in corn the previous year must,
of necessity, be plowed in the spring. Just how early spring
plowing can start depends largely upon the weather during

(Courtesy John Deere Plow Co.)

One of the necessary implements on the farm

March and April. A wet spring will delay plowing even on
well drained fields. So long as the furrow slice and the
particles of soil run together rather than crumble, plowing
had better be postponed, unless the^plowing is done very early
in the spring and is followed by several frosts.

There is no logic in the expression that "if ground is
plowed wet it should be worked wet all summer." Owing
to the rush of spring work we have sometimes plowed ground


when it was too wet. The results have always been very
unsatisfactory, since a dry August will make the corn fire
much more quickly than it would had the grounjd been broken
at the right time. In plowing stalk ground that has first
been disced, it is well not to allow too much time to inter-
vene between the two operations. It is a good plan to harrow
each morning what has been plowed the previous day. Time
is gained rather than lost by this practice since the plowed
ground must be harrowed and disced several times before a
satisfactory seed bed can be made. An hour 's work on freshly
plowed ground will do more toward making this seed bed
than can be accomplished in two hours' time after the wind
has been allowed to dry out the surface.

Another good reason for keeping plowed ground harrowed
is to conserve the moisture. One man and four horses with
a 120-tooth harrow Will get over from twenty-five to thirty-five
acres in one day. This will prevent the escape of more mois-
ture and consequently will grow more bushels of corn than
if an additional five acres had been plowed and the moisture
allowed to escape from the thirty acres.

The argument is often advanced that spring plowed ground
should not be worked down until the time to plant the corn
since beating rains would n|ke the soil too compact. This
idea is wrong. If hard rains do come and pack the soil, an
almost ideal seed bed can be secured by single or double
discing. If the looked for rains do not come, the farmer who
has worked his ground as he went along may have a seed bed
when it would be impossible, even with double the work, to
make one where the grqacd had been allowed to lie until
planting time.

Every effort should be made to get the fields all plowed

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Online LibraryWilliam Thomas AinsworthPractical corn culture, written especially for the corn belt farmers → online text (page 1 of 11)